Friday, January 2, 2009

Origin of Word "Chipola" Dates Back Hundreds of Years

By Dale Cox

Marianna – The traditional story often told in books and articles about Jackson County is that the word “Chipola” originates from the Choctaw language and means something akin to “Sweetwater.” It is a colorful tale that dates back many decades, but the Choctaw never lived in Jackson County and there is no evidence the name of the county’s famed Chipola River comes from their language.

The word actually appears to be a relic of the little-known Chacato language. Barely remembered today, the Chacato were living in what is now Jackson County when the Spanish arrived in the region in 1674. Although they claimed the land as far east as the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers, their primary homeland was in the rich lands between the Chipola River and Holmes Creek.

Spanish missionaries settled among the Chacato in 1674 and established the missions or churches of San Nicolas, San Carlos and San Antonio. San Nicolas was located a few miles northwest of Marianna, San Antonio was just north of Campbellton and San Carlos was initially located in what is now Washington County.

In 1675, however, large numbers of Chacato warriors revolted against the Spanish and drove away the missionaries. The Spanish retaliated by launching a military expedition into the region and burning San Nicolas and San Antonio. Most of the inhabitants fled to Alabama.

The war against the Chacato soon expanded to include the Chisca or Yuchi who lived in what is now Walton County. From a fortified village somewhere south of today’s Defuniak Springs, Chisca warriors raided Spanish settlements in eastern Florida.

The Europeans responded in 1677 by launching an expedition that located and destroyed the Chisca stronghold. The soldiers passed through Jackson County and the journal of the expedition’s commander includes the first known written use of the word “Chipola.”
Crossing the Chattahoochee River at a site now covered by Lake Seminole, Captain Juan Fernandez de Florencia and his 197 men marched west into Jackson County during September of 1677. After camping at a pond somewhere north of Grand Ridge, the force marched on to Blue Spring which the captain described as “a spring which is named Calutoble, whence a river runs toward the south.”

After passing Blue Spring, the expedition angled to the northwest across today’s Dogwood Heights area and marched for the natural bridge of the Chipola River at today’s Florida Caverns State Park. As they came down from the hills into the floodplain of the river, Captain Fernandez de Florencia noted that they camped “in a great forest called Chipole; and the next day knelt to pray.”

It was the first documented use of the word “Chipola” and based on the captain’s description, it initially applied to the vast floodplain swamps rather than the river itself. Since the expedition was guided by friendly Chacato warriors and the word is undoubtedly Native American in origin, it is reasonable to conclude that it was from the Chacato language. The exact meaning, however, has been lost to time.

The Chacato completely disappeared from Jackson County by 1706. The anti-Spanish part of the tribe moved to Alabama and was eventually assimilated into the Creek Nation. The pro-Spanish Chacato relocated to Mobile, Alabama, where they lived adjacent to the French settlement there during the early 1700s. They eventually moved on to Louisiana and Texas, where a few of their descendants live to this day.

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