The journey is the prize when searching for treasure. Here is a tale of a magnificent Indian treasure thought to be in the Charlotte Harbor or Fort Myers area. (Story via treasurelore.com)

During the period between 1519 and 1617, when the Calusa Indians were at the height of their power, the King of Spain’s “plate fleets” transported millions in New World gold, silver and precious stones. The leader of the Calusa was named Carlos, and he also ruled over a vast Indian federation that controlled the entire southern Florida coastal region. As tribute, the other Indians of the federation would give him most of the booty they collected whenever a ship sank along the eastern coast of Florida and they were able to salvage any of the cargo.

Accounts of Carlos’ wealth and power were recorded in the memoirs of a ship wrecked Spaniard. Hernando Fontaneda was only a boy of 13 en route to Spain when he found himself stranded on one of the Keys. He was soon taken captive by the Calusas and brought to the village of the chief, where he managed to amuse Carlos by performing songs and dances.

The young castaway’s life was spared and he spent the next 17 years as a member of the tribe. He learned several Indian dialects and served as a translator for Carlos in dealings with other tribes. Finally, when he was about 30, he managed to escape.

In the book entitled Narrative of Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied Laudonniere, mention is made of the proposed expedition that Fontaneda wanted to make back to try and recover some of the treasure Carlos had accumulated. “They (Fontaneda and his companion) also reported that he (Carlos) possessed a great store of gold and silver and that he kept it in a certain village in a pit not less than a man’s height in depth and as large as a cask; and that, if I could make my way to the place with a hundred arquebusiers, they could put all the wealth into my hands besides what I might obtain from the richer of the natives.”

When Fontaneda eventually found passage to Spain, he wrote an account of his experiences in Florida and delivered it to the King of Spain. By doing this, he hoped to win favor and enter the King’s service. In one section of Fontaneda’s memoirs, dated 1575, there are several references to Calusa wrecking activity and the tribe’s enormous wealth. The following is but one example: “I desire to speak of the riches found by the Indians of Ais, which perhaps were as much as a million dollars or over, in bars of silver, gold, and in articles of jewelry made by the hands of the Mexican Indians, which the passengers were bringing with them. These things Carlos divided with the caicques of Ais, Jeaga, Guacata, Mayajuaco and Mayaca, and he took what pleased him, or the best part.”

To this day, Florida historians, archaeologists and treasure hunters are still looking for leads to the tribe’s lost gold. It is known that Carlos’ village was near what is now called Charlotte Harbor, on the West Coast of Florida, near Fort Myers.