Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Monster in Two Egg??? Parramore area sightings raise questions!

It appears that Florida's famed "skunk ape" may be ranging north.

Several eyewitnesses have come forward to report sightings of a strange, upright, hairy creature roaming the ponds and swamps about seven miles northeast of the downtown Two Egg crossroads. Locals are calling it the "Two Egg Stump Jumper."

Available descriptions describe the mysterious creature as being smaller in size than a human, but covered in hair. It walks or runs on two legs and seems to frequent swampy and wooded areas. At least two of the sightings have taken place at night, indicating the monster may be nocturnal.

According to eyewitnesses, one of which described the creature as "pale" in color, it seemed as startled to see them as they were to see it. Both described it as upright, but only saw it as it was running away on two legs. It is said to look something like a "hobbit" or "mini" Bigfoot.

Such stories are fairly common in Central and South Florida, where residents have been reporting encounters with what they call the Skunk Ape for years. They are much more rare in Jackson County, but are not entirely unknown.

If you would like to read the full story of the Two Egg Stump Jumper sightings, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/monster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Excerpt: Confederate Mining in Jackson County Caves

The following is an excerpt from the new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. The book is available Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna (across the street from the Battle of Marianna Monument) or online by clicking the ad at left.
- Excerpt -

Like most Floridians, the residents of Jackson County showed little initial interest in the blockade of the state’s coastline by the Union navy. Many did not think a total blockade even possible and few expected the war to last longer than a year or two. By the middle of 1862, however, it was apparent that the blockade would prove to be a factor not just for the South’s residents, but for its armies as well. Plagued with limited manufacturing capabilities when the war began, the Confederacy depended heavily on arms, ammunition and gunpowder brought in from abroad. As the blockade tightened, these avenues of supply were constricted.

In hopes of breaking the blockade and opening key ports, the Confederate Navy pushed forward projects such as the C.S.S. Chattahoochee. Quickly recognizing that they simply did not have the means to challenge the U.S. Navy for supremacy of the waves, however, Southern leaders also embarked on an ambitious program of industrialization. Peacetime mills, foundries and manufacturing facilities were converted and expanded to provide war material for the Southern military. Major industrial centers grew in Columbus and Augusta, Georgia; Selma and Mobile, Alabama; Richmond, Virginia, and in other key locations across the Confederate States.

In many ways this effort to wage war by the South foreshadowed future methods of manufacturing and supply. A converted riverboat facility in Columbus, for example, provided engines for warship construction projects throughout the Confederacy, while heavy cannon for those same vessels came from ordnance complexes in Richmond and Selma. Ironworks in Alabama and Georgia, in turn, provided the raw material used for making the guns and powder works in cities such as Augusta turned out gunpowder for both cannon and small arms.

Even Jackson County, far from the booming industrial cities of the Confederacy, contributed to this effort. Cotton from the county’s plantations and farms went up the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers to thread and textile mills where it was converted into uniforms, tents and bandages. Tanneries like the one at Oak Hill west of present-day Alford produced boots in large numbers for the military and other shops, large and small, manufactured everything from barrels and kegs to wagon wheels and horseshoes. The county’s forests provided heavy timbers, milled lumber and even enormous pine masts for naval construction. Beef, pork and grain from Jackson County supported Southern armies in the field as far away as Virginia, but primarily in Tennessee and Georgia.

Gunpowder, however, was the key to continued resistance to the gathering armies of the North. While an army might move on its stomach, without powder for its muskets and cannons, it could not fight. A key ingredient of gunpowder was potassium nitrate, more commonly known during the 19th center as saltpeter.

While there were several ways to collect or manufacture potassium nitrate, perhaps the easiest was to collect it from caves. In its mineral form it was known as nitre (usually spelled niter today) and was commonly found in clear to whitish encrustations on the walls and ceilings of dry caves. It was formed there by nitrates and alkali potassium leaching through the ground. Saltpeter could also be produced from the bat guano that accumulated on the floors of caves.

In an effort to find nitre for powder works such as the massive facility at Augusta, Georgia, the Confederate Nitre Bureau was established and Professor Nathan Pratt of Oglethorpe University was named Superintendent of Nitre for the District of Florida. A noted scientist of his day, Pratt was assigned the formidable task of developing sources for large quantities of nitre. Because the mineral was being successfully extracted from caves elsewhere in the South, his attention quickly turned to caverns that honeycomb much of Florida. Jackson County, of course, is home to hundreds of caves of various sizes.

While most of the many caves in the county were too small to be of much value for industrially producing nitre, it was hoped that several of the larger ones might hold potential. The best known of these at the time of the war were the Natural Bridge Cave in today’s Florida Caverns State Park and the Arch Cave (now called Gerrard or Sam Smith Cave) about three miles northwest of Marianna. The massive tour cave at the state park was not discovered until the 20th century.

To investigate the potential of the caves in Jackson County and elsewhere in Florida, Pratt traveled across much of Florida between May 28 and June 27, 1862. His investigations concentrated on caves near Marianna and Gainesville, as well as on other sources for producing saltpeter in Florida.

Professor Pratt arrived in Marianna on June 8, 1862. After conferring with local military and civic leaders, he hired a buggy and rode north from town on Carter’s Mill Road to inspect the Natural Bridge Cave. He was disappointed with what he found:

…(T)he caves are all small, the largest not over 400 yards long and from 10 to 20 feet wide, with few lateral expansions or apartments. The floors are generally rocky. Earthy floors when found of large extent, generally shallow; these are kept wet by water rushing in at the mouth or by excessive dripping from the porous ceiling above, so that nitre either is not formed or if formed is subject to constant lixiviation. Deficiency of earth or excessive wetness will describe all the caves of Florida that I examined and I consider these a sample of all as they occur in the same “rottru” porous, white limestone, of the Meiocine Tertiarry.

In short, the caves of Jackson County were too wet to be of much use for extracting nitre. While the results of his examinations were discouraging, Pratt did not completely rule out the possibility that small quantities of nitre could be mined in Florida. He found one cave near Gainesville that he thought might produce as much as 1,000 pounds, enough to make a considerable quantity of gunpowder, and he thought it might be worthwhile to at least make the attempt elsewhere. While he did not expect quantities produced to be sufficient to justify the construction of Confederate government mines, he did recommend that private owners open works in the caves to see what results they could achieve.

Such efforts were apparently undertaken in Jackson County. Either during his visit or shortly thereafter, Pratt named Dr. Thaddeus Hentz of Marianna as Assistant Superintendent for West Florida and placed him under the supervision of Charles H. Latrobe of Tallahassee. The brother of Dr. Charles Hentz, who practiced medicine in the county before the war, Thaddeus Hentz was a dentist and a private in Captain Robert Gamble’s Leon Light Artillery Company. He was detached from his normal military duties so he could work in Jackson County for the Nitre Bureau. Latrobe, a native of Baltimore, was the chief engineer of the Pensacola and Georgia Railroad and also a member of Gamble’s company.

The two evidently supervised at least limited attempts to mine nitre in the caves of Jackson County, most likely from the primary one at Natural Bridge. Surviving records show that Hentz approved payment to John L. McFarlin, an Apalachicola grocer, who had hired two wagon and mule teams for 25 days each to haul dirt for the Nitre Bureau in Jackson and Gadsden Counties. Some of this earth was mined from the floors of Jackson County caves, but some also came from beneath tobacco barns, stables and other plantation buildings.

The experiment, however, was short-lived and by mid-1863 significant Nitre Bureau operations in Jackson County had come to an end. Professor Pratt’s assessment of the productivity of the caves proved accurate and the county did not become a major source of potassium nitrate for the Confederate war effort.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Egg receives first snowfall in a decade!

As snow flurries spread across Jackson County this afternoon, the Two Egg area received its first snowfall in a decade.

Heavy snow began falling in the Two Egg area at around 3:30 p.m. and continued for more than an hour. In places the snow came heavy enough to create a light dusting on grass, trees and plants. The community had been under a Winter Weather Advisory all day. Please click here to see more.

The snow that reached Jackson County marked the southern edge of a large winter storm that is expected to continue moving across the South for the next couple of days. Areas of Alabama, including Mobile, reported snowfall of more than 5 inches and major traffic delays were reported across that state. Heavy snow was also reported south of the Alabama line west of Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle.

Students at Baptist Bible College in Graceville reported heavy snow falling there shortly before 3 p.m. and students at Chipola College in Marianna reported the same about 15 minutes later.

To see more photos of the Two Egg snow, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/snow2010.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life on a Jackson County Plantation - An Excerpt from the New Book

The following is excerpted from Chapter One of my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. The book is available through Amazon.com by clicking this ad. It is also available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

This excerpt discusses Sylvania, the Jackson County plantation of Confederate Governor John Milton:

"...Milton’s plantation, Sylvania, was centered around a surprisingly modest home all but hidden from view in a grove of lush trees. English tutor Sarah L. Jones (a pseudonym) vividly described her first view of plantation manor:

"It was just light enough to distinguish a long, low dwelling, surrounded by a deep piazza reached by steps extending along the whole front. A very pretty style of building, quite Southern, and in the midst of a wood. Excepting the drive to the house, and a cleared space in front, it was literally in a wood, and was therefore appropriately called ‘Sylvania.’

"Jones quickly discovered that Sylvania was a unique mixture of gentility and boisterousness and her arrival at the home in the trees was quite memorable. She described how she was invited into the parlor for tea by Mrs. Milton, all under the watchful eyes of the family’s ten youngest children:

"A fire was soon blazing in the sitting-room, called the parlour, the evenings being chilly; but the doors remained open, and I heard steps and voices on the piazza, and saw by the light of the blazing fire, splendid black eyes peeping in at the windows, and popping away on meeting mine, and I knew that some of the ten were ascertaining what sort of a looking body ‘the new teacher, Miss Jones’ might be.

"At the tea-table some half-dozen of the ten appeared, and I never saw such a collection of eyes in my life. They were all dark, and all beautiful, and all like their mother’s, but no two pairs alike. ‘Pretty girls, and amiable, evidently; manners perhaps a little uncouth, listless and inexpressive; temper easy, mind undeveloped, and character also expressionless. Such were my pupils in Florida….

"Life at Sylvania, however, soon proved to be a bit more difficult than the young teacher had expected. She quickly discovered to her chagrin that Jim, one of the Milton slaves, was a prankster who enjoyed taking items from the home and hiding them in the woods. Prior to bed one night she had arranged a row of books on a piano in the little one-room plantation schoolhouse, only to return to the building the next morning to find them gone:

"‘I bet a dollar that Jim…has carried them off into the woods,’ said Johnny.
‘Why should he do that.’
‘Oh, just for mischief. I left my violin here one evening, and the next day it was gone. A long time afterwards, which I was hunting in the woods, I found it smashed up under the trees; and I know Jim broke it up for mischief.’ Thus the row of books vanished, their loss borne amiably and unconcernedly, without an effort to recover them.

"Miss Jones soon discovered that the girls of the family were just as playful as Jim. In fact, she soon realized that the Miltons, like other wealthy elites of the Southern planting class, did not discipline their children at all:

"…Southern parents who have been reared on the same principals do not understand the discipline necessary to enforce any system. They are too indulgent, too much accustomed to control an inferior class, and to allow their children to control that class, to reconcile to themselves the idea of compelling obedience in their own children when once past infancy, which would perhaps be placing them too much on a par with the negroes.

"In short, the tutor believed that wealthy Southerners did not discipline their children because doing so would place them on the level of slaves. She described how little Johnny would even call a slave to carry his spade for him while helping her in the garden. As a result, her efforts to teach the Milton children were frustrating in the extreme. The children would come and go from the little school on the grounds as they pleased. Sometimes other children from the neighborhood would come, other times not.

"While Jones’ account provides a fascinating look at life in the Milton home itself, the plantation was first and foremost a place of work and farming. The future governor of Florida held 52 slaves, some were children and others house servants, but most were field hands, who worked all day in the fields and woods of the plantation. Jones paid little attention to them during her sojourn at Sylvania, noting only that they were “too busy planting, or ploughing, or chopping wood” to assist her with her small garden...."

To read more, please consider The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Volume 2 now in stock at Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna

The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States (Volume 2)
Volume 2 of The History of Jackson County, Florida is now in stock at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.
The store had 20 autographed copies in stock as of this afternoon and will have more next week. They expected to temporarily sell out over the weekend, so if you are in town and want to pick one up you might want to visit early tomorrow. The shop opens at 10 a.m. and is located in downtown Marianna right across the street from the Battle of Marianna Monument.

You can also order online through Amazon.com. They have a full supply in stock and can ship immediately. Just click here: The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States (Volume 2)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Volume 2 of The History of Jackson County is now available at Amazon.com

I'm pleased to announce that The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States, Volume 2 of my series on the county's history, is now available at Amazon.com for immediate delivery.

The book will be available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna next week and I'll let you know as soon as they have a supply on hand.

The sequel to The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, this volume focuses on the Civil War years in the county. Key elements covered include the plantation era, slavery, secession, the Confederate warship Chattahoochee, the soldiers form the county that served both South and North, the Battle of Marianna, the skirmish at Campbellton, guerrilla activities including the Battles of Forks of the Creek and Port Jackson, Governor John Milton and much more.

The book is 330 pages long and includes wide ranging historical and genealogical information such as listings of all known Union and Confederate soldiers from the county, many previously unpublished accounts of life in Jackson County during the Civil War and exciting new detail on the life of John Milton, the first resident of the county to rise to the governor's chair.

The book will be followed shortly by the release of Daniel Weinfeld's outstanding new history of the Reconstruction era in Jackson County, which makes an outstanding companion volume to the new book (more on that coming soon).

All shipping and delivery of the new book is being handled by Amazon.com. To order, just click ad at the top of this page.