Archeologists have found evidence on Salt Lake of a long history of human habitation before Europeans began to arrive in the 16th century. Native Americans had lived in the region for thousands of years. Shell middens (mostly freshwater snails and mussels in inland areas) testify to prehistoric meals. Fish (especially catfish), reptiles, mammals, birds, and a wide variety of wild plants rounded out the Native American's diet.

When Europeans arrived here, the area was probably occupied by the Ais people, at least in some seasons. The Ais, unlike the Timucuans farther north, did not grow crops. In the area of Salt Lake, people probably hunted, fished, and foraged in freshwater marshes and swamps and in nearby coastal lagoons.

Much of what we know of the Ais and of the neighboring Hobe people to the south comes from the journal of Jonathan Dickinson, a young Quaker merchant who was shipwrecked in 1696 just north of Jupiter Inlet. According to Jerald Milanich in Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe, Dickinson and his companions viewed the Hobe and the Ais as bloodthirsty, pagan cannibals who were likely to murder them at any time. Milanich argues that the Hobe and Ais were most interested in salvaging what they could from the shipwreck, and they were not out to harm the passengers.

photo Indian thatched hut
Library of Congress
Indian thatched house

Dickinson describes a village of small houses thatched with palmetto fronds and built on shell middens. The men wore loincloths of woven vegetable fibers. Their long hair was wound into a bun and held in place by two bones, one shaped like an arrow and the other like a spear point. Dickinson witnessed an evening ceremony which included chanting and gazing at the moon, and he saw people make and consume a tea called the black drink. Made from leaves of the yaupon holly plant (Ilex vomitoria) and other plants, this drink was used ceremonially by many southeastern Indian groups.

After the native people had been wiped out, pioneers of European ancestry explored and settled the area. They logged most of the large timber in the area, which was mostly pine. Cat-faced trees, scarred from collecting resin to make turpentine and other products, may be seen on the area today. In more recent decades, the area was part of a cattle operation. Another industry was digging up cabbage palms and selling them for landscaping.

FWC Facts:
Cranes are quite omnivorous. They feed on seeds, grain, berries, insects, earthworms, mice, small birds, snakes, lizards, frogs and crayfish, but they do not "fish" like herons.

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