When we arrived we were met at the entrance by Deputy Governor
Jacinto Roque Pérez to show us what does exist here. He brought
us the Apalachee Council House. As he explained the customs of
the natives, we explored the structure. These people were
skillful builders. The council house is a perfectly huge and
roofed far overhead with palm fronds. It is one of the largest
historic Indian structures in the southeastern United States and
capable of holding 2,000-3,000 people.
Next we visited with Senora Fernandez in her modest home. She
told us of getting married to Senor Fernandez at 13 years of age
in St. Augustine. We shared her worries about her own 13
year-old daughter who she said, "actually handles a musket." As she
lamented, “Who will want to marry a girl with gunpowder stains
on her hands.”
Her home was one of the upper class homes in the center of the
village. It was a whitewashed wattle and daub structure having
two sections, a living are and sleeping area and s thatched
roof. Cooking was done mostly outdoors and never in the main
house structure for fear of fire and the excessive Florida heat.
It seems there had been a problem between the Senora and
the Deputy Governor over a chicken he had gotten from her and
forgotten to return the bones which are used as fertilizer.
Interesting to see people of that era had their little disputes
same as today.
We stepped out to admire the garden where the master gardener
was hard at work. Even though it was February, he had some
produce growing. There were neat clumps of greens, and tiny corn
stalks peeping through the mounded soil. The gardener explained
that they, like the natives, grow corn, beans and squash. He
pointed off into the distance to show us where the Indians grew
their crops. These people are very proud of their farming
ability: they produce enough to export food to St. Augustine.
In any early community the blacksmith is an important figure. No
exception here. The local blacksmith, Santiago, was busy at his
state-of-the-art 1700s-style forge making nails for the
palisades walls. It used a special Spanish type bellows. It’s a
two-handed air pump that forces air into a clay forge creating
temperatures hot enough to work the iron. He told us, “It took
17 years to learn blacksmithing.”
There were pikes wood ready make the charcoal he uses to fuel
his fire. Santiago said, “I can make about 250 nails each day
Those nails were important. The Spanish were building a garrison
to protect from an English attack. The garrison was a simple
wood palisades type wall. Sharp cactus were planted around it to
farther discourage attack. A cannon was mounted above. Inside
was a combination barracks
Lieutenants Manuel explained “We need to be on guard for an
attack by the English’s Indian allies, Creeks and Apalachicola.
They are still quite hostile to us.”
Lieutenant Francisco commented “We managed to kind of tick them
off a few governors ago.”
The implication was they had shot a few of those Indians who
were traditional enemies of the Apalachee and now the English
were recruiting them to drive off the Spanish.
The two Lieutenants showed off their armaments and living
quarters. The pride of the garrison was their cannon which they
felt sure could ward off any attackers.
Our next stop was the
Franciscan Church where the friar was enjoying his cassina tea.
It is made from the yaupon holly bush and is important to the
Apalachee people. The rule is only the friar is allowed to drink
this tea before the chief who must drink it before anyone else.
The church was painstakingly reconstructed based on what
archeologists found. What they discovered was no small primitive
hut but a 50’ by 110’ frame building with a thatch roof. The
main entrance to the rear opened onto the circular central plaza
where the Apalachee played their ball games and almost directly
across from their Council Houseouse.
There is a simple altar to the front, pictures instead of
stained glass windows, a confessional and baptistery to the
rear, and a loft for the choir over the rear area. It was the
heart of the community, Marriages many between Spanish men and
Apalachee women were preformed here. Mass was said and attended
by people of both races.
Strangely enough, when they excavated the church, they found
something unusual. There was a cemetery under it. Over 900
parishioners were buried there.
From the church, the friar led us to his modest quarters and
showed us his private garden. There is a special section where
he plants herbs and medicinal plants as he often acts as a
healer of the body as well the soul.
Mission San Luis is not just a living history museum, it is an
archeological site. It was designated a National Historic
Landmark in 1960. Mission San Luis is the only actual reconstructed Spanish mission in
Florida, unique in that it portrays life not only of one group
but of both Apalachee natives and Spanish settlers. Because it
has been so thoroughly investigated archeologically, it’s a
realistic window into Florida’s 300 year old past.
The museum is filled with artifacts found right on location. On
the first Wednesday of each month they conduct Archaeological
Site Tours at 11 am. There are many other events throughout the
year held here. Go see what you have been missing. Fees are
unbelievably low, Adults: $5; Seniors 65+: $3; Children 6-17:
$2; Children under 6, Members & Active Duty Military: Free.
For more info: