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Where did Sarasota get its Name?

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Archivist
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Where did Sarasota get its Name? photo

Before there was a community named Sarasota, there was Sarasota Bay. From what source did its name come? It is uncertain. Some scholars suggest a Spanish origin. Others suggest an Indian derivation. The best-known “explanation,” however, comes from a legend published by George F. Chapline in 1906.

In Chapline’s story, Chichi-Okobee, son of a Seminole chief, surrendered to the forces of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto so that he could be close to de Soto’s daughter Sara, with whom he had fallen in love at first sight. Chichi-Okobee became sick, and it appeared he would die. After all other assistance failed, Sara took over his care and he regained his health. Then Sara became ill. After her father’s physicians failed to heal her, Chichi-Okobee obtained her father’s permission to leave de Soto’s camp and bring back with him his tribe’s medicine man. However, even his ministrations failed.

After Sara died, and hearing of Chichi-Okobee’s love for his daughter, de Soto gave permission for the young man to return home to gather a number of young Seminole men to serve as an honor guard during Sara’s burial ceremony. In two large canoes, 100 braves accompanied the canoe bearing Sara’s body to “the most beautiful, the most peaceful body of water” Hernando de Soto had ever seen. After Sara’s body had been lowered into the water, Chichi-Okobee led the warriors in sinking their two canoes. At the bottom of the Bay, Chichi-Okobee and his men became a permanent guard of Sara’s final resting place. Since then, the bay has been called Sarasota Bay.

In 1916, Chapline’s legend became the basis for the Sara de Sota Pageant. Parades, sports activities, concerts, dancing, and a “coronation” event spread over several days, and varying from year to year, characterized the pageant until the late 1950s. Initially sponsored by the Board of Trade, the pageant later became a project of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. In the early years, residents reenacted some of the events of the legend, such as Sara’s burial in the bay, as shown in the above photo from 1916.

Once the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was in Sarasota for its winter quarters, animals, circus acts, and equipment contributed to the parades and other events. Baby parades, mutt parades, old and new car parades, and “grande” parades were part of the program. Frog Olympics, fishing tournaments, and Texas Jim’s snake dance brought the “natural” world to some of the festivals. Orange crate racing in 1953 replaced the earlier soap box classic. Street dancing on Main Street complemented the more formal Coronation Balls at the end of the pageant week.

In the 1950s, a monkey cage from the circus was parked at Five Points in downtown Sarasota, to house all those caught on Main Street without festival-appropriate dress. Through 1957 the festival theme was Spanish. Beginning in 1958, however, it became Scottish and the historic programming commemorated the early Scottish settlers of the city rather than Sara de Soto. The Scottish theme did not last long. By 1964, the festival had become the King Neptune festival, which lasted into the 1980s.