Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sanibel History: What's in a Name?

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the genesis of Sanibel Island and the efforts of the Calusa Indians to create a sustaining life on this lovely little island. That's not to say the Calusa were living in total peace. The Calusa Indians were originally called the "Calos" which means "Fierce People", and that name and historical references certainly indicate that not all was harmonious in the days of the Calusa.

But, at least they did exist without external intervention. Well, as it goes in the world, the comfortable society that the Calusa's created for themselves was disassembled with the battles with other tribes as well as the arrival of foreign conquerors. In addition, diseases such as smallpox and measles were brought into the area from the Spanish and French explorers and these diseases wiped out entire villages.

The Spanish, in particular, left their mark as is evidenced through out the state of Florida.

The link between Spanish settlement in the USA and the state of Florida's nomenclature for towns throughout is quite clear. We know the punta's and boca's of Florida originated with the Spanish words for point and mouth. There are numerous examples of the Spanish presence in every part of Florida, but perhaps no more intriguing than the names Sanibel and Captiva.

Famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon is believed to have discovered Sanibel Island – which he named “Santa Isybella” after Queen Isabella -- in 1513 while searching for his “Fountain of Youth.” He and his Spanish seamen battled the hostile Calusas for years, and Ponce de Leon eventually suffered a fatal arrow attack at their hands in 1523, at which time he retreated to Cuba and died.

According to legend, Sanibel and Captiva Island soon became a haven for infamous pirates. “The Buccaneer Coast” attracted the notorious Jose Gaspar to the region in the early 1800s, where it was rumored that he buried his stolen treasure on Sanibel, and then built a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” or Captiva Island, where he kept his female prisoners “captive” for ransom. Gaspar himself was captured in 1821 by the U.S. Navy, but wrapped himself in chains and jumped overboard off his ship, rather then face imprisonment.

Interesting origins for these calm and beckoning barrier Islands!

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