Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Bloody Affair in Florida" - The 1865 gunfight at Neely's Store in Campbellton

Jackson County as it appeared during the late 1800s.
Campbellton is at the upper left.
The months after the close of the War Between the States (or Civil War) saw a breakdown in law and order across much of the South. Jackson County was no exception.

This was demonstrated by a gunfight that took place on November 29, 1865. It was election day and the antagonists decided to meet at the polling place - in this case Neely's Store in Campbellton - to settle an old feud once and for all:

BLOODY AFFAIR IN FLORIDA. - A serious shooting affair occurred at Neely's store, in Jackson county, on Wednesday, 29th ult. The parties concerned were two men by the name of Williams, and one named Clare, on one side, and two Hams, father and son, on the other. The cause was an old feud existing for some time. For the purpose of settlement they met at a precinct on election day, armed with rifles and double-barreled guns. - (Quincy Dispatch quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, December 9, 1865)

George Neely had purchased 40 acres of land about 2 miles southwest of Campbellton from the General Land Office on May 1, 1855. He operated one of several general stores in Campbellton.

Campbellton as it appears today. The town square is at right.
Neely's Store was located somewhere in this area.
A line of men were waiting there to vote when the Williams and Ham parties approached. The bystanders were likely unsure of what to expect but any doubts they harbored ended quickly when the two parties suddenly raised their guns:

...At the first fire one of the Williams was killed, and Ham, senior, firing at the other brother, Newton Williams, missed his aim, and the ball unfortunately taking effect on the body of a Baptist preacher named Grantham, and inflicting what is believed to be a mortal wound. Meanwhile the younger Ham was shot down, and his father standing over him defended his body with clubbed but empty gun.While thus engaged, Newton Williams approached, and firing one barrel with fatal effect into the breast of the father, discharged the other through the head of the disabled son. This ended the difficulty. - (Ibid.)

The Baptist minister who became the first victim of the shooting may have been Rev. Sam Grantham. A minister of that name lived in Holmes County and had commanded a local home guard company during the war. If so, he survived the shooting but died 5 years later. The wounded preacher was a bystander and not involved in the feud between the two parties.

Capt. Charles Rawn, 7th U.S. Infantry,
commanded the troops that arrested
Newton Williams after the shootout.
Courtesy U.S. Forest Service
The fatal shootout was one of the bloodiest in Jackson County history. Three men were killed and a fourth, Grantham, was badly wounded:

...Newton Williams remained on the ground nearly all the day, assisted in the burial of his brother, and defied arrest. Next day, Capt. Rawn of the 7th Infantry, in command at Marianna, with a file of men, proceeded to the to the spot, and arrested Williams at his own house. Clare, at last accounts, was still at large. - (Ibid.)

The troops from the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment were in Jackson County to serve as an occupation force following the end of the War Between the States. With civil authority completely disrupted, the soldiers enforced the law as they saw fit and Newton Williams, though a citizen, was taken into custody to face trial before a military tribunal.

While the details of his trial are unknown, he clearly was acquitted as he was living in Marianna just five years later. The 1870 census lists Newton J. Williams - not to be confused with Jasper Newton Williams, who also lived in the area - as a 36-year-old resident of Marianna who lived with his wife, Martha, three children and his 76-year-old father, William Williams. He had been a resident of Marianna in 1860 as well. He moved to Texas in subsequent years and died there on March 18, 1898.

The Williams brother killed in the feud was James B. Williams of Marianna, age 33.

The identities of the father and son from the Ham family killed in the feud remain unclear, but members of that family were prominent in Jackson County in 1865 and remain so today.

The "Clare" involved in the feud has not been identified to date.

Captain Charles C.C. Rawn, who led the detachment of U.S. soldiers that arrested Newton Williams, had a remarkable career. He and his men later served on the western frontier where they took part in the Battle of Big Hole during the flight of the Nez Perce, founded the city of Missoula in Montana, and were among the first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene of Custer's defeat at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. He later commanded the famed African American Buffalo Soldiers as major of the 24th Infantry.

The feud that exploded at Campbellton in 1865 was one of those violent incidents often associated with the Reconstruction era in Jackson County, although it really had nothing to do with the political climate of the times. It resulted from a personal grudge.

If you would like to learn more about the career of Captain Rawn on the western frontier, you might enjoy this living history presentation of him:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Elephant rampage in Marianna, Florida

Marianna as it appeared in 1894 when Gipsy the elephant
went on a rampage and met his fate.
Marianna has seen its share of excitement over the years. A battle was fought there during the War Between the States (or Civil War) and there were "Old West" style gunfights during the Reconstruction era.

For wildness and color, however, the 1894 rampage of a circus elephant through the Florida city probably tops them all!

The arrival of the P&A Railroad in Marianna during the late 19th century signaled a new era in the history of the city. Not all of the changes, however, were positive.

A report in late March of 1883 noted, for example, that “gardens were pretty, chickens and eggs selling at good prices,” but went on to mention that another side of the economy was booming thanks to the railroad. “Five Bar-rooms in town,” the story continued, “we need just two more newspapers to keep up with the times.”[i]

Elephants in a circus parade during the 1890s.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The railroad also provided a way for new forms of entertainment to reach Marianna. In February of 1894, for example, the circus came to town with elephants, other animals and all of its related entertainers. Unfortunately for the circus, however, one of its prime attractions met his untimely end in Marianna:

PENSACOLA, Fla., Feb. 21 – A special from Marianna states that the large elephant, Gipsy, belonging to the Harris Nickel Plate Show, now playing in that town, was killed to-day. The elephant was being taken from the car to the tent when he became unruly and refused to go. He got away, was captured and chained in his tent. He managed to escape again, tore down tents, knocking one man down and came very near killing several that were standing around. After a long chase he was re-captured but refused to go in the car, showed fight and had to be killed. Twenty shots were fired into him by a Winchester.[ii]

Marianna legend holds that Gipsy the elephant is buried in
the open ground visible in this photo of Riverside Cemetery.
Photo by Dale Cox. Aircraft piloted by Brig. Gen. James W. Hart
Gipsy should not be confused with another of the show's elephants, a female named Gypsy. She was labeled a "man killer" by the press and it was even said that she had notches on her tusks to match the number of people she had killed.

Gypsy, like the male elephant Gipsy, met a stunning fate as well. In the final performance for the circus of the 1902 tour, the elephant rampaged through Valdosta, Georgia. One person was killed before the city’s police department shot her to death.[iii]

So what became of Gipsy, the male elephant killed in Marianna?

Local legend holds that he was dragged by a team of horses to Riverside Cemetery where he was buried with full honors. The traditional site of the elephant's grave is in a low area near the northeast corner of the cemetery and not far from the entrance to the appropriately named Crypt Cave. 

[i] Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 20, 1883, p. 4.
[ii] Charlotte Observer, February 22, 1894, p. 1.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ghost of Jericho Pond: Old U.S. Road legend a memory of Reconstruction

The Old U.S. Road where it passes over Jericho Pond
north of Marianna in Jackson County, Florida.
Jericho Pond is more swamp than pond. Crossed by the Old U.S. Road north of Marianna, the pond is thick with trees, snakes and mosquitoes.

It is also the center of a bizarre ghost story that has its roots in the turbulent days of the Reconstruction era.

I was reminded of the story a few years ago by a retired Jackson County resident who said that it was one of three ghost tales that he vividly remembered from his childhood. The other two were the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge and the haunting of Holyneck Road.

The legend holds that Jericho Pond is haunted by the ghost of a freedman (i.e. freed slave) who was murdered there during the years following the War Between the States (or Civil War).

Jericho Pond
The section of the Old U.S. Road that crosses the pond was once narrow and closed in by closed in by cypress and other swamp trees. It was dark even during the day but at night the darkness became almost impenetrable.

Travelers would avoid following that section of the road at night, especially in the days before automobiles, because of the ghost. Residents of the area claimed that the spirit would waylay wagons or buggies at Jericho Pond, unhitch the horses or mules pulling them and then try to make its escape by riding them away. Drivers would be left stuck in the swamp with their vehicles.

The road passed by an old church not far away, however, and the ghost could not set foot on holy ground. People who walked out of the swamp after having their horses or mules taken would find them grazing peacefully in the moonlight of the churchyard, left there by the ghost as it returned to pond.

Each escape attempt ended in the same way with the ghost left trapped in its perpetual haunt.

The tale of the Ghost of Jericho Pond began to fade with the arrival of automobiles and the eventual widening and paving of the road. I remember from my own childhood, however, stories of a ghost that would try to stop cars on Old U.S. Road.

The dark swamp of Jericho Pond.
The story grew from a true event that happened in 1867. The war had ended two years before and Jackson County was occupied by U.S. troops and under the control of agents of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. Generally called the Freedmen's Bureau, this federal agency had been established to ease the transition of the South from a time when most African-Americans were slaves to a new era in which both white and black men were free and could vote.

The new reality did not extend the right to vote to women and Native Americans and more decades would need to pass before they too gained suffrage.

Florida in 1867 was a place of simmering emotions. Rumblings in the U.S. Congress made it clear that Abraham Lincoln's dream of a peace "with malice toward none, with charity for all" was not the goal of many political leaders. Calls for the punishment of the South were rising in Washington, D.C., as politicians - many of whom had stayed as far away from battle as possible - demanded that Constitutional protections be suspended in the former Confederate states.

Another view of Jericho Pond, where Gilbert Walker was
killed by Hugh Parker in 1867. Walker's ghost supposedly
haunts the swampy pond.
The tidal wave of blood that had engulfed North and South alike during the dreadful war were not enough for the demagogues of that day.

In this time of growing tension, an incident took place at Jericho Pond that characterized life in 1867.

Two wagons approached the pond from opposite directions on the Old U.S. Road. One was driven by Gilbert Walker, a freedman, and the other by a white farmer named Bell. The passage of the road through the swamp was narrow and it was impossible for two wagons to pass by each other.

Each man pulled his wagon as far to the side as possible but there was still not enough room for them to pass. Seeing this, Walker got down from his wagon and pulled back the limbs that extended from roadside bushes to help Bell get past. It was at this point that a third man, named Hugh Parker, arrived on the scene.

Parker lived in Texas and was making his way home through the Deep South. He ran up to Walker and demanded to know why he had not gotten his wagon out of the road so the other man could pass. The freedman explained hat he had done so as well as he could and was holding back the brush so that Bell could get by.

This did not placate Parker, who warned that he would kill Walker if he ever again failed to give way for a white man to pass. Before either Walker or Bell could attempt to explain further, Parker suddenly pulled a pistol and said, "I might as well do it now."

T. Thomas Fortune, who recalled the search
for Walker's killer, was born into slavery in
Jackson County but later became a prominent
writer and newspaper publisher.
He then shot Walker in the chest and left him for dead on the ground. Bell tried to help the unfortunate man but there was nothing that he could do. Gilbert Walker died within fifteen minutes. Bell summoned authorities and attempts were made to locate Parker but he escaped detection and - it was believed - made his way on home to Texas.

The murder shocked Jackson County and alarmed black and white residents alike. T. Thomas Fortune, a prominent African-American newspaper publisher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in 1867 was the young son of Jackson County freedman Emanuel Fortune. He published his memories of the search for Parker more than 60 years later:

...The news of the tragedy swept through the county like a prairie fire. Negro men and women from every direction swarmed into the village [i.e. Marianna], fighting mad and determined to be avenged. The village and nearby swamps and forest were thorough searched for the bloody miscreant, all of the afternoon and night, but he eluded capture. It was good for him that he did, as the Negroes were outraged and thoroughly aroused and would have torn him limb from limb if they captured him. - (Philadelphia Tribune, July 28, 1927).

The passage of so much time caused Fortune to mistake the murderer, Hugh Parker, for Sgt. Thomas Barnes, but the alarm caused by the killing was every bit as vivid as he described.

Parker was never apprehended for his role in the crime, which may be why Walker's ghost became associated with Jericho Pond. Perhaps he continues each night an attempt to escape the injustice that befell him there 150 years ago.

Dale Cox
May 12, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Spirit of the Spring: How a ghost stopped Blue Springs from flowing

The watery domain of the Spirit of the Spring,
glorious in its "beauty and wild freedom."
Photo by Alan Cox
This is the conclusion to The Spirit of Blue Springs: A Jackson County Ghost Story

Blue Springs continued to flow through times of war and peace for hundreds of years after Calistoble and her lover disappeared into its depths.

The Spanish never settled at the spring but preserved it as a stopping place on their journeys into the Florida Panhandle. They continued to call it Calistoble and marveled at both the crystal clear waters and the surrounding hills on which grew wild grapes in profusion. Bison (buffalo) roamed the slopes and drank from the spring.

The British and Americans that followed changed the name to Big Spring and then Blue Springs. The ancient Chacato chief's warning against damaging the spring was forgotten as early entrepreneurs arrived on the scene. 
Filming from the diving board at Blue Springs with crystal
clear water rising from the cave below.

One such developer viewed the rapid current with awe and speculated as to the profits that he could make if the spring was dammed to power grist, saw and cotton mills. Plans were prepared and a date set for the beginning of construction.

The Spirit of the Spring watched from within her watery domain:

   It is not known until this day how the spring became aware of the business man’s purpose. It is thought that the wind whispered the secret to her while on a moonlight visit. She, who from Creation’s dawn had remained unmolested, now conceived the idea that her privilege – the privilege of being beautiful – was about to be invaded, and that she would be forced to do menial service, which would not only mar her beauty, but degrade her to the level of an ordinary water course. She could not endure the thought of adding an artificial growth, and sitting by the side of a great wheel, turning it all the day long and far into the night. She rebelled at the thought of such desecration and resolutely determined not to submit. The sordid hand of commerce might mar, but it should not forever destroy the beauty and wild freedom of this romantic spring.
Hon. Francis B. Carter
Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Florida
and writer of 1907 account of the Spirit.
State Archives of Florida

The above passage was written by Judge Francis B. Carter of Marianna. He owned the beautiful old Ely-Criglar Mansion from 1889-1900 and was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Florida in 1897-1905.

He wrote the story of the Spirit of the Spring in 1907:

...At great expense a building was erected for the mill; the miller’s house arose among the oaks, a dam was constructed a few yards below and the Spirit of Commerce gloated over the prospect of its almost brutal conquest of the fairest and loveliest spring in all of Florida. An immense undershot wheel was put in position, the breach in the dam was closed and the Spirit of Commerce took his stand by the side of the waters, awaiting the moment when the clear and limpid element should rise to a sufficient height to do the menial service of turning the great wheel.

The dam discussed in this story was not the one associated with Merritt's Mill where U.S. Highway 90 crosses the foot of the mill pond, nor was it the one at the midpoint of the pond that provided power for Coker's Mill. The first dam was at the spring itself. Heavy wooden beams from the mill can still be seen on the bottom of the swimming area, especially during occasional draw downs for control of aquatic growth.

Merritt's Mill Pond is a stunning Marianna landmark that
is a favorite place for outdoor fun including swimming,
paddling, fishing, diving, birding, boating and more.
...The energetic and farsighted business man whose brain conceived the plan took his place near the mill, and awaited the event which, though it destroyed the romance surrounding the spring, would add to his commercial enterprises another great source of income. The breach was closed, the waters poured forth with their accustomed vigor for a few hours, and then the flow began to decline. The waters which before, from time immemorial, had been free, which in their wild freedom had danced and sparkled in the sunshine, humming low melodies, clear as crystal, cold as an Arctic river, now refused to the work appointed by the Spirit of Commerce.

The sudden halt in the flow of water from the spring stunned those who waited to see the undershot wheel of the new mill begin to turn. A few older members of the community, however, remembered the ancient legend of Calistoble and her lover. They knew the answer to the mystery that puzzled those who had gathered to see the mill begin its operation:
"The Spirit of the Spring laid her hand upon the opening" to
stop the water that flowed from the magnificent cave at
Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring).
Photo by Alan Cox

...The Spirit of the Spring laid her hand upon the opening and said to the waters: “Come not forth,” and they obeyed gladly. She furnished other outlets for some, drove others back into the bowels of the earth, filling surface wells on neighboring plantations, supplying waters for new springs and lakes never before heard of, but refusing absolutely to supply the power requisite for the great wheel. The waters of the spring ceased to flow, they assumed a lifeless appearance, the long green moss settled upon the bottom gasping for breath, a dark green substance rose to the surface and like a thick veil hid the waters from view.

Judge Carter, a boy at the time, was among those who witnessed the stopping of the spring. He knew that the Spirit of the Spring was responsible:

...She mourned and would not be comforted, but she consistently refused to do the work assigned. The great wheel and the mill house which marred the beauty of the spring and had brought about all the trouble, remained idle and vacant, and the Spirit of Commerce, try though he did, could neither coax nor drive.
Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring) is
the only first magnitude spring in the
River Basin.

The mill was a failure. The beautiful Blue Springs, just as the Chacato chief had warned centuries before, turned into a stagnant pool. It remained so until the businessman responsible for damming it gave up his project and began to dismantle his mill and dam.

What remained of it finally rotted and broke to pieces:

...The Spirit of the Spring came forth and removed the dark veil that so long had covered the face of the waters, the water began to dance and sparkle and sing as of yore, the long moss, now a dull lead color and lifeless, rose from the bottom, assumed its accustomed hue, waving its long arms in gladness and joy, now rising to the surface to be kissed by the sunbeams and caressed by the breezes, now falling to the bottom, forming momentary hiding places for the fishes and the turtles.

The story, however, did not end there. The Spirit was so angered by the effort to commercialize the spring that she turned harsh and vengeful. The rushing water that now poured from the cave dug deep holes in the lime rock bottom of the creek that flowed from the spring. 

These holes and caves have claimed many lives through the years:

The Spirit of the Spring, according to legend, stands ready to
stop the flow of Blue Springs forever should humans again
attempt to destroy its natural beauty.
...Woe to the heedless one who, tempted by appearances, enters one of these seductive places for a bath. Better heed the warnings which the angry waters – angry because obstructed by the remains of the dam – continually thunder forth to the unwary, for the icy coldness of these beautiful waters will chill the blood, and the Spectre of Death will rise from the spring as it has risen, since the Spirit of Commerce hardened the heart of the Spirit of the Spring.

Future efforts to dam Spring Creek were more successful with the resulting mill pond being among the clearest and most beautiful lakes in the world. Those dams were placed far downstream, however, in order to preserve the natural beauty of the spring.

The Spirit of the Spring still resides in its depths with her beloved. They can be seen there, standing in the shadows, when the light of the full moon strikes the water just right. 

Her heart is still hardened and she stands ready to stop the flow of Blue Springs forever at the first sign of damage by human beings.

Blue Springs Recreational Area will open for the summer on May 29th. To learn more about the history of the spring, please visit and watch the video below.

Dale Cox
May 8, 2017

Judge Francis B. Carter
August 11, 1907

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Spirit of Blue Springs: A Jackson County Ghost Story

Water flows from the submerged cave at Jackson Blue Spring
as TwoEgg.TV's Rachael Conrad works on a coming program.
The following is legend that was handed down by early settlers of Jackson County. The events described took place long before the first Spaniard set foot in Florida. It revolves around Blue Springs, which the State of Florida has renamed Jackson Blue Springs.

A war once raged in eastern Jackson County. The Chacato, a Native American group that had intruded into Florida from the north, established settlements between Holmes Creek and the Chipola River. They soon began to raid the towns of the Apalache Indians who lived east of the Ochlockonee River around present-day Tallahassee.

The Apalache fought back and the region between the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers became a depopulated buffer zone that separated the warring chiefdoms. The attacks and counterattacks continued but neither could defeat the other and the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate.

Jackson Blue Spring, locally called Blue Springs, is the head
of Marianna's beloved Merritt's Mill Pond. It is an impressive
first magnitude spring and the largest source of water for the
Chipola River.
It was in this time of conflict, the Blue Springs legend holds, that a young woman of the Chacato stumbled upon a young warrior of the Apalache. The two fell in love but kept their romance secret because they knew that their families would object.

The young woman, however, was the daughter of the most powerful Chacato chief. He hoped to form a military alliance with the Chisca, a militaristic group that lived along Irwin's Mill Creek and the Chattahoochee River. The Chisca were fiercely independent and involved in a war of their own against the Apalache.

The chief of the Chacato offered his daughter as a bride to the young war chief of the Chisca in a gesture that he hoped would cement the proposed alliance. The latter group agreed to the proposal and a wedding was scheduled on neutral ground at Blue Springs.

The prospective bride, however, pleaded with her father and in tears begged him to call off the marriage. He refused and ordered her to comply with his will.

The mouth of the cave as seen from beneath the surface.
Photo by Alan Cox.
The young woman's desperation grew as the hour approached andshe concluded that she could not allow the marriage to happen.

Crowds of Chacato and Chisca gathered at the spring for the ceremony but instead watched in stunned disbelief as she suddenly bolted for the water. Before anyone could stop her, she leaped into the spring and dove down deep through the clear water and into the mouth of the submerged cave itself. All efforts by the bravest warriors to find and save her ended in failure.

At this point her true love arrived on the outskirts of the camp, determined to rescue her from her pending marriage. The scene of panic that he saw from his hiding place confused him and it took until sundown that he was able to learn that his beloved had taken her own life by diving down into the spring.

The young warrior waited for darkness and then walked down into the spring himself. He too dove down into the cave and disappeared forever in its depths.

The chief of the Chacatos was despondent and filled with regret over the loss of his daughter. He walked down to the spring at sunrise the next morning to think and express his grief. As the ray of the rising sun penetrated to the bottom of the spring, however, he saw two figures standing there in the shadows at the mouth of the cave. They were holding hands. He knew that it must be his daughter, Calistoble, and her beloved.

Jackson Blue Spring is the only first magnitude spring in the
entire Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint/Chipola River Basic.
The chief decreed at that moment that the spring would bear his daughter's name. People from any tribe or nation could come there without fear to enjoy the cold water, beautiful forests and abundant wildlife. It remained known as Calistoble Spring for many years.

The chief's decree also came with a serious warning. If anyone should disturb the beauty of the water where his daughter's spirit remained, the spring would stop flowing and become nothing more than a stagnant pool.

The Chacato and Apalache eventually disappeared from Florida, the victims of war and oppression. The Creeks and Seminoles that followed, however, abided by the powerful declaration of the ancient chief and preserved Calistoble as a place of recreation, beauty and peace. They also handed down the old warning that damaging the beauty of the spring would bring about its death.

Visitors claimed that the spirits of the lost lovers could be seen moving in the waters of the spring on moonlit nights, constant reminders of the long ago tragedy and a father's warning to to any who might disturb his daughter's peace.

Possession of the spring eventually passed on to the whites, but they soon adopted a plan to adapt it for industry and in doing so awakened the curse and summoned the anger of the Spirit of the Spring.

What happened? Read the story in the conclusion of this article:!

To learn more about the history of Blue Springs, please click play on this video from TwoEgg.TV:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Thirty-seven years asleep in a Marianna cave?!

Stunning formations at Florida Caverns
State Park in Marianna, Florida.
The caves of the Marianna area and Florida Caverns State Park were places of mystery, legend and sometimes even hiding for our ancestors.

Creek and Seminole families hid in caves during the First Seminole War. They were the first stop on the Underground Railroad for African-Americans escaping slavery. Women, children and the elderly used them as hiding places during the Battle of Marianna. Outlaws frequented out of the way caverns during reconstruction and moonshiners made use of more than one during Prohibition!

In one case - if the media is to be believed - a man even stayed inside one for 37 years!

The story appeared in a New York newspaper in 1887 and was picked up by other papers across the nation:

...A few days ago there appeared upon the register of the Fifth Avenue hotel the name of a gentleman from Marianna, Fla. He was a good talker, and told a most extraordinary tale of an occurrence that took place in the neighborhood of his home town. It is believed by everybody in that section of the state, "and," said the narrator, "I am not prepared to say it is not true, as more than half the people in that town saw the hero of the story." - (New York Graphic, 1888).

Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park explores
the narrow passages of Old Indian Cave.
The incident originated from a large cavern 2 miles from Marianna. Tradition identifies this as the Natural Bridge or "Old Indian" Cave at today's Florida Caverns State Park. That cave, however, does not have a spring or karst window inside as the story relates:

...On April 1, 1884, a party of explorers consisting of two gentlemen and five ladies, visited the cave. They followed the path that led to a point known as "The Spring," where a bold stream of cold clear water gushed forth from the rock, and flowed in a rivulet for some fifty feet and disappeared under a mass of detached fragments of limestone. - (New York Graphic, 1888).

It may or may not be significant that the date of this expedition was given as April Fool's Day.

The South America Pool during a time of low water. The rim
of the pool approximates the shape of South America.
There are a number of caves immediately around Marianna that match the description given in the article. The "South America Pool" in the tour cave at Florida Caverns State Park forms a rivulet of clear water at times and the Ladies' Cave west of the park has a strong-flowing stream of water. Both are within 2 miles of Marianna.

It was after the party of explorers reached "the Spring" that the story got really interesting:

...[O]ne of the gentlemen of the party, with his cane, detached a jutting rock particularly brilliant with mica spangles from what seemed the solid wall of rock. A large mass of loosened rock followed the fragments with a crash which reverberated hundreds of times throughout the cavernous depths. Then it was an astonishing sight met the eyes of the party which at first rendered them motionless with horror and fright. A hitherto unknown chamber was seen through the aperture, and but a few feet away, apparently motionless as the stone floor on which it lay, was the body of a man clad in the habiliments of a soldier, with his musket beside him. - (New York Graphic 1888).

Kelly Banta of Florida Caverns State Park guides a tour
through an enchanted forest of columns and formations.
It took a few minutes for the explorers to recover their senses enough to move closer. The man did not appear to be breathing but neither did he show signs of being dead. The two male explorers tried to lift the body which caused its rotten clothing and equipment to fall away. They wrapped it in a waterproof coat and carried it to the banks of the underground spring. The ladies of the party made their way out to daylight and headed to Marianna in their carriage to alert the citizens.

The two gentlemen explorers located two other men nearby and with them reentered the cave:

...They went directly to the spring. To their astonishment they found that the man supposed to be dead was living with half open eyes, breathing stertorously, while a faint color tinged his cheek. Examination disclosed rapid but distinct pulsation. The horrified men carried the phenomenon to the open air outside the cave as quickly as the burden would allow. -  (New York Graphic, 1888).

The men succeeded in getting the "phenomenon" to take a few sips of brandy and then took him to a nearby cabin. They left him there and started for town but quickly ran into a group of some 50 townspeople on its way to the cave. The crowd went to the cabin and the mysterious stranger was examined by several of Marianna's doctors.

The tour cave at Florida Caverns State Park offers visitors
an incredible array of formations and colors.
They gave him stimulants and he soon recovered enough to talk but due to his weakness the physicians would not allow him to be asked questions until the following day. He then told the following story:

...He said that in 1837 he was sent from Pensacola to Fort Dade with important military papers. When near Marianna he was followed by a band of Choctaws, who had gone on the warpath in sympathy with their Seminole brethren.
   Being hard pressed, he abandoned his horse and finding a hole in the ground he squeezed into it, and fearing the Indians would discover his trail, went some distance into the cave, when he suddenly felt a difficulty in respiration, a feeling of drowsiness came over him, and he remembered no further. - New York Graphic, 1888).

The story is definitely bizarre but it includes some little known true facts. Probably the most significant is that there was a handful of Choctaw warriors with a group of Creek Indians that fled into the Florida Panhandle following the Battle of Hobdy's Bridge, Alabama, in February 1837. This fact is so obscure that many modern researchers of the Seminole War are not aware of it.

The Cathedral formation at Florida Caverns State Park. Did a
Seminole War soldier really spend 37 years in such a cave?
Also of significance is the mention of Fort Dade, a Seminole War log fort that should not be confused with a later Fort Dade that is open to the public on Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. The original Fort Dade was built in 1837 where the historic Fort King Road crossed the Withlacoochee River near today's community of Lacoochee, Florida.

The New York newspaper's account of this Florida "Rip Van Winkle" concludes:

...It was hard to make the soldier believe that thirty-seven years had passed while he lay in coma, and that the fields of rice, sugar cane and cotton which dotted the landscape were the same wilderness through which he had been chased by the Indians. He seemed to be of a retiring disposition, and did not care to pose as an object of curiosity, and when his strength fully returned disappeared, and was never afterwards heard of. - (New York Graphic, 1888).

Could a Seminole War soldier really have slept for 37 years in a Marianna cave? The writer of the story's original headline probably summed it up best: "A story that the guileless people of Florida unhesitatingly believe."

Dale Cox
May 4, 2017

P.S. To hear the version of this legend as told today and to journey into Old Indian Cave at Florida Caverns State Park, please click play on this video:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Ocheesee almost replaced Tallahassee as capital of Florida

The wooden frame capitol building in Tallahassee as it
appeared in 1831 when Ocheesee almost became state capital.
State Archives of Florida
Tallahassee had been capital of Florida for fewer than ten years when it almost lost the title to the Apalachicola River valley.

Pensacola and St. Augustine had never been thrilled that the new town being carved from the wilderness had taken their ancient titles as the twin capital cities of Florida. The population boom taking place in in Tallahassee, however, was rapidly solidifying its status.

The 1830 census revealed that Leon County, of which Tallahassee was the county seat, had become Florida's most populous county with 6,494 residents. Gadsden County was next with 4,895 while Jackson County was third with 3,907. 

Pensacola and St. Augustine had had lost their centuries old positions as the population centers of Florida in just nine years.

Florida as it appeared in 1832.
(Click to enlarge)
Anti-Tallahassee delegates to the Florida Territorial Legislative Council knew that 1831 might be their last chance to wrest the title of capital away from the growing town in the hills of Middle Florida. When the Council members convened that year, they took their best shot.

The delegates met at the tiny frame capitol building in Tallahassee in 1831 and voted for the appointment of a commission to review other potential sites for the establishment of a permanent capital city. 

The members of this commission began their work and three places quickly emerged as the leading candidates to replace Tallahassee. They were Ocheesee Bluff in Calhoun County, Mt. Vernon (Chattahoochee) in Gadsden County and an unidentified point on the Suwannee River. 

Mt. Vernon, which was soon renamed Chattahoochee due to mail confusion with the Alabama community of the same name, was the only one of these places that had become an actual town by 1831. It had been picked to become the site for Florida's new U.S. Arsenal and the arrival of steamboat traffic on the Apalachicola River spurred its growing development as an important river port.

The red clay of Ocheesee Bluff in Calhoun County, Florida.
Ocheesee Bluff, until recently the site of the Creek Indian village of Ocheesee Talofa, was also located on the Apalachicola River. The Federal Road crossed the river at Ocheesee, which was soon to be named the seat of government for short-lived Fayette County. 

Interests from the East Coast of Florida favored a location somewhere on the Suwannee River. A city there would have to be built from scratch, but unlike Tallahassee would be closer to St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Fernandina while also offering the advantage of river transportation.

It was a close decision:

SEAT OF GOVERNMENT. - The Commissioners appointed under the Resolution of the last Council have made separate reports - one infavor of Mount Vernon - two infavor of Ocheesee and one infavor of a point on the Suwanee as the seat of Government. - (Tallahassee Floridian, January 10, 1832).

This historic live oak tree at Ocheesee Bluff survives from
the days of the town of Ocheesee, Florida.
Three of the four commissioners favored a location on the Apalachicola River, but split between Mt. Vernon and Ocheesee. The latter place received a plurality of the total vote, but since the commission included four members it ended in a tie with Mt. Vernon and a site on the Suwanee.

Unable to break this deadlock, the Council delegates themselves decided to wait another year or two and see what might happen:

...The public buildings at Tallahassee will answer, until the progressive improvement of the Country shall show what point is likely to continue central, as regards the population of the Territory. - There are immense bodies of unexplored land of good quality in East Florida, and the Suwanee will probably be the center of population within ten years. - (Tallahassee Floridian, January 10, 1832).

The restored gunpowder magazine of the U.S. Arsenal at
Chattahoochee is now the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum.
It was not to be. The next ten years saw Leon County's dramatic growth continue while neighboring Jefferson County surged past Jackson to become the third most populous of Florida's counties. The St. Joseph Convention approved a proposed constitution for Florida and the territory was admitted to the Union as a state in 1845.

Ocheesee lost its chance to become capital of Florida by a single vote. Had the Apalachicola River supports on the commission unified their votes, the state capitol building would likely be there today. Instead, it is a ghost town. An old oak tree at Ocheesee Landing and the historic Gregory House across the river in Torreya State Park are virtually all that remain to prove it ever existed. 

Columbus, the town that soon grew on the Suwannee River, is also a ghost town today. Its cemetery and a few other traces can be seen at Suwannee River State Park.

Chattahoochee still survives as a small but charming city of just under 4,000 people. Its trail system has been named one of the finest of any small town in America and the Apalachicola River is both a Florida Blueway and a National Scenic Trail.

Tallahassee remains the state capital of Florida.

You can learn more about the ghost town of Ocheesee and Chattahoochee's historic River Landing Park in these videos from TwoEgg.TV:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Midnight Duel at Neal's Landing in Jackson County, Florida

The Chattahoochee River at Neal's Landing.
The last known duel in Florida history took place at Neal's Landing in Jackson County on the night of March 7, 1878. 

No one was injured but newspapers of the time reported that "both men stood up bravely."

The landing is now the site of Neals Landing Park, a popular and pretty spot for fishing, picnicking, camping and other outdoor activities. In 1878, however, it was the center of a prosperous riverboat community. A hotel, stores and warehouses thrived along the low bluff, their success made possible by the paddlewheel steamboats that carried passengers and cargoes up and down the Chattahoochee River.

The incident at Neal's Landing was one of the last true duels ever to take place in the United States. 

These "affairs of honor" were fought according to the Code Duello, a set of rules that governed how such encounters should take place. The code offered a way for gentlemen to settle their disputes in personal combat and was intended to prevent arguments from growing into violent outbreaks or family feuds.

Neals Landing Park is just off State Road 2 in Jackson County.
The practice fell from favor in the years following the War Between the States (or Civil War) and was outlawed in most jurisdictions.

The Neal's Landing duel resulted from a dispute that grew between a young man of that community and a young man of Columbus, Georgia. The former had "written something unpleasant about the gentlemen of this city," reported the Columbus Daily Enquirer.

The newspaper did not identify either man but reported that the challenge was issued by the resident of Columbus. 

Each man chose a second to take his place should he fail to appear and the choice of weapons and location fell to the man from Neal's Landing:

...The seconds are well known in this city [i.e. Columbus], and once lived here. The challenged party named the time midnight, weapons shot guns, each barrel to be loaded with thirteen buck shot, distance twenty paces. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 12, 1878.

An interpretive kiosk placed by the Jackson County Tourist
Development Council and Jackson County Parks provides
more information on the history of Neal's Landing.
Proper dueling etiquette then required that the two men meet at the time and place appointed. Their seconds were to load and check the weapons. The participants would then stand back to back. Each would then step off the required distance to the count of an observer and upon reaching 10 paces each, turn and fire.

The two men lived up to the requirements of the Code Duello but the Neal's Landing duel ended with an unexpected twist. The two seconds were unwilling to see their friends shoot each other down so they took matters into their own hands:

...The seconds did a good work for the principals by mutually agreeing to load with nothing but powder, without the knowledge of the latter parties. We did not learn how many shots were exchanged, but no damage was done as no lead was used. Both men stood up bravely and the "affair of honor" was settled amicably. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 12, 1878.

The bloodless duel allowed each man to demonstrate his courage while the wise decision of the seconds to load the shotguns with blanks prevented a tragedy.

No trace remains of the once thriving little community at Neal's Landing. Visitors can learn more of the site's history from an interpretive kiosk placed there by Jackson County Parks and the Jackson County Tourist Development Council.

Neals Landing Park is located at 7001 FL-2, Bascom, Florida.

For a bit duel-related fun, enjoy this clip from The Andy Griffith Show:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An 1827 visit to Jackson County, Florida

Shangri-La Spring near Blue Spring was likely visited by
       Rt. Rev. Michael Portier as he traveled across Florida in 1827.
The following account of an 1827 visit to Jackson County by Rt. Rev. Michael Portier, the Catholic Bishop of Florida, is one of the most detailed descriptions of the area when it was still a raw frontier.

The City of Marianna had not yet been founded but the Old Spanish Trail, which Portier followed, could still be traced from Orange Hill on the border with Washington County through Jackson County by way of Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring) to the banks of the Apalachicola River near Sneads.

Pushing on the next morning, Bishop Portier soon crossed the border into modern Jackson County. His passage through the magnificent forests that then grew in the region prompted him to wax philosophic:

Rt. Rev. Michael Portier
On beholding this American counterpart of the Thessalian Tempe, one is almost led to put faith in the glowing pictures of ancient Greece, as described by the poets, and in the extravagant stories that travelers tell of certain Asiatic countries. The trees are constantly in leaf and, despite their close proximity, attain an enormous height, bringing their upper branches together as if to ward off the torrid heat of the sun.
What agreeable sensations fill the soul on drawing near to these imposing forests after journeying through interminable tracts of stunted pine-trees, where the air, expanded by the heat and heavy with odor, sickens the traveler at every step, not to mention the suffering caused by the reflected heat of the glowing-white sandy soil. It is like escaping suddenly…into paradise.[i]

Adding to Bishop Portier’s fascinating descriptions is the fact that he crossed the site of Marianna just before Robert Beveridge and his workers arrived to begin clearing the land. His account provides an interesting view of what the land looked like on the eve of the founding of the city:

…On every side you could hear the rippling of the brooks which here and there blended their waters and developed into streams of deep and regular formation. Rocks were to be met as high as the trees themselves, and bordered around with wild flowers, while sweet-scented shrubbery decked the sides and summits of these pygmy mountains. Natural wells, underground caves, oak trees blasted by lightning or cast by the tempest across our narrow pathway like an artificial bridge – everything was present to enhance the spectacle.[ii]

Crossing the Chipola, the Bishop and his traveling companion pushed on to the still new home of William Robinson to spend the night. Portier noted that they “fared better than we expected there,” but also commented on the “coolness of our reception.”
Robinson had arrived from Georgia a few years earlier and acquired more than 3,100 acres surrounding Blue Spring. He built his house on the hill overlooking the spring, then called Robinson’s Big Spring in his honor. Unlike most of the other early settlers of the county, Robinson was unmarried and remained that way until he died. Legend holds, although the device was not mentioned by Bishop Portier, that he built a unique system using chains and buckets to bring fresh water up to the house from the spring.
Portier was fascinated by Blue Spring:

The stream called Big Spring has cut a channel through the rocks over which it dashes with amazing rapidity. Like a small flood tired of being hampered and held up in its progress, it pours over with mighty force into a bed cut deep into the rock. This bed or vase is oval in shape and possibly a hundred feet wide at its broadest span. So clear is the water that the smallest objects are distinctly seen in it at a depth of thirty or even thirty-five feet; while all around the magnolia, laurel, cypress, and cedar are found in profusion. The wild grape-vine, after pushing its plaint branches to the very tops of these trees, hangs suspended over the stream in festoons. Fish without number find shelter in this retreat; but at the slightest sound of an inquisitive wayfarer they seek speedy refuge in the deeper places.
This beautiful body of water, of a perfect blue color, imparts the same tint to whatever it reflects, and when the sun is in the zenith the reflected images take on all the colors of the rainbow through the prismatic influence of the waters.[iii]

This story will continue below, but first enjoy this video on the history of beautiful Blue Springs Recreational Area:

The damming of the stream to create today’s Merritt’s Mill Pond has greatly chanced the appearance of Blue Spring, but the water retains its unique blue appearance and is spectacularly clear.
Setting out again early the next morning, the Bishop followed a pathway that was “little more than a furrow” until he reached a “dark dense wood and guessed that the river Apalachicola was not far distant.”[iv]
Along this section of his journey, Bishop Portier followed the same old trail that had been in use since the Spanish missionaries first visited the area in 1674. Passing between the modern communities of Grand Ridge and Dellwood and then just north of Sneads, he “struck the Apalachicola at its very source, the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.[v]
The greatest adventure of his journey through Jackson County came when he and his companion tried to get across the Apalachicola to the inn on the other side at Chattahoochee Landing:

The view across the Apalachicola River
to River Landing Park at Chattahoochee
is the same observed by Bishop Portier
as he waited for the ferry in 1827.
…Proceeding down the river to the boat-landing, we shouted for the ferrymen residing on the opposite bank. For a while hour we taxed our lungs to the utmost, but without result. Noon arrived, and we gave up all hope of making ourselves heard. To return up the river, a distance of twelve miles, to the next ferry without guide or beaten track, would be to risk being overtaken by the night before reaching the goal….My companion offered to swim across the Apalachicola, capture the boat and come back for me. I did not believe he could accomplish it, in view of the strong current, the great breadth of the river, and the presence of alligators.
But, despite my remonstrances and solicitation, he insisted on his plan, and proceeded to carry it out. I beheld him plunge into the river, cut through it like a fish, and gain a distance of a third of a mile in less than ten minutes. Yet I was ill at ease, I confess, until I saw him safe on the other side. A moment later he reappeared with the boat, steering in my direction. But his strength was not a match for the ponderous force he had to meet; the current carried him further down than he expected, and it was only by hauling upon the branches of the trees overhanging the bank on my side that he finally got back. It had been a wonderful exploit.[vi]

Portier’s account of his journey through Jackson County is remarkable for its descriptiveness, but he felt that he had failed to do justice to the country he had seen. “I am relating what I myself beheld,” he wrote, “I am telling what I personally experienced; and I declare that my descriptions fall short of the actual facts.”[vii]

To learn more about Jackson County, please consider one or all of my books that touch on our wonderful corner of Florida. Be sure to visit for video visits to historic sites throughout the South.


[i] Portier, Michael. "Journal of his Journey from Pensacola to St. Augustine," 1827.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.