Native Americans Hunting Crocodiles

Date: 1591
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images


This scene of the Timucua Indians of eastern Florida hunting crocodiles, one of the many famous 1591 engravings by Theodore De Bry, combines the European interests in both the ethnographic and zoological elements of the New World. The text describes how an Indian would keep watch in a windowed hut (on the left of this picture) in the Everglades in order to spot crocodiles when they emerged from the swamp to hunt. Upon the lookout's signal, a group of hunters would attack the crocodile by ramming a small tree down its throat, an action that protected them from the animal's deadly teeth and allowed them to flip it onto its back, where the hunters would then kill it with repeated blows to its soft underbelly.

For Europeans, Crocodiles and Indians were both fascinating New World denizens that differed markedly from anything that they knew in Europe. Although De Bry is recognized today for portraying Indians in an apparently realistic manner, the crocodile pictured here is enormous and colored like a mythical European dragon. Crocodiles, armadillos, buffalo, iguanas, rheas, jaguars, and the many tropical birds were consistent sources of wonder for Europeans, both those who encountered them in America and those who saw them preserved in European museums. The very sense of wonder they engendered served as an impetus for studying them empirically, a development that would eventually lead to the creation of a modern system of taxonomy.
CITATION: de Bry, Theodore. CROCODILES, 1591. Florida Indians killing crocodiles (alligators): engraving, 1591, by Theodor de Bry after a now lost drawing by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues. Courtesy of the Granger Collection, NY.  ID: 0009679.