Which spelling is correct? The answer is not simple.
Background: Between 3000 B.C. and 500 B.C., unique Florida Indian cultures developed throughout every region of the state. It is these pre-Columbian societies that spawned the 350,000 American Indians, the Apalachee, Calusa, Potano, Mayaca, Tequesta and Guacata who inhabited Florida when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the Atlantic coast in 1513 and then sailed around the peninsula to Estero Bay near Fort Myers.
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.
In 1843, when this part of Florida was first surveyed, the surveyors encountered a group of Indians canoeing down the river. The surveyors asked for the name of the river they were surveying and recorded “Miarca” as the name provided. Too bad they didn’t think to ask the Indians what the name meant.
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.”