Tallahassee's San Luis Mission Historical Site, our version of the famous Williamsburg attraction, is the focus of the first chapter in my newest book, The Great Florida Seminole Trail: Complete Guide to Seminole Indian Historic and Cultural Sites. At first glance, San Luis is an unlikely place to begin the Seminole Trail. First of all, the site's historical time period-1656 to 1704-preceded the mass migrations of Creek Indians from the north who, along with escaped slaves, would swell the population of Florida‘s Indians and form an amalgamation of people known as Seminoles. Before the Seminoles arrived, Apalachee Indians lived in north Florida with Spanish missionaries. They grew large amounts of corn to help feed the beleaguered Spanish city of St. Augustine.
When the English and their Creek Indian allies invaded in 1704, most Apalachee Indians were killed or dispersed, their former territory nearly completely denuded of people. Slowly, over the next few decades, Indians began to break away from the various Muscogee Creek bands to the north and resettle the land of the Apalachee, perhaps assimilating any Apalachee survivors still in the area. These Creek Indians settled the Apalachee capital of Anhaica and called it Tulwa-hassee, "Old Town" or "Old Fields" in acknowledgment of the former residents. They settled along rivers such as the Apalachicola, long used as trade routes for their predecessors, and they made frequent forays to the coast for seafood and items such as whelk shells. Eventually, they were called simano-li by their Creek brethren to the north, a term borrowed from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning "wild" or "runaway." Some linguists and historians postulate that the Creek definition also meant "separatist" or "those who camp at a distance."
Today, in walking the grounds of San Luis and perusing the reconstructed Spanish and Apalachee buildings, you begin to grasp a large-scale 17th century experiment in cultural exchange. A large plaza was set up with a church and priest quarters on one side and the chief's hut and an immense circular Apalachee council house on the other. Two traditional styles of architecture were at play-the Spanish waddle and daub and plank buildings, and the pole and thatch Apalachee structures.
The Apalachee council house could hold the entire adult San Luis Apalachee population of 1,400 plus guests. Other villages, along with those of nearby Creek Indians, had similar-sized council houses. To step inside the reconstructed building, with its sweet aroma of smoke and seasoned thatch, is almost dizzying. It is astonishing and worthy of Stonehenge comparisons to think these giant logs, weighing several tons each, were hoisted up by manual labor and handmade ropes. One can sense the oratory that once occurred here, along with dances and other ceremonies.
The San Luis historic site also has a museum, Spanish fort, gardens, blacksmith shop and other attractions. Living history interpreters in period costume are often stationed at various points, especially on weekends and special events. For outdoor lovers, there is a scenic hiking trail along a forested hillside and stream worthy of exploration.