Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Headless Indian Chiefs of Jackson County


Although few people remember it today, there is an old legend about a spot on the Apalachicola River near Sneads that is said to be haunted by the restless spirits of two Indian chiefs. It is said that on foggy nights, their headless bodies can be seen standing by the river, evidently hoping for the return of their heads.

Whether you believe in their supernatural aspects or not, old stories like this one are important reminders of the days before radio and television when long winter evenings were spent telling stories by firelight. As such they represent an important part of Southern culture and often have a basis in some real incident.
The story of the headless Indian chiefs, for example, preserves the dim memory of real events that took place along the Apalachicola River during 1830s. The area bordering the river just north of today’s Gulf Power Plant was then a Native American village called “Walker’s Town.”
The village was part of a reservation set aside by the Treaty of Moultrie Creek for a chief called the “Mulatto King” by the U.S. Government and the “Black King” by the Spanish. He had lived in this spot for many years and gained his name because his father had been a black Spanish trader and he died at his home during the early 1830s.
Following the death of the Mulatto King, the leadership of the village passed to his nephew, a man named John Walker. He stayed on good terms with the neighboring whites and was well known to many Floridians in his day.
During the early years of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), a large party of refugee Creeks came down into Florida from Alabama. After engaging in a series of battles with white troops, they agreed to surrender if they would be allowed to keep their arms and live with other Native Americans until a boat could be arranged to transport them to the new Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. John Walker offered to let them live at his village and they assembled there in 1837.
One of their leaders was a well-regarded chief named Coa-Hadjo. Shortly after he arrived at Walker’s Town, however, Coa-Hadjo became embroiled in an argument with one of Walker’s followers, a warrior named Lewis. The argument grew out of control and Lewis drew a knife and stabbed Coa-Hadjo. When their chief died from his wounds, Coa-Hadjo’s followers then dragged Lewis from his home and executed him by firing squad according to traditional Creek law.
It would seem that the story might end here. The people of Walker’s Town left for Oklahoma less than one year later and most of Coa-Hadjo’s former followers, now led by the chief Pascofa, fled back into the swamps to continue their war against the whites.
Strangely, though, the heads of both Coa-Hadjo and Lewis soon wound up in the possession of Dr. Joseph R. Buchanan of Cincinnati, Ohio. He wrote a letter from Pensacola in 1839 indicated that he had acquired the skulls of the two men, along with the skull of the long-dead chief Mulatto King as well. Apparently he either dug them up himself or purchased them from some local citizen who did so.
Dr. Buchanan believed he could learn the personality and other aspects of the dead by studying their skulls. He wrote a brief report on the “information” he gathered from the skulls of Coa-Hadjo, Mulatto King and Lewis and then added them to his macabre collection.
The old Apalachicola River legend preserves the memory of this bizarre grave-robbing incident and the headless Indian chiefs of the story are undoubtedly Coa-Hadjo and Mulatto King. What eventually became of their heads is not known.

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