The Akokisas lived in palmetto or grass-thatched roundhouses. In winter, they occasionally added animal hides and a small fire for warmth. Woven mats served as seats and beds. A smoke hole at the top would serve as a chimney. In most Gulf Coast Indian groups, the women, not the men, owned the property.
In the summer, the Akokisa and many other southern American Indian groups lived in a “chickee,” an open-sided structure with a raised platform that allowed them to sleep above ants and other insects. A bed of soft straw would be made on the platform and covered with skins for sleeping. During mosquito season, a small smudge fire underneath the platform would sift through the platform and repel mosquitoes. They also smeared their bodies with rancid alligator fat as a mosquito repellent.
The Akokisas often built easily constructed, open-sided structures for work areas while traveling. Pictured here is the lean-to where hides were worked into clothing, tools and weapons were made, or food was prepared. The brush arbor, opposite the lean-to, has hide-tanning racks and provides a breezy work space where such tasks as basket weaving, mat making, and child care would have taken place.
Every American Indian village had a sweat lodge for both health and religious purposes. Here they might seek inspiration and guidance for an upcoming adventure through a dream or vision of a totem animal. Like modern saunas, respiratory and other ailments were likely treated here.
The council lodge was the focus of community life and rituals. Matters of general interest would be discussed here, and tribal history and legend would be passed on through story, song, and dance. Oral tradition filled the gap of written language, as the elders would tell tales of the past.
Without dentists on the frontier, the toothache tree (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) was the settlers’ recourse when suffering from a toothache. Also called Hercules club, the leaves and bark of this unique small tree contain a mild anesthetic. American Indians and pioneers also used it to sooth their babies’ teething pains.
Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) was a sacred shrub to American Indians throughout the Gulf Coast region, where it grows. The leaves contain caffeine and, when used in small amounts, can be made into a mildly stimulating drink. The local American Indians, however, used it in great amounts to induce vomiting during their rituals. Europeans, observing these purging ceremonies, gave the plant its species name.
The greenbrier vine (Smilax sp.) has large underground tubers that were important as food and drink to southern American Indians. Some tuber clusters can weigh nearly 100 pounds! The tubers were chopped and ground into meal for use in bread and soups. Greenbrier tubers and sassafras root boiled together created the original root beer.