Archeologists have found evidence on Salt Lake of a
long history of human habitation before Europeans began to arrive
in the 16th century. Native Americans had lived in the region for
thousands of years. Shell middens (mostly freshwater snails and
mussels in inland areas) testify to prehistoric meals. Fish
(especially catfish), reptiles, mammals, birds, and a wide variety
of wild plants rounded out the Native American's diet.
When Europeans arrived here, the area was probably
occupied by the Ais people, at least in some seasons. The Ais,
unlike the Timucuans farther north, did not grow crops. In the area
of Salt Lake, people probably hunted, fished, and foraged in
freshwater marshes and swamps and in nearby coastal lagoons.
Much of what we know of the Ais and of the
neighboring Hobe people to the south comes from the journal of
Jonathan Dickinson, a young Quaker merchant who was shipwrecked in
1696 just north of Jupiter Inlet. According to Jerald Milanich in
Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe, Dickinson
and his companions viewed the Hobe and the Ais as bloodthirsty,
pagan cannibals who were likely to murder them at any time.
Milanich argues that the Hobe and Ais were most interested in
salvaging what they could from the shipwreck, and they were not out
to harm the passengers.
Library of Congress
Indian thatched house
Dickinson describes a village of small houses
thatched with palmetto fronds and built on shell middens. The men
wore loincloths of woven vegetable fibers. Their long hair was
wound into a bun and held in place by two bones, one shaped like an
arrow and the other like a spear point. Dickinson witnessed an
evening ceremony which included chanting and gazing at the moon,
and he saw people make and consume a tea called the black drink.
Made from leaves of the yaupon holly plant (Ilex vomitoria) and
other plants, this drink was used ceremonially by many southeastern
After the native people had been wiped out,
pioneers of European ancestry explored and settled the area. They
logged most of the large timber in the area, which was mostly pine.
Cat-faced trees, scarred from collecting resin to make turpentine
and other products, may be seen on the area today. In more recent
decades, the area was part of a cattle operation. Another industry
was digging up cabbage palms and selling them for landscaping.