The Native People who lived at the mouth of the Little Manatee River over 500 years ago called their village Uzita (sometimes spelled Ucita).
The encampment at Camp Bayou was created by 3 Eagle Scout candidates in 2007 to provide a backdrop for guided tours and school programs. Periodic updates by various volunteers have changed the exhibit over time.
For photos on its evolution at its current location, click here.
It all started back in 1999 when Camp Bayou’s plans included the creation of a Native village that would portray the village of Uzita that archaeologists say may have been situated at the mouth of the Little Manatee River. In researching native people in Florida, we came across a website owned by a non-profit, HOTAO, who did re-enactments of native people for events and school groups. They were looking for a home so they were invited to come to Camp Bayou to discuss the possibilities.
After brief discussions with them and the County, they were invited to move their operation to Camp Bayou with the understanding that they could stay onsite for a limited time to get the physical elements in place and develop a marketing plan to encourage school children to visit on field trips. Although they produced a beautiful re-creation of a native village, set back in the woods, and a wonderful curriculum to go with it, they were not willing or able to live off site. Permanent camping and/or living in the museum were not permitted so they eventually were asked to leave. They took the majority of the wood and frond shelters including a large ‘council house’ that was approximately 20 feet long and about 15 feet high, but left behind one small ‘sentry hut’.
This sentry hut was part of the next incarnation created when 3 Eagle Scout candidates co-located their projects at Camp Bayou. To alleviate some of the trouble caused by vandalism in the previous location deeper in the woods, this smaller ‘native encampment’ was set within sight of the nature center and classroom, all within a short loop trail that would eventually include all the current components of the Native Camp: Hut, Barbacoa, Native Totem/Garden, Drying Rack, Food Storage, Gator Trap, Skinning Rack and Dug-out Canoe.
Over time, many volunteers have repaired the various components in keeping with the desire to keep it as historically plausible as possible, if not entirely guaranteed true to history. Little was known about the Uzita tribe, except for a few articles written by archaeologists who studied the area and by the missionaries with a Conquistador expedition which describes a European/Native People encounter that some (including the folks at Camp Bayou) believe happened at a village at the mouth of the Little Manatee River.
Materials for the Camp have included palm fronds, oak and/or pine logs, bamboo (as a stand-in for the native reeds that might have been used), and other local plant sources. When use of metal hardware had been deemed necessary to provide support and stability, they are camouflaged with natural materials.
Photos of the evolution of the Native Camp are available online.
References for Native Camp components, including lessons, props and exhibits:
Uzita Research Paper by Logan Dodson