Greater Ancestors

World Museum

Monroe County – Key West – Much Larger than Present Dwellers

Paper On Key West’s History

The following is a copy of the paper contributed by Maurice Felton, winner of the first prize in a contest which closed recently at the High School here dealing with Key Wtest’s early history:
Key West In the Early Days The history of the original settlers or inhabitants of Key Westis entirely unknown, although some of the stories have passed down through the generations of time contain room for an immense
quantity of authenticity. The story of how Key West obtained its name through the- very first known group of people that existed on the island is interesting. It is probable that, from the time of the first visit of Ponce de
Leon until the cession of Florida to the United States, the islands which extended in a southwesterly direction from Cape Florida were only resorted to by the aborigines of the country, the piratical crews with which the neighboring seas were infested, and the fishermen, (many of them from St. Augustine) who were .engaged in supplying the market of Havana with the “finny tribes” that abounded in their vicinity. Of the occasional presence of the first, we have evidence in the marks of ancient fortifications of mounds
of earth, found in the various localities, (in one of which, opened some years since, human bones of | a large size were discovered) and tradition has in addition, brought down to us notices of them which deserve credit conferred upon the same authority in other parts of the country. The oldest traditional story, dating back to 1785, used to say that probably about the commencement of the eighteenth century, the Indians inhabiting the islands along the coast were of different tribes, and as these islanders frequently visited the mainland for the purpose of hunting, a feud arose among the tribes, and those from the mainland having made an irruption into the islands, the inhabitants were driven from island to island until they reached Key West. Here, as they Could flee no further, they were compelled to risk a final battle, which resulted in the almost entire extermination of the islanders.
This sanguinary battle strewed the island with bones as it was probable the conquerors tarried not to commit the bones of the dead to the ground, lienee the name of the island Cayo Hueso (in Spanish (“Bone Island”) which the English corrupted into “Key West.”

Other Stories

In addition to this story, there are various other stories refer
ring to the early history of “The Golden Isle of the Sea.” It is
possible that the early Spanish pirates used the island as a place
of refuge (due to the natural harbor and deep waters) from stormy
waves or other pirate ships. This has ben proved authentic by the
fact that hidden pirate treasures have been found on the island and
some of the other Florida Keys. On one occasion, a stranger visited the island, with a complete camping outfit. He made the South Beach (formerly called La Briea) his camping ground. The residents of the island noticed that
the tent kept moving gradually up the beach. One day it was discovered that the visitor had disappeared during the hours of the night, but be had left his marks.
A huge square hole was found where the tent had last been placed. The stranger had beensearching for a hidden treasureand bad used bis tent as a wail to conceal his toll of digging in the sand. This ‘well-known incident verifies the statement that pirate*! used the island at some unknown time in tb# past.
Specimens of human skeletons that have been found reveal clearly that the early inhabitants of the island were of an immensesixe. Large skulls have been un earthed from huge mounds of rich ail. Other hones that have been found show that the earlier inhabitants were much larger than the present day dweller*.

  1. The Key West citizen. [volume], May 04, 1933, Page PAGE FIVE, Image 5

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