Around 1100 agriculture became important in the area that became the Apalachee domain. This area was part of the Fort Walton Culture, a Florida culture influenced by the Mississippian culture. The Apalachee capital was Anhaica (present-day Tallahassee, Florida) at the time of Hernando de Soto's visit in 1539-1540. The Apalachee lived in towns of various size, or on individual farmsteads of 1/2 acre or so in size. Smaller settlements might have a single mound and a few houses. Larger towns (50 to 100 houses) would have several mounds. Villages and towns were often situated by lakes. The largest Apalachee community was at Lake Jackson on the north side of present-day Tallahassee. This community had several mounds, some of which are now protected in Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, and 200 or more houses. The Apalachee grew corn, beans, squash, pumpkins and sunflowers. They gathered wild strawberries, the roots and shoots of the greenbrier vine, greens such as lambsquarters, the roots of one or more unidentified aquatic plants used to make flour, hickory nuts, acorns, saw palmetto berries and persimmons. They caught fish and turtles in the lakes and rivers, and oysters and fish on the Gulf Coast. They hunted deer, black bears, rabbits and ducks.
The Apalachee were part of a trade network that extended from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, and westward to what is now Oklahoma. The Apalachee acquired copper artifacts, sheets of mica, greenstone and galena through this trade. The Apalachee probably paid for these imports with shells, pearls, shark teeth, preserved fish and sea turtle meat, salt and cassina leaves and twigs (used to make the black drink).
The Apalachee made tools from stone, bone and shell. They made pottery, wove cloth and cured buckskin. They built houses covered with palm leaves or the bark of cypress or poplar trees. They stored food in pits in the ground lined with matting, and smoked or dried food on racks over fires. (When Hernando de Sotò seized the Apalachee town of Anhaico in 1539, he found enough stored food to feed his 600 men and 220 horses for five months.)
The Apalachee men wore a deerskin loincloth. The women wore a skirt of Spanish moss or other plant fibers. The men painted their bodies with red ochre placed feathers in their hair when they prepared for battle. The men smoked tobacco.
The Apalachee scalped opponents they killed and exhibited the scalps as a sign of their ability. Taking a scalp was a means of entering the warrior class, and was celebrated with a scalp dance using headdresses made of bird beaks and animal fur. The village or clan of a slain warrior was expected to avenge his death.
The Apalachee played a ball game that was described in detail by Spaniards in the 17th century. Two teams kicked and hit a small ball, made by wrapping buckskin around dried mud, trying to hit a goal post. There was only one goal, with an eagle's nest set on top. Players scored one point if they hit the post with the ball, and two points if the ball landed in the nest. Eleven points won the game. Spectators gambled heavily on the games.
Up to 50 men played on a team. The best players were highly prized, and villages gave them houses, planted their fields for them, and overlooked their misdeeds in an effort to keep such players on their teams. The giving of challenges for a game and the erection of goalposts involved rituals and ceremonies. The game had few rules and could be quite violent. Serious injuries and even deaths occurred in the games.
In 1539, Hernando de Sotò landed with a large contingent of men and horses on the west coast of the peninsula of Florida, searching for gold. The people he encountered told him that gold could be found in Apalachee. It is not known if this was a reference to the mountains of northern Georgia, which is a source of gold, or to the copper artifacts that the Apalachee had acquired through trade. In any case, it served to send de Sotò and his men away.
Because of their prior experience with the Narváez expedition and the reports they heard of the fighting between the de Sotò expedition and the tribes it encountered, the Apalachee feared and hated the Spanish. The de Sotò expedition entered the Apalachee domain, and the Spanish soldiers are described as lancing every Indian encountered on both sides of the road. De Sotò and his men seized the Apalachee town of Anhaica and spent the winter of 1539-1540 there.
The Apalachee fought back with small raids and ambushes. Their arrows could penetrate two layers of chain mail. They quickly learned to target the horses, which could give the Spanish a large advantage against the unmounted Apalachee. The Apalachee were described as being more pleased in killing one of these animals than they were in killing four Christians. In the spring of 1540, de Sotò and his men left the Apalachee domain and headed north into what is now the state of Georgia.
About 1600 the Spanish Franciscans founded a successful mission among them, but in 1704 (during Queen Anne's War) forces from the Province of Carolina in North America, made up mostly of Creek and Yamasee Indians, traveled southwards to Florida and attacked the Apalachee and the Spanish missionaries who lived amongst them, in what became known as the Apalachee Massacre. Some of the Apalachee were killed, others who were captured and sold into slavery kept their tribal identity for some time. Others were taken as slaves by the Creek and Yamasee Indians to be sold in the British Indian slave trade, and others fled westward accepting an offer to live in French-controlled Mobile. In 1763, most of these Apalachees relocated to Rapides Parish in Louisiana. The tribe's descendants are still in Rapides Parish Louisiana under the guidance of Chief Gilmer Bennett.
Today the tribal office located in Libuse, Louisiana, serves approximately 300 members. The tribe has been featured in The Wall Street Journal along with other news publications. The Public Broadcasting Service show "History Detectives" aired a special about the tribe in 2006. Mission San Luis, a living history museum in Tallahassee, Florida, that re-creates one of the Spanish missions to the Apalachee, received the Preserve America Presidential Award in 2006.