Twenty miles southwest of Fort Center in the Lake Okeechobee basin is another equally impressive Native American site: Ortona Mounds. Occupied at the same time as Fort Center, Ortona’s collection of mounds suggests it was an administrative center whereas Fort Center was an agricultural center. The people of Ortona also dug an extensive network of transportation canals, the first such canals north of Mexico, which gave them direct passage to Lake Okeechobee in the east and the Gulf of Mexico in the West. It is believed they controlled an extensive maritime trade network along both coasts of Florida and even inland via riverways as far north as Ohio. Such a network has always believed to have existed since we find bird feathers from the Everglades in Ohio and stone pipes from Ohio in the Okeechobee area. It is now believed the people at Ortona were those responsible for this trade.
As we discussed at our previous site, Fort Center, it is possible the inhabitants of Ortona and Fort Center were the ancestors of modern Hitchiti speakers who were, in turn, descendants of the Chontal Maya. Hitchiti has many words borrowed from Chontal Maya. In fact, the name “Hitchiti” derives from a Creek word “ahi’tchita” which means “to look up the stream.” Interestingly, in Ohio we find a group of people called the Miami which is derived from “Myaamia” (Maya-amia) meaning “downstream people.” Coincidentally, Lake Okeechobee was known as Mayaimi and a nearby river Myakka when the first Spanish explorers arrived. This is where the city of Miami takes its name.