Which spelling is correct? The answer is not simple.
According to 16th century Spanish Mission reports, an indigenous hunter/gatherers tribe along the St.Johns River called themselves the Mayaca. Since they had no written language, there was no specific spelling of that name. The name “Mayaca” referred to both the principal village and the chief of this tribe. Little documentation on the history of this tribe exists so the mystery of the origins of the name has persisted over the years.
A letter written in 1940 by Secretary W. Stanley Hanson of the Seminole Indian Association to Project Superintendent Claude E. Ragan of the newly formed State Park used the spelling of “Miakka River State Park.” The letter explains Secretary Hanson’s attempt to discover the history and origin of the various spellings. He states that Lake Myakka was labeled as “Mayaco” on some early maps.
Click on this thumbnail to view this historic document. We thank Woodward Stanley Hanson, great grandson of W. Stanley, for this submission.
At the bottom of the letter a hand written question asks what the name “Miami” means, as “Mayaca” is conjectured by some to have the same meaning. The “Mayaimi” Tribe lived near Lake Okeechobee, named from the Hitchiti words oki (water) and chubi (big). The oldest known name for Lake Okeechobee was “Mayaimi,” (also meaning big water) as reported by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda in the 16th century.
The first recorded instance of the name “Myakka” being applied to the river of that name today was in 1843. At the mouth of the river, Deputy Surveyor Sam Reid encountered a group of Seminoles who told him the river was called the “Miarca”. The first map that shows the spelling Myakka appears in 1845. A map of Florida compiled by the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, a result of the state- wide township surveys of the early 18401s, shows the river as the Myakka. Sam Reid’s recorded Miarca was modified to Myakka. On this map also is recorded the ancient name of the Myakka headwaters “Locha notia” or sleeping turtles.
Writers throughout the 1800’s referred to the river as either the Myakka or the “Miakka”. The community that was established during the Civil War north of Upper Lake took the name Miakka and in 1878 when applying for a post office retained the original name. During the late 1800’s what is now called Upper Lake was called either Miakka Lake or Myakka Lake. What is now the Lower Lake was called either Lower Lake or Vanderipe Lake, W.H. Vanderipe being one of the major stockmen of the area. Throughout the early 1900’s the river would be called variously Miakka and Myakka.
So over the centuries many maps have been drawn with varying spellings of the lake, river, and region. When A.M. Wilson registered the name of the settlement north of what is now Myakka River State Park in 1879, he insisted that the proper spelling of the “town” was “Miakka.” When a new development along S.R. 70 sprung up along the new railroad line and called itself Myakka City, people started distinguishing the two locations by referring to the original settlement as “Old Miakka.”