Hotel Escalante™ is named after a remarkable Spaniard named Escalante Fontaneda, who lived with the Calusa Indians in the 16th Century in what is now Naples.
His story begins in 1564, in Spain, when his father’s distinguished naval career came to a halt after a cholera outbreak claimed the lives of his wife and two young daughters, leaving the distraught Juan Fontaneda to raise his nine-year-old son, Escalante, alone. He embarked on a three-year study program for his son, and on Escalante’s 12th birthday, Fontaneda returned to the sea to explore the New World, with Escalante in tow.
Fontaneda arrived in St. Augustine in 1567, and later that year set out on an expedition with his son and a crew to explore the Florida coast. Their party was attacked by natives. All were killed except Escalante.
Escalante was found by Juan Carlos, King of the Calusas, who made him his personal slave. Within a year, Escalante had mastered the Calusa language and ways, and become faithful and hard-working. As a reward, Juan Carlos freed him and Escalante became a member of the tribe.
By then, the tribe was living near the southwest coast of Florida and needed a better route to the Gulf of Mexico for their dugout canoes. Escalante was appointed to head the project: building a canal from Naples Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Recalling his knowledge and study of European waterways, he completed the project in record time. The canal he built later became Fifth Avenue South.
Escalante Fontaneda lived with the Calusas until he was 28, when he returned to Spain. He wrote extensively about his life with them. Legend tells us that he was the only European to live with this Indian nation.
By the 18th Century, the Calusas had disappeared from South Florida. In the late 1800s, Naples was “discovered,” and Fifth Avenue South was built on what was once the Calusa canal.
Source: Fontaneda’s Memoir; Glade House, Coral Gables, 1945.