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The Apalachee Council House in Mission San Luis

The Apalachee Council House in Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida

Visiting the Apalachee council house in Mission San Luis, Tallahassee, Florida.

My parents took the kids and I to visit Mission San Luis when we went to see them in Tallahasee, Florida last month. Mission San Luis is a pretty incredible living history site. It is a rare instance of a Native American Tribe (the Apalachee) living side-by-side with European settlers (Spanish, in this case). I think it is probably a stretch to say that the Apalachee were genuinely thrilled that the Spanish were there, but they made it work for several decades. Over time, the Spanish treated the Apalachee more poorly. An English invasion ultimately destroyed the mission. The Apalachee fled, with remaining tribe descendents now living in Louisiana. The tribe started the lengthy process of seeking federal recognition in 1997.

Visiting the Apalachee Council House in Mission San Luis

The Apalachee tribe was well-organized, and one of the most powerful tribes met by early explorers. You can see evidence of this sophistication in the enormous Apalachee council house that we toured. We were awed by the sheer size of this structure. It is hard to believe that you can make something so large and stable using only natural materials! In the photo below, you can see my mom and Anna entering through the door that you can see on the right of the photo at the top of this post.

I’m fascinated by how similar this council house is to the Iron Age crannog we visited on Loch Tay in Scotland.

Entering a replica Apalachee Mission House

The center of the council house is open to the sky.

Apalachee Council houses were open to the sky in the center

This means that large fires can burn in the center of the house.

Inside a replica Apalachee council house in Mission San Luis, Tallahassee, Florida

The chief addressed council meetings from the chief’s bench, which also had room for his advisers or family members.

The chief's bench in the Apalachee council house in Mission San Luis

These platforms provided seating for families during tribe council meetings. At night, they provided a place for travelers to sleep.

In an Apalachee Council House, these benches accommodated families during council meetings and were places for travelers to sleep at night.

We were told that quite a few runaway slaves escaped through Mission San Luis, where they would sleep in the council house until they traveled on. The Spanish government would grant runaway slaves from American colonies freedom if they were willing to convert to Catholicism and serve in the colonial military.

Spanish Moss in Mission San Luis in Tallahassee

The council house held many artifacts of daily Apalachee life. My children found this woven Spanish moss fascinating. It makes a very strong strap!

Weaving Spanish moss

Once home, we found this fascinating video showing the re-thatching of the council house:

Do you have a favorite living history site? Share in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. 

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

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