Native American History in Boca Raton


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It might seem like the Boca Raton that we know has only existed in recent times. However, Boca Raton has been the home to many people for a very long time. The history of human occupation on this land extends well before the time when Europeans first colonized Florida. Boca Raton was the home to Native American people, possibly for tens of thousands of years before today. In order to understand the ancient history of Boca Raton it’s important to understand the archaeology that’s been discovered throughout South Florida, how much Florida has changed geologically, and what’s specifically been discovered here.

One thing I’ve always thought about, since coming to Boca Raton as a boy in the seventies, was the Native American people who used to live here. Unlike many places across the USA where there are descendants of America’s first peoples, we have nobody here in Boca Raton who can trace their ancestry to the many people who were here at the time of Christopher Columbus. And lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot more, really wondering about those people, the people who loved the same place we call home, but are gone completely now.

When I was a Park Ranger working for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department I was lucky enough to have the Saturday Morning Detail at Gumbo Limbo. I’d talk to a lot of visitors, sharing what I learned. I used to explain to people how Native Americans lived along the Atlantic coastal ridge when the Spanish first arrived, but I really couldn’t tell you exactly where I learned what I shared. I used to poke around in Gordon Gilbert’s book collection in his office there, because he had some great stuff, but I never borrowed any books or learned their titles. Mr. Gilbert is the guy who started Gumbo Limbo.

Unfortunately there was little recorded, at least from what I have been able to find, and I’ve always been hungry for more since getting that little taste. We can’t really count too many books about it; we have to rely on archaeology to tell more of the story.

I have many questions I’d like to have answered with credible sources, either written or taken from the ground:

  1. How early did our area see it’s first inhabitants? Who were they? Where did they come from? What evidence would we have of them?
  2. How many different cultures, waves of people occupied this place over time? Who were they? When did they come and go?
  3. Who were the people here at the time of the first Spanish shipwreck victims and into the Spanish Conquest of Florida?
  4. Where has evidence of settlements in Boca been found?
  5. Is there any evidence that remains of settlements?
  6. What happened to the people who were here? How did they die/leave?
  7. Does anyone or any place have a collection of the artifacts recovered here?
  8. What was their political structure like? Their family structure? Their religious structure?
  9. Who were their neighbors and what made the people here in Boca different?
  10. What did they look like? How did they dress? How were they described?
  11. What knowledge of plants and animals did they have that we know today?
  12. What did they eat? Did they have any recipes?
  13. Is there anyone alive in the world today that has DNA that proves their ancestors were pre-colombian Boca Raton natives?

I am going to contact this area’s local experts, people who can help me answer these questions. When I have the answers I’m going to share them here with you. Instead of just saying what’s known I think its also important to say how we know it. Is each thing we know rumor, mythology, or fact?

Do you have some information about the Native American populations that once lived in Boca Raton? Pictures? Stories? Know were something interesting is we should know about? Want to tell us something we should know? Submit an article, an article idea, or just some information here. Need anything else, for example some tech advice or online marketing in South Florida? Feel free to contact me.

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  1. Well written article Jason. I went to a Pow Wow last week. You can check this website to find out when the next one will be held. Go to the source for your info – perhaps they can shed some light for you. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy the drumming and dancing – I certainly did. Cody, the hoop dancer, is incredible.

  2. I don’t live a long time in Boca Raton, however, I feel I always belonged here. I came in 1994 and like you I found myself very interested about the history of this are. I did buy a book about Boca and got some info but I don’t think it goes as far as you’re looking for. Can’t wait to read about your findings. Regards, Johanna Suarez.

  3. I recently acquired two books: one about “Everglades Culture” which Boca is kinda lumped in with. I bought another recently too about Florida Native Americans in general. These were ones I hadn’t read before. The first one is more about the South Florida cultures and what’s known in terms of archaeology. The second is more from recorded history. After reading both of them the contrasts between the different “ways we know” was hard to ignore. It got me thinking about how I could be certain about the stuff I think I know. Is it something another Ranger made up to goof on me or is it real? Without being able to point to some book, some reference, it kind of left me in a position of questioning it all again. I don’t want to start spooling out some lore and have someone awkwardly school me that I’ve been believing fiction. So starting from square one, seeing what’s credible and what’s not, will be a cool journey.

  4. I am a volunteer with the Historical Society of Boca Raton.

    Whatever you would like to know about the history of our town, Laurie Lynn can tell you.
    Hopefully this may be of help.

    Randy Kassal

    Laurie-Lynn Jones
    Director of Heritage Education
    FL Certified Educator, DKG International Member

    561.395.6766 x307

  5. Join Dr. Arlene Fradkin, Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University, for an evening of archaeological investigation and discovery. Dr. Fradkin headed up the team that excavated the 2000-year-old Glades People maidens found in the Gumbo Limbo hammock. She will be sharing some stories revealed by these historical sites. There will be an opportunity to go through artifacts and try your own hand at identifying the clues left behind by these early inhabitants of South Florida.
    Tuesday, April 17, 7:00-8:30 PM

  6. Greetings Jason,
    I also moved to Boca Raton at a young age but in 1969. Back then there was the remnants of Ancient Americaon Federal Highway just South of Yamato Road. Ancient America was Mr. Barnhill’s tourist attraction that went out of business after the Florida’s turnpike was built since travelers to Miami stopped using US1.
    If you would like to see the Barnhill mound that was part of his attraction it is directly inside Boca Marina and yacht club security entrance. The developer of Boca Marina left the Large Midden as intact as he found it. Although state law said he could demolish the mound. He probably knew there were burial sites in the mound.
    I had researched early Florida sites and discovered that the large midden is still there. One Sunday i was driving by and pulled in to talk to the security person. I asked her about the mound and she pointed to it.
    She let me drive into the community and check out the mound. You can even see it if you drive by slowly but you should talk to security at a quiet time and they may let you park at the pool directly South of the mound. The mound is about 12 to 20 feet high with distint shape. Their are probably old canoes buried under the water nearby. The mound has water on two sides.
    Good luck seeing this site,
    William Martin


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