Titusville, Florida Centennial — 1867-1967
Before The White ManAbout the year 1,000 B.C., a peculiar tribe of Indians settled in the general Brevard area. These early inhabitants were named Ais or Ays (Ah-es) by the first Spanish explorers. The Ais Indians were aboriginal and should not be confused with the Seminole Indians of a later date. The Ais lived in small nomadic bands and chose various prime locations along the Indian River to make camp. The beach area was the normal winter habitat but with the coming of summer and the ever present mosquito, the Indians would migrate to the higher mainland ridges.
The Ais tribe was loosely grouped with the Indian tribes of the southern half of Florida. The tribe consisted of a series of small villages each commanded by its own village chief. They lived in crude and flimsy wooden frame structures that were completely covered with palmetto leaves. The largest house in each village belonged to the chief and it was usually located in the center of the village. In his house was a seat of honor and other places where his second in command and advisors were stationed. It was here that the village chief enacted village laws and ruled and judged his tribe.
Physically, the Ais were small in stature in comparison with the average contemporary American Indian. Their small stature did not result in timidity, however, for all known accounts indicate that the Ais were very warlike and were great hunters and skilled in the use of the bow and arrow and other weapons. The main garb of the Ais men was a breechcloth. Many ornaments of stone, bone and shell have been found which would indicate that the women's wearing apparel was made of the skins of animals.
Hunting and fishing were the chief occupational opportunities and since wildlife was in abundance, food was no problem. Their staple food was fish speared from the Indian River which was known to the Ais Tribe as the" Aysta-chatta-hatch-ee". Translated, this means "the river of the Ais Indians". Later the Spaniards were to refer to the Indian River on all of their maps as "The Rio d' Ays". In addition to fish and game, oysters, clams and snails were a mainstay of their diet.
As these Indians became more civilized, their society lost much of its simplicity. An example of the complexity which required a co nmunity effort by the Indians is the burial mound. One of the larger burial grounds is located on Kennedy Space Center property at the northermost boundaries of the Spaceport near Oak Hill. The most noteworthy of the various mounds is the Ross Hammock Site. Here the dirt is piled twenty-five feet high in an area 100 feet in diameter. The mound is full of skeletons at varying levels of depth and was dug into in 1963 by the Florida State Museum. Evidence shows that there are at least forty separate burials in a small portion of the mound.
There is no conclusive evidence showing any practice of religion by the Ais prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. This plus an indifference to agriculture and an apparent late development of different types of pottery has led to the belief that the Ais were a backward tribe.