Thursday, November 13, 2008
Hontoon Island, Florida, A historical site
gouache on panel
History of Hontoon from Lars Anderson. Lars is a naturalist here in north Florida. He leads canoe trips all around the rivers of North Florida and Prairie Walks here in Alachua County. I vow to go on one some day. I know you will enjoy this excerp I got from a recent email from Lars.
While digging a canal in the 1950's, workers brought up a carved wooden "totem" of an owl from the river bottom. Later, in the 50s, another totem was pulled up by a dredge being used to work on submerged cables - this one of a pelican. This brought a rush of archaeologists whose thorough search of the river bottom revealed a totem of an otter holding a fish. These are the only such wooden totems found anywhere in North America, aside from the Pacific Northwest.
The descendants of the totem artists enjoyed many more centuries, living and dying in their river side villages, before the first European explorers ever entered their world. That first encounter came in the 1560's, when Pedro Menendez led an exploratory mission up the St. Johns. After crossing Lake George, he met these people, known as the Mayaca and asked permission to pass. He did not get it. After passing a barricade of log spikes Menendez ascended deeper into Mayaca territory. As the river narrowed, he realized he could easily fall into an ambush set by these reportedly fierce warriors, and wisely turned back.
As the long arm of the Spanish mission system swept north Florida, the Mayaca region was at the southern fringes of activity and was therefore spared - for a while. Eventually, as the north Florida natives were decimated, the Spanish started looking closer at Mayaca. Several missions were estblished in south central Florida and the upper St. Johns. In the end, all that remained of the people of Hontoon Island were scores of shell middens and burial mounds and a few totem poles - whose somber wooden eyes look out from the glass encasements of the Florida Museum of Natural History upon a world and people they could never understand.
A century and a half later, after the last of the Mayacas and their successors, the Seminoles were driven out of the upper St. Johns, a veteran of the Second Seminole War named William Hunton settled on the Island. It is from his name, though skewed and tattered from the passage of time and countless lips, that the name Hontoon was derived. From that time to this, the Island changed hands several times and was used alternately as a boat yard and cattle ranch. The State bought the island in 1967.