Sunday, December 28, 2014

100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida: The List

This page lists each part in my series "100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida." As each new post is added, it will be included here so you can access the entire series in one place. Just click each link to read that post:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Alarming facts about media coverage of Dozier School controversy

I am pleased to announce the release at of my new book, Death at Dozier School: The Attempted Assassination of an American City.

It can be purchased now at Amazon by clicking here:  Death at Dozier School. The book is also available in Marianna, FL at The Vintage Depot on South Caledonia Street, although they are now sold out until after Christmas.

This is a book about the Dozier School Cemetery, its destruction by the University of South Florida and the inaccurate media coverage that has surrounded the issue. Profits from the book are being donated to worthwhile causes, including the group funding effort for a friend who is battling cancer. 

Read more about why the book was written in this excerpt from the introduction:

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT A CEMETERY.  I clarify this now because the former Dozier School for Boys in Florida is surrounded by a whirlwind of allegations, claims, opinions, and in some cases, outright falsehoods. Many of these have been exacerbated by media coverage generated and often coordinated by employees of the University of South Florida (USF), an institution of higher learning in Tampa. The university has used more than half a million dollars in taxpayer funding to search for and exhume graves on the campus of the former institution for juvenile offenders. To quote one of the graduate students involved in the project, it was done in the name of “social justice.”

Unfortunately, the Dozier School Cemetery is no better understood by the public at large today than it was before two years of research by USF and an accompanying frenzy of media coverage. The university has grown increasingly secretive about is work on the campus and on at least one occasion even went so far as to deny that it had released new information even as it provided a major report of findings to the State of Florida. Researchers once conducted media tours on the Dozier School campus and even allowed CNN unprecedented live access as the first graves were exhumed. Today they carefully hold their press conferences hundreds of miles away from the site and release only a trickle of information to a media that remains fixated on the fading narrative that the cemetery was a place where bodies were dumped following hundreds of “murders” and “abuse-related deaths” on the campus.

Why the dramatic change? This book will provide you with an opportunity to answer that question for yourself.

So then, this is a book about a cemetery. It is a history of the Dozier School or “Boot Hill” cemetery in Marianna, Florida. The goal is to make public the facts about the cemetery from its first interments more than 100 years ago to the present controversy that led to its destruction. This is not a book about the allegations of abuse that have been made against the school and its employees by groups of former students except where those allegations involve the cemetery or other rumored gravesites on campus. Much has been written about the “White House” – a structure on campus where corporal punishment was administered to students that has become a focal point of abuse allegations – but the building was not used for punishment purposes during most of the cemetery’s active history. Only one burial is known to have taken place in the Dozier School Cemetery after the former ice cream factory now called the “White House” was converted for use as a storage and punishment facility. For reasons that will be explained in the book, the individual buried in that grave was not connected to the “White House” allegations.

On the pages that follow you will find a documented history of the cemetery and its use to bury unfortunate students and employees of the school for roughly fifty years. The story it presents is tragic. In some cases it is heart-breaking. Yet there are also moments of inspiration and heroism associated with some of the graves. Those stories are related as well, in hopes that the reader will gain a better appreciation for the noble actions of some residents of the school, students and employees alike. 

To continue reading:  Death at Dozier School

Friday, November 14, 2014

#56 The Chattahoochee, Florida's Forgotten River (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Chattahoochee River at Neal's Landing Park
The short stretch of the famed Chattahoochee River that borders Jackson County from the Alabama state line down to the Georgia line is #56 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

Hailed by the poet Sidney Lanier in his "Song of the Chattahoochee" and singer/songwriter Alan Jackson in his smash country hit "Chattahoochee", the Chattahoochee River is a landmark of American history, culture and ecology. It rises from a small spring on Coon Den Ridge near Jack's Knob in the North Georgia mountains and flows to Jackson County where it merges with the Flint River to form Florida's famed Apalachicola.

Chattahooche flows past Parramore Landing Park (lower left)
There are several different theories on the meaning of the river's name, but all agree that it originates from two Creek Indian words. The problem is that there are multiple Creek languages (Muskogean, Hitchiti, Alabama, Yuchi, etc.) and they are not mutually intelligible, even though many of the words sound the same and some even have the same meaning.

U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs Benjamin Hawkins probably got closest to the real meaning when he wrote in the late 1700s that the name was "derived from Chatto, a stone, and Hoche, marked or flowered." The early Creeks called the river "Chatto-Hoche Hatchee" or "River of the Flowered Stone." They likely were referring to a remarkable and colorful bluff on the river near what is now West Point, Georgia that is shown on several early 19th century maps as the "rock" from which the river took its name.

Chattahoochee River arm of Lake Seminole
as seen from Three Rivers State Park
The Jackson County section of the Chattahoochee stretches from the Alabama line, which also forms the northern boundary of the county, to the Jim Woodruff Dam near Sneads. Between these points it covers a total distance of 25.5 miles, but passes innumerable historic and archaeological sites. Included among these are prehistoric and historic American Indian village and mound sites, battlefields, riverboat landings, the ghost townof Old Parramore, Econchattimico's Reserve (19th century Indian reservation) and more. I will many of these individually as part of this list of100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

For now, enjoy a throwback to Alan Jackson's boyhood days on the Chattahoochee:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

#57 Buena Vista Landing (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Buena Vista Landing from the water.
Buena Vista Landing, a small but extraordinarily beautiful park on Lake Seminole, is #57 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the full list as it is unveiled.

If you are not familiar with Buena Vista, it is located off River Road (Highway 271) exactly 14 miles north of U.S. 90 at Sneads. The park was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of its Lake Seminole project during the late 1950s. It is now managed by the Jackson County Parks Department.

Buena Vista is a paradise for birders.
The park occupies a low ridge that overlooks an arm of Lake Seminole. There has always been water here, but before the completion of the Jim Woodruff Dam in 1958 the stream was known as Sugar Mill Creek. It is now much wider and flows at a slower pace than it did prior to the completion of the dam and creation of the lake.

The elevated ground along the spring-fed stream has attracted human beings for thousands of years. It offered a good place to live above the normal flood levels of the Chattahoochee River with great access to food sources. The creek was rich in fish, shellfish, turtles, alligators and other foods while the surrounding woods and swamps offered bear, deer, possum, rabbits and other game animals. Nuts were plentiful, as were edible plants, roots, fruit and more.

Channel leading from Buena Vista to Chattahoochee River
By around the time of Christ a prehistoric American Indian village began to develop at what is now Buena Vista Landing. The people that lived here were subjects of the Kolomoki chiefdom, a far-flung prehistoric nation centered on a capital city at today's Kolomoki Mounds State Park near Blakely, Georgia.

The Kolomoki chiefdom was part of a culture known today as Weeden Island (also spelled Weedon). Thought by some archaeologists to have been the most powerful chiefdom or nation in the Americas from around AD 400 to AD 900, the Kolomoki people developed advanced knowledge of astronomy, engineering and art. They were exceptional makers of high-quality pottery and tools.

The village stood on the high ground at the top of the ramp.
The village at Buena Vista was a fair-sized Kolomoki town. Long-time residents of the area remember that bulldozers and graders uncovered vast piles of shells as they built the parking area. These shell mounds or middens were created by the people of the village as they enjoyed thousands of meals of shellfish from Sugar Mill Creek.

Archaeologists investigated the site in 1948 and again in 1979. They found broken sherds of prehistoric pottery that helped them to date the village to the Kolomoki era. They also found flint and quartz tools and arrowheads from that time period.

Chattahoochee River arm of Lake Seminole near Buena Vista
While most of the large and important prehistoric site is now covered with asphalt, the natural beauty of its setting can still be enjoyed. The park offers a boat ramp, dock and small picnic area and is a great place for fishing, picnicking, photography and birding. Many of the trees show beautiful colors in the fall and the parking lot area is known for its beautiful redbuds during the spring.

To reach Buena Vista Landing from U.S. 90 at Sneads, travel north for exactly 14 miles and turn right (east) on Buena Vista Road. The road dead-ends at the park.

One note:  Like all such places on Federal lands, the remnants of the archaeological site at Buena Vista are protected by U.S. law.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#58 Marianna Home Guard (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Battle of Marianna Monument
The Marianna Home Guard, which bore the brunt of the fighting at the Battle of Marianna 150 years ago next week, is #58 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the complete list as it is unveiled.

After the St. Andrew Bay Raid came within 30 miles of Marianna in July 1864, Governor John Milton ordered every male citizen of Florida over the age of 15 to join militia companies to help repel future such invasions. The Marianna Home Guard was among the companies that formed in response to his order.

Robert Daffin portrays Capt. Norwood in
the new Battle of Marianna documentary.
Organized by the governor himself during a meeting at the Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna, the unit originally mustered 44-men and officers. It was doubled in size by the addition of volunteers as Union troops approached the city on the morning of September 27, 1864.

The new company elected its own officers, as was the custom in those days. Jesse J. Norwood, a local attorney who had served in the 5th Florida Cavalry, was named captain. Dr. A.F. Blount and Christian J. Staley were elected as lieutenants and Edwin W. Mooring became adjutant.

The men had no uniforms and carried their own weapons - mostly shotguns, pistols and antique firearms - because they were in essence "minutemen" who continued to pursue their daily occupations but would turn out on a moment's notice in the event of a pending attack. When the bells of the city rang on the morning of September 27, 1864, the company had drilled only once.

I will post more on the courageous stand of the Marianna Home Guard at the Battle of Marianna next week. Here is the list of all known members:

Marianna Home Guard

Commanding Officer       

Captain Jesse J. Norwood
Dr. A.F. Blount, Lieutenant
Christian J. Staley, Lieutenant
Edwin W. Mooring, Adjutant
Members and Volunteers
B.G. Alderman                                       
Isaac Anderson                                    
William E. Anderson       
Lawrence T. Armistead       
Robert Armistead       
J. Austin       
Franklin Baltzell      
Richard Baltzell       
Thomas W. Baltzell       
Henry O. Bassett       
John Blaney       
James H. Brett       
Albert G. Bush       
Allen Henry Bush       
Rev. Richard Bush       
John C. Carter       
John Chason       
Ellis Davis       
John Davis, Sr.       
Marmaduke Dickson       
Dr. Horace Ely       
Miles Everett       
Francis M. Farley       
Samuel B. Gammon       
Thomas N. Gautier       
Peyton Gwin       
Samuel (William) Harrison       
John W. Hartsfield       
Dr. Thaddeus W. Hentz       
W.H. Hinson       
J.B. Justiss       
W.O. Kincey       
Rev. R.C.B. Lawrence       
Arthur Lewis (Sr.)       
Felix H.G. Long
Dr. Nicholas A. Long
Israel McBright
W.L. McKinley
Adam McNealy
Alex Merritt
C.R. Moore
Nicholas Morgan
Milton Mosley (Mosely)
John T. Myrick, Sr.
John T. "Jack" Myrick, Jr.
Charles Nickels
Woodbury "Woody" Nickels
Rev. E.B. Norton
James (Daniel) O'Neal
Frederick R. Pittman
Walter J. Robinson
H. Sewell
Henry Stephens (Stevens)

Isaac Hugh Stone (Private from 5th Florida Cavalry in hospital at Marianna)
Solomon Sullivan
Peter Taylor
Charles Tucker
Charles Tucker (from Quincy)
Hinton J. Watson
O.M. Watson
John B. Whitehurst
Dr. W.S. Wilson
William B. Wynn

If you have an ancestor who served in the Marianna Home Guard and do not see them listed here, please let me know by leaving a comment. We are trying to identify every possible member in time for the Battle of Marianna 150th Commemoration on September 27, 2014.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#59 The Greenwood Club Cavalry (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Grave of Captain Henry Robinson
The school boys of Greenwood turned out in defense of their homes and families at the Battle of Marianna 150 years ago this month. Their company, the Greenwood Club Cavalry, is #59 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

The withdrawal of most regular Confederate troops from Florida in the months after the Battle of Olustee left vast areas of the state with no protection. Even before Governor John Milton ordered all men and boys over the age of 15 to enlist in militia or "home guard" companies for the defense of the state, individuals in some communities responded to the need and organized companies of their own.

This was the case in northwestern Jackson County where around 30 men and boys formed the Campbellton Cavalry (see #60 the Campbellton Cavalry). At the academy or school in Greenwood, instructor Henry J. Robinson led his students in doing the same.

Great Oaks was  landmark of Greenwood in 1864.
The unit formed by Robinson and the school boys of Greenwood was dubbed the Greenwood Club Cavalry, the word "club" inserted as a probable indication that the company had been formed privately. The boys continued their studies, but Robinson also gave them military training. They were Florida's "other" cadets of the War Between the State (or Civil War).

It should be noted that the Greenwood unit is often confused or blended with another company, Captain George Robinson's Jackson County Home Guards. Both companies were from eastern Jackson County and both were headed by captains named Robinson.

View of Ely Corner where Greenwood Club Cavalry helped
drive back a Union charge during the Battle of Marianna.
Henry J. Robinson was a former member of the 5th Florida Cavalry and had a basic understanding of cavalry tactics. Taking on the mantle of captain of the Greenwood Club Cavalry, he led his students through horseback and weapons drills. By the time Union troops entered the county on September 26, 1864, the Greenwood boys had become proficient.

Robinson was not the only adult member of the unit. Dr. M.A. Butler of Greenwood served as a lieutenant and other adults of the community joined the company after July 1864 when Governor Milton ordered all male citizens of the state to join the militia.

The courageous role of the Greenwood Club Cavalry in the Battle of Marianna will be discussed in a future posting. While the fight at Marianna was the heaviest action in which the company took part, it also responded to Union raids on at least two other occasions.

An original roster of the company has not been found, but the following list was compiled from 19th century documents and later pension application files:

Greenwood Club Cavalry

Henry J. Robinson, Captain
Dr. M.A. Butler, Lieutenant
Francis "Frank" Allen (76 years old)
Henry Applewhite
William Arnold
C.C. Avery
James S. Baker
Bolling Barkley
Thomas Barnes
J.R. Bowles
William Henry Cox
James H. Dickson (left to join cadets in Tallahassee before Battle of Marianna)
John J. Dickson (59 years old)
James R. Ferguson
Charles A. Finley
Davis Gray
Hansel Grice
William H. Harvey
W.H. Kimball (Sheriff of Jackson County)
James R. McMillan
T.D. Newsome
Andrew Scott, Corporal
Robert Sorey
William D. Sorey

This list is incomplete. If you have an ancestor that served in the Greenwood Club Cavalry, please let me know by leaving a comment. We would like to assemble as many names as possible in time for the Battle of Marianna 150th anniversary on September 27, 2014.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#60 The Campbellton Cavalry (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

William J. Daniel was a member of the Cambellton Cavalry
He is buried at Campbellton Baptist Church.
With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna approaching, the next few articles in our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida, will focus on the men and boys that defended the county on September 26-27, 1864. The countdown continues with #60 the Campbellton Cavalry (sometimes called the Campbellton Home Guard).

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

Soldiers and officers from both North and South enlisted and fought for a variety of reasons in 1861-1865, but the men and boys of the Campbellton Cavalry fought for one reason and one reason only - to defend their homes and families.

Spring Hill United Methodist Church
Established in 1897 at Spring Hill near Campbellton.
Most of the regular Confederate forces were withdrawn from Florida during the months following the Battle of Olustee in early 1864. The result was that homes and communities across vast regions of the state were left utterly defenseless.

At Spring Hill, just southwest of Campbellton, a group of around 30 local men and boys gathered in May 1864 to form a volunteer unit that they dubbed the Campbellton Cavalry. They came from as far south as present-day Cottondale and as far east as modern Malone, although most lived in the area from Campbellton to Holmes Creek.

F.B. Callaway served with the Campbellton Cavalry
He is buried at Campbellton Baptist Church
The citizen soldiers were comparable to the "Minutemen" of an earlier time. They continued their daily occupations, but were prepared to respond and fight in the event their homes were threated by Union troops or one of the deserter gangs that roamed the area. Like most such units of the time they elected their own captain.

That distinction went to a plantation owner named A.R. Godwin. A well-known resident of Jackson County, he was respected and trusted by his friends and neighbors, had served as a justice of the peace and was a member of the county grand jury on at least one occasion.

A reenactor armed with a shotgun prepares to fire.
From the documentary The Battle of Marianna, Florida to be released 9/27.
The company was in essence an irregular cavalry formed by civilians and disabled Confederate veterans. Its men had neither uniforms nor government arms.

Most of them carried the percussion lock shotguns that were so common in Jackson County homes of that age. While designed for hunting, these smoothbore guns were easy to load and could be fired accurately from horseback.

For the first few months of its existence, the Campbellton Cavalry did not do much actual duty. Some of the men wrote later in their pension applications that they guarded creek crossings and occasionally responded to reports of deserter activity. There is no indication that they came under fire prior to the Marianna Raid.

Interpretive kiosk at Campbellton Baptist Church
includes information on the Campbellton Cavalry.
The company was independent until August 1864 when troops in Northwest Florida were reorganized following the St. Andrew Bay Raid. Godwin's unit and Captain W.B. Jones' Vernon Scouts of Washington County were attached to Captain Wilson W. Poe's Company C, 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted). Together they formed a battalion for home defense with Poe as overall commander. Godwin and Jones retained company command of their individual units.

All three companies would fight against the Union troops that attacked Jackson and Washington Counties on September 26-28, 1864. The role of the Campbellton men in defending Jackson County during Marianna Raid will be discussed in future articles of this series.

No original roster of the Campbellton Cavalry has been found and only a partial list of its members can be reassembled from original accounts and later pension records:

Men of the Campbellton Cavalry

Alexander R. Godwin, Captain
William A. Abercrombie
George Ball
Samuel Bosworth
William Clayton
Cullen Curl
William Daniel
Mark Elmore
F.B. Haywood
Spencer Lamb (also given as Lamb Spencer)
William Mathews
A.J. McNeal
Charles Tipton
Ezekial Register
J.W. Rouse
Jasper Newton Williams
J.W. Williamson

If you had an ancestor that served in the Campbellton Cavalry and do not see them listed here, please let me know by leaving a comment.  I hope to identify as many of the men as possible before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 2014.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

#61 T. Thomas Fortune (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

T. Thomas Fortune
Marianna-born journalist and civil rights leader
The noted journalist and civil rights leader T. Thomas Fortune is #61 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery at Marianna on October 3, 1856, but was destined to demonstrate just how far Americans could rise with education, hard work, inspiration and determination. He has been called "Tuskegee's Point-Man" for his support of Booker T. Washington and the innovative programs at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University).

Based on Fortune's own memories, much about his childhood has been misrepresented by modern writers. His father, Emanuel Fortune, was a slave of Joseph W. Russ, prominent Jackson County resident. Russ not only encouraged Emanuel's education, but entrusted him with the management of his large leather tannery. (Note: Russ was the father of the Joseph W. Russ, Jr. who later built Marianna's beautiful Russ House).

Emanuel Fortune
Father of T. Thomas Fortune
When Emanuel married Sarah Jane Hires, Joseph Russ arranged for the two to live together at the home of Eli P. Moore, a leading Marianna merchant and partner in the firm of Alderman, Moore & Company. It was there that T. Thomas was born in 1856.

According to the later writings of T. Thomas Fortune, he and his parents were treated extremely well by Russ and Moore. He grew up playing with Moore's four children and later remembered that he was never treated as anything other than a member of the family during the eight years that he lived in slavery.

When the War Between the States (or Civil War) came to an end, Emanuel Fortune enrolled his son in the new public school established in Marianna by the Freedman's Bureau. He excelled in his studies and quickly gained the attention of the publisher of the Marianna Courier newspaper, Frank Baltzell.

Marianna as it appeared when T. Thomas Fortune lived there.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
Just a few years older than T. Thomas, Frank likely had known the young man all of his life. Baltzell gave Fortune a job at the newspaper, starting him on a career that would lead him to heights never before attained by an African American in the United States.

T. Thomas Fortune went on to work at newspapers in Jacksonville, Washington, D.C. and New York over the years that followed. He enrolled at Howard University but was forced to withdraw after a few semesters due to financial restraints.

T. Thomas Fortune
He published his first book, Black and White, Labor, and Politics in the South, in 1883, establishing himself as a powerful spokesman for the civil rights movement. It was T. Thomas Fortune who coined the term "Afro-American" (which eventually transitioned to today's African American) and he was a leading figure in the Afro-American League.

T. Thomas Fortune cultivated the friendship of Booker T. Washington during the 1890s and became a leading advocate of Washington's visionary Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. He helped with the preparation for publication of Washington's landmark book The Future of the American Negro.

Home of T. Thomas Fortune in New Jersey
Courtesy Library of Congress
By the early 1900s Fortune was the chairman of the National Negro Business League. He also continued his career in journalism, becoming editor of the New York Age and The Negro World. The latter paper achieved a paid circulation of more than 200,000 under Fortune's leadership and was distributed in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.

T. Thomas Fortune died on June 2, 1928, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Signs designating Jackson County as his birthplace stand on U.S. 90 near Sneads and Cottondale. His home in Red Bank, New Jersey, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a landmark to this day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#62 Camp Governor Milton, Civil War camp at Blue Springs (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Blue Springs from site of Camp Governor Milton
The important Confederate camp established at Blue Springs during the War Between the States (or Civil War) is #62 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

Blue Springs (or Jackson Blue Springs as the state has renamed it) has been a landmark for thousands of years. Early American Indians frequented the spring and surrounding caves to hunt and fish. The actual Old Spanish Trail passed by the spring, which was a frequent stopping point for Spanish missionaries, soldiers and explorers. The U.S.Army of Major General Andrew Jackson visited Blue Springs during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. During the 1820s it became the centerpiece of Major William Robinson's cotton plantation.

Sylvania Plantation Marker at Blue Springs
By the time Florida seceded from the Union in January 1861, the beautiful spring was known by its present name and was owned by Governor-elect John Milton as part of his Sylvania Plantation. He enjoyed fishing in Blue Springs and sitting by the water to reflect during the trying times of the War Between the States.

The availability of a large quantity of fresh water, access to good roads leading in all directions, proximity to Marianna and the good condition of the buildings of the former Robinson Plantation led the Confederate Army to establish Camp Governor Milton at Blue Springs in 1862.

Historic photo of Blue Springs with plantation house visible.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
The camp stood on the hill overlooking the head spring where the parking area is located today. The surrounding farms and plantations provided a steady supply of provisions plus corn could be ground downstream at Coker's Mill.

While the term "camp" implies a temporary establishment and evokes mental images of soldiers sleeping in tents, Camp Governor Milton was a more permanent facility. Surviving documents include receipts for lumber and nails used to build a hospital. Soldiers were quartered in the original Robinson plantation house and outbuildings instead of in tents.

Underwater view of Blue Springs
Photo by Alan Cox
In fact, the camp was occupied from 1862 until the end of the war in 1865. Among the units known to have been stationed there at various times were Captain Walter Robinson's Independent Company (later Company A, 11th Florida Infantry); the Marianna Dragoons (later Company B, 15th Confederate Cavalry); Company C, 1st Florida Reserves; Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts of the Alabama State Militia (later Company I, 5th Florida Cavalry); Companies A and E, 5th Florida Cavalry, and detachments from other companies.

View from Blue Springs at Sunset
Photo by Camille Lakey
Troops from Camp Governor Milton played a critical role in several Florida actions of the War Between the States. Robinson's company marched from Blue Springs to attack Union sailors trying to get the captured blockade runner Florida out of St. Andrew Bay in 1862. The next year the same company attacked another Federal detachment at St. Andrews (present-day Panama City). In September 1864, a detachment of Chisolm's company fought at the Eucheeanna Skirmish in Walton County and then the entire company took part in the Battle of Marianna. Finally, in March 1865, companies of the 5th Florida Cavalry rode from Blue Spring to Tallahassee to fight at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The camp was abandoned at the end of the war and not used by Union occupation troops during the Reconstruction era. The buildings are gone now, but traces of the Confederate soldiers that once served there can still be seen in the form of carvings left in the rocks and caves around Blue Springs.

To learn more about the history of Blue Springs Recreational Area, please visit

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

#63 The Squalus, Jackson County and Fingerprint Technology (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Grave of Joshua Casey
Campbellton Baptist Church
Campbellton, Florida
The maritime disaster that claimed the life of a Jackson County man and led to the first systematic use of fingerprint technology is #63 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the complete list as it is unveiled.

On May 23, 1939, the submarine USS Squalus attempted a test dive off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Despite all indications that systems were functioning properly and that the sub was ready to dive, a major problem developed. Water started pouring into the engine room.

USS Squalus
Courtesy U.S. Navy Historical Center
The submarine settled to the bottom, 243 feet from the surface, as 26 men drowned in its rear compartments. Another 33 men rushed to the front of the submarine and managed to close the watertight doors and prevent their compartments from flooding. They were rescued in a dramatic three day operation by the U.S. Navy.

The submarine itself was raised and repaired by the Navy, then sent back to see to help fight World War II with the new name USS Sailfish.

It is one of the most dramatic and tragic stories in the history of the U.S. Navy, but in death the unfortunate 26 sailors of the Squalus forever changed American history. One of them, Joshua Casey, was from Jackson County.

Rescue and salvage ship over USS Squalus in 1939
Courtesy U.S. Navy Historical Center
It is a little known fact that prior to 1939, crimes in the United States could not be solved by using fingerprint technology. Recognition of the possible benefits of using fingerprints for identification was not a new idea and individual agencies in the U.S. had been taking fingerprints for some time. One of them was the U.S. Navy.

Even so, actually using fingerprints to identify bodies from a mass casualty event had never been attempted. The use of the technology to identify the bodies recovered from USS Squalus forever changed identification procedures in the United States.

Federal investigators were able to use fingerprints to positively identify the remains of Joshua Casey and the other men who died when the Squalus went down. In doing so, they changed the way law enforcement and death investigations were handled. Thanks to the unfortunate men who died on the submarine, it was proved that fingerprint technology was accurate and a critical new tool for investigators.

Grave if Joshua Casey
The number of crimes solved and bodies identified using fingerprint technology since 1939 numbers into the millions. The Jackson County man whose death forever changed history helped make modern crime and death investigation a reality.

The grave of Joshua Casey can be visited today at Campbellton Baptist Cemetery. He rests beneath his native soil within view of Florida's oldest Baptist church in continuous operation. The memory of his tragic death has been all but forgotten locally, but Casey is deserving of greater recognition for the role he played in giving law enforcement a vital tool that has been used to save thousands of lives by bringing murderers to justice before they can kill again.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

#64 Medal of Honor recipient at Salem Cemetery (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Grave of Private Ira Hough
Salem Methodist Church near Graceville
A final resting place of a Union hero of the War Between the States (or Civil War) is #64 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the full list as it is unveiled.

Visitors to historic Salem Cemetery in northwestern Jackson County are often surprised to find the grave of a Yankee soldier who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The peaceful burial ground is the final resting place of Private Ira Hough of Indiana, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Ira Hough later in life
Hough was 19 years old when he enlisted in Company E, 8th Indiana Infantry. Nearly 6 feet tall, he had black hair, black eyes and a fair complexion. The young soldier was already a veteran by the time he found himself engaged in the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, on October 19, 1864.

The first hours of the battle had not gone well for the Union army. Storming out of early morning mists and fog, the Confederate soldiers of Gen. Jubal Early had attacked the Federal force of Gen. Philip Sheridan. Early had fewer than 15,000 men compared to the 32,000 Union soldiers in Sheridan's army, but his attack was well-planned and fierce.

In early fighting, the outnumbered Confederates overran the Union VIII and XIX Corps before finally slowing in the face of a desperate stand by the men of the VI Corps. By 10:30 a.m., however, Early had defeated all three corps and the Union army was in retreat.

Sheridan at the Battle of Cedar Creek
Library of Congress
Sheridan had been in nearby Winchester, Virginia, when the battle erupted. In a desperate gallop still remembered as "Sheridan's Ride," he reached the battlefield to find his army shattered and on the verge of complete destruction. Rallying his troops, he led a counterattack that finally turned the tide of the battle and forced Early's hard-fighting Confederates to withdraw.

Grave of Isaac Hough
Among the troops that rallied to the general's flag for the counterattack was the 8th Indiana Infantry. Private Ira Hough, of Company E, was on the main battle line as Sheridan pushed forward and was one of 20 men credited with breaking into the Confederate lines and capturing the flags of their Southern foes.

The act was one of such distinction that all 20 men were named recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. President Abraham Lincoln personally presented Hough with his medal on October 26, 1864.

The young soldier from Indiana continued to serve with his regiment until the end of the war, when he returned home and resumed his pre-war occupation of farming. He married Elizabeth Moore in 1868 and continued to live in Indiana for more than 20 years.

Salem Methodist Church in Jackson County, Florida
In 1888 and well after the end of Reconstruction, however, he and Elizabeth relocated to a farm in northwestern Jackson County between Graceville and Chipley. They raised their family and lived there until her death in 1902.  Ira mourned his lifelong companion and relocated to Missouri for a few years after she passed away, but by 1907 was back in Florida.

He died at the home of L.J. Collins, Jr., on October 18, 1916. He and Elizabeth rest side by side at Salem Cemetery adjacent to Salem Methodist Church in Jackson County.

To reach Salem Church and Cemetery from Graceville, drive south on State Highway 77 for 5 miles and turn right on Tri County Road. Follow Tri County Road for 3.5 miles and you will see the church on your right at the intersection with Hickshill Road and Christy Lane.

Please click here to see other installments in the list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#65 The forgotten Penn-Jarratt Railroad (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

A Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
A long-forgotten railroad that ran up the west side of the Chipola River from Marianna to the Alabama state line is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the complete list as it is unveiled.

Near the western border of Florida Caverns State Park and within sight of Blue Hole Spring, the bed of an abandoned railroad cuts through a limestone outcrop before continuing north out of the park. The story of this railroad was almost completely forgotten, but with help from Sue Tindel and Robert Earl Standland of the office of Jackson County Clerk of Courts Dale Guthrie, Pat Crisp of the Chipola Historical Trust and Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park, the facts can now be brought to light.

Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park points out
old cross-ties in the bed of the Penn-Jarratt Railroad
Lumber was a hot commodity in the United States during the first years of the 20th century. The red cypress and other hardwood trees growing along the upper Chipola River were of enormous value and great profits stood to be made by the company that could fell them and bring them out of the swamps.

A 640 acre tract in Marianna was home to multiple sawmills and lumber operations, among them the Jarratt Lumber Corporation. This firm had come into existence in 1910 when it purchased the assets of clearly related Jarratt Brothers Lumber Company. By 1920 it had merged with another timber interest to become Penn-Jarratt Lumber.

The bed of the railroad cuts through limestone at
Florida Caverns State Park.
The firm leased timber rights to thousands of acres along the Chipola River and employed then revolutionary technologies in its harvesting and milling techniques. Steam-powered skidders were used to drag massive logs of cypress, gum, oak and other hardwoods from the floodplain swamps. These machines replaced the ox carts and manual labor of previous times.

To move the logs to its mills at Marianna, the firm operated a 20-mile long railroad that extended from the L&N (today's CSX) all the way up to the Alabama state line.

Logging railroads were not uncommon in Northwest Florida, but the Jarratt line was unique in that it employed the use of full-size trains instead of the smaller locomotives often used on such lines.

Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
One of its locomotives, for example, was a massive steam-powered Baldwin 4-4-0 purchased from the Alabama, Florida & Gulf  (AF&G) railroad in 1917. That line operated passenger and freight trains that ran from the Dothan vicinity south to Malone and eventually Greenwood.

Jarratt found itself in considerable legal difficulty when the company decided to run its tracks along the rights-of-way of public roads in places.  A court case decided in 1917 that railroads could be held liable for using public roadways and for damage to adjacent properties.

The trains ran on the Jarratt line until around 1932 when the last of the old growth timber had been cleared from the upper Chipola River. The mills closed and the company's property holdings were sold for taxes, a common practice employed by lumber companies in those days to dispose of land once they no longer had use for it.

Section of the railroad bed.
Sections of the old railroad bed are still visible at Florida Caverns State Park and on the adjacent lands of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

The tracks connected with the L&N where Orange Avenue crosses the CSX tracks in Marianna today. From there they ran to the west of the old Marianna High School Campus and followed Carters Mill Road and Fish Hatchery Road into Florida Caverns State Park. A deep section of railroad bed can be seen near Blue Hole Spring adjacent to the equestrian trails in the park.

The tracks crossed through the parking area for the
Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail on Highway 162.
From Florida Caverns, the railroad continued up the west side of the Chipola, crossing Waddell's Mill Creek on a trestle and passing through what is now the parking area for the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail at Highway 162.

The tracks ran from there up the west side of the river and Forks of the Creek all the way to Alabama. Although the rails were removed after the railroad ceased operation, some of the cross-ties can still be seen.

The long forgotten railroad of the Penn-Jarratt Lumber Company is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#66 Marianna's historic L&N Train Station (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

The Vintage Depot now occupies the historic train station.
Marianna's beautiful old train station is #66 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the full list as it is unveiled.

A symbol of the elegance and style that once symbolized travel by train in America, the historic L&N train station in Marianna has been beautifully restored and today is home to the unique Vintage Depot. It is located on South Caledonia street across from Chipola Apartments and just up the hill from its original location by the tracks.

Unique items for sale fill the interior today.
Despite its antebellum prosperity, Marianna had to wait until after the War Between the States (or Civil War) for the railroad to arrive and connect it to points east and west. There had been many promises and speculations over the years. In 1881, however, Col. W.D. Chipley and Frederick R. De Funiak joined with others to found the P&A Railroad, so named because it would connect Pensacola on the west with the Apalachicola River on the east. The line was incorporated by the Florida Legislature on March 4, 1881.

Unique counter in the depot.
Actual construction of the railroad began on June 1, 1881, by which time most of its stock was owned by the L&N. Twenty-two months later, trains were rolling all the way from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River where the line connected with another railroad built west from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, Quincy and Chattahoochee.

Passenger and freight service from Pensacola to Tallahassee began in May 1883. Along the way, the railroad built platforms and passenger stations for the convenience of its customers. It could carry travelers from Marianna to Pensacola in about 5 hours, a trip that just two years earlier had taken days.

Marianna's historic L&N Depot was one of only two major stations built along the line between Pensacola and the Apalachicola River. The other was in Milton, where the West Florida Railroad Museum is located today.

Inside the depot today.
Built in 1881-1882, the historic station was ready for service by the time the railroad reached Marianna. It was originally located just west of where Caledonia Street intersected with the tracks and was attached to a larger warehouse/storage facility. It served passengers for all of the decades that passenger trains stopped in Marianna.

Cars and planes eventually replaced the trains as a means of public transportation in Northwest Florida and the depot lost much of its original grandeur. In 1979 it was targeted by an arsonist and severely damaged, but thankfully not destroyed.

Two years later the late Floye Brewton purchased the gutted shell of the main depot structure and moved it up the hill to a lot adjacent to today's Wells Fargo Bank. He carefully restored the structure and it has since provided office space for a number of businesses and individuals, including U.S. Rep. Pete Peterson (D, Marianna).

Unique displays in the depot.
The historic L&N train station is now home to the Vintage Depot, a boutique operated by Rhonda Dykes.  Open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, it is preserved in its beautifully restored state.  The shop features vintage and vintage inspired (new) home decor and gift items as well as lines of chalk & clay paint and milkpaint for transforming furniture and other items into artistic decor.

Rhonda also teaches painting workshops to help those with an interest in restoring and transforming furniture and other items using the products from the store. She welcomes visitors who would like to see the beautiful old building and learn more about its history.

The Vintage Depot also carries the complete list of my books.

Visit them online at

Friday, August 8, 2014

#67 A Spanish knight in Jackson County (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Flag of Spain flies over San Marcos de Apalache
St. Marks, Florida
The little known story of a Spanish knight and his exploration of our area is #67 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the full list as it is unveiled.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala was a Knight of the Order of Santiago and newly appointed Governor of Florida when he was ordered to cross the Panhandle  and explore the territory between Pensacola and Mobile Bays. He carried out that exploration 321 years ago in 1693.

If Torres y Ayala's name seems familiar, it may be because he is the featured villain in the video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala
Courtesy Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Entry into the Order of Santiago, which bore the Spanish name for St. James, was highly restricted. A candidate had to prove that he, his parents and his grandparents were of noble blood. Jews, Muslims, converts to Christianity, attorneys, moneylenders, notaries public, retail merchants and those without the wealth to support themselves were barred from membership.

In anticipation of the planting of a new settlement on Pensacola Bay, the King of Spain on June 26, 1692, ordered an exploration of the lands between that point and Mobile Bay. His orders were delivered to Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala in Mexico City on January 12, 1693, by the Viceroy of New Spain.

Sailing aboard a frigate from Havana, Cuba, on May 2, 1693, the governor reached Florida at San Marcos de Apalache (present-day St. Marks) thirteen days later. After making proper arrangements for supply by sea, he marched west from Mission San Luis (present-day Tallahassee) on June 8, 1693. Following him was a force of more than 100 Spanish soldiers and priests.

New Interpretive Station at site of Mission San Carlos
Sneads, Florida
The expedition reached the Apalachicola River at present-day Chattahoochee on the evening of June 9th. Torres y Ayala crossed over that same day with the priests and a small escort. They landed on the Jackson County shore and followed the trail up the hill to Mission San Carlos.

Then the westernmost Spanish outpost in all of Florida, the mission stood on the site of today's Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook at Sneads. Its location is Tour Stop #3 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail and is marked by an interpretive kiosk.

Torres y Ayala remained at Mission San Carlos for two nights as he waited for the rest of his command to cross the river and bring up the horses. He was able to secure the services of five Chacato Indian guides that seemed to have some familiarity with the way to Pensacola Bay.

The governor described his departure from San Carlos in his detailed journal:

Blue Springs in Jackson County, Florida
On the 11th I started northwest, and, after traveling five leagues, pitched camp by an excellent spring which, they told me, flows into the Apalachicola river. These five leagues from the Chacato village to this spring, called Calistobe, are through pine groves, except for some woods around small ponds. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal Entry for June 11, 1693.

 The spring that early Spanish explorers called Calistobe or Calistoble was today's Blue Springs. They believed it was the head of the Chipola River, which they knew flowed into the Apalachicola near the Gulf. It is Tour Stop #1 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The road that the expedition followed from Mission San Carlos to the spring was the original Old Spanish Trail. It followed today's Reddoch Road from State Highway 69 to Blue Springs.A section of the original pathway can still be seen just inside the entrance to Blue Springs Recreational Area and is Tour Stop #2 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. Free guidebooks to the new 150-mile tour are available at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center in Marianna.  Interpretive kiosks mark each of the stops.

Cross of the Knights of Santiago
The Knight of Santiago and his followers camped at Blue Springs on the night of June 11, 1693. The next morning the resumed their march, following the trail to the northwest and the Natural Bridge of the Chipola in today's Florida Caverns State Park. Torres y Ayala's description indicates that water was high and the Natural Bridge muddy when he arrived:

...In a short distance we ran into considerable difficulty in getting both the horses and the men on foot through because of the many bogs, creeks, and woods; the horses became mired to their cinch straps, and the men on foot to their waists. However, our determination caused bridges and brush roads to be built so that we could keep moving forward on foot, with the unloaded horses falling and getting up again. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The men eventually made it through the mud and bogs, emerging from the swamp near Blue Hole Spring. Because of the use of the Natural Bridge by early explorers, Florida Caverns State Park is Tour Stop #9 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

A Cave in Jackson County
Continuing forward on the Old Spanish Trail, they soon reached a large cave where the lost Spanish mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino had stood 19 years earlier:

...I pitched camp in a cave, a very pleasant spot called San Nicolas, where there was formerly a Chacato village. This cave is formed of calcareous stone and has a very large spring of water; there our entire pack train took shelter after we had traveled five leagues this day. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The cave where the San Nicolas stood and the governor's command spent the night of June 12, 1693, has never been positively identified. It was likely one of several large caves about three miles northwest of Marianna on private property. An interpretive kiosk stands at the intersection of State Highway 73 and Union Road, which has been designated Tour Stop #10 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The cave where Torres y Ayala camped?
Being a knight of royal blood had its privileges.  Exhausted from the difficult journey, Torres y Ayala decided to rest at the cave for an extra day while sending part of his force ahead under Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda to open a better road.  The Franciscan friar set out on the 13th with 25 men to while the governor remained behind to enjoy cold water and cool temperatures of the cave.

Leaving the San Nicolas cave on the 14th after his day of rest, Torres y Ayala followed the trail blazed by Barreda:

...Then I went four leagues west-northwest through beautiful woods of laurel, live oak, chestnut, oak, sassafras and pine. I spent the night at the same spot where the very reverend father, Friar Rodrigo, and his band has been the night before. On June 15 I continued northwest through a league of pine groves, and then crossed a deep creek.... - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entries for June 14-15, 1693.

Pensacola Bay
A Spanish league of that day was a little under three miles. The deep creek that the governor described crossing on June 15, 1693, was Holmes Creek. The exact site where he crossed it and left Jackson County is not known, but based on the direction of his march it may have been the old Marianna ford near today's Tri-County Airport south of Graceville.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala eventually reached Pensacola Bay. In doing so he completed the first known crossing of the Florida Panhandle by a European explorer. His march was the last known crossing of Jackson County by a Spanish military force. Mission San Carlos at Sneads was destroyed three years later in an attack by Creek Indians and was never rebuilt.

The real march of this long-forgotten Spanish knight and video game villain more than 300 years ago is #67 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.