Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hurricane of 1877 at Chattahoochee, Florida

Recreated path of Hurricane #4 in 1877.
Map and data from NOAA.
A hurricane devastated a wide area of Northwest Florida in October 1877. The Chattahoochee area was particularly hard hit by the storm, which researchers have dubbed "Hurricane #4."

The National Hurricane Center believes that the storm made landfall somewhere between Apalachicola and present-day Panama City Beach on October 3, 1877. It is believed to have been a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour.

After making landfall, the storm tracked to the northeast across today's Bay, Washington, Calhoun and Jackson Counties until the eye passed over or near Chattahoochee. Damage reports were stunning, as is explained by a letter written from Chattahoochee on October 6, 1877:

The Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee, Florida.
The river was still crossed by ferry in 1877.
...The freshet and gale has done much damage in this section. The gale began on Monday and continued till Wednesday. It was very heavy during Tuesday and Tuesday night. Twelve mills and water gins within a few miles of here have been swept away. There is only one mill, that of Mr. McMillen, standing in twenty miles of here. -  Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877. 

The railroad did not yet cross the Apalachicola River into Jackson County, but had reached Chattahoochee by 1877. The storm did so much damage to the tracks and trestles that no trains could reach the city:

...All the bridges are gone, and the railroad is so washed up that we have had no train since Tuesday, and it is not thought that the road and bridges can be repaired under eight or ten days. So we are cut off from all communication with the outside world. - Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877.

The Tallahassee newspapers reported that the storm did extensive damage all along the Gulf Coast. A storm tide of 12-feet above normal was reported at St. Marks, a large schooner was driven completely ashore on St. James Island and parts of the wharves and several boats were wrecked at Cedar Key.

The old Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee as it appeared
when the 1877 hurricane struck the city. The structure at left,
with verandas, remains in use as the Administration building.
The damage around Chattahoochee was even worse. Newspapers reported that roofs were torn from homes and businesses, trees were uprooted and that even the crops of the region were devastated. Cotton plants were literally blown out of the ground in the fields. Farm workers tried to salvage what the could by digging the cotton bolls out of the mud, trying to save enough to make their loan payments:

...The damage to the cotton crop is heavy, having been blown out and beat under the ground by the heavy rain, but with dry weather much of it can be saved. It will be impossible for planters to meet their notes for guano and other supplies, which mostly come due about the 15th. The railroad was quickly repaired. - Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877.

The death toll from the storm was not broken down locally so it is difficult to know how many people lost their lives along its path through Florida. Along its total path from the Caribbean up through the Atlantic Coast states of the United States, however, the storm claimed at least 84 lives.

It crossed over Georgia and the Carolinas, its feeder bands reaching into the Atlanta Ocean, and then moved up the coast to the north, causing floods and doing heavy damage all along its path.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A mystery of murder & missing gold on the Ocheesee Road!

This rare 1849 $20 gold piece is at the National Museum of
American History. Could a treasure of similar coins worth
millions of dollars be hidden south of Grand Ridge, Florida?
National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History
The end of the War Between the States (or Civil War) brought with it a time of hunger and starvation for people of all races in the rural counties of the Florida Panhandle. It was also a time when ruthless outlaws, many of them deserters from either the Union or Confederate army, stalked the roads and byways in search of plunder.

It was a time when anyone thought to possess gold or other valuables could quickly become the victim of a robbery or worse. 

A man named S.D. Thom learned this deadly lesson on the night of September 2-3, 1865, when he set off from Ocheesee Landing in Calhoun County to meet up with a man named Luke Lott:

Thom came ashore at Ocheesee Bluff in Calhoun County,
Florida. He traveled west from here to meet with Luke Lott.
From a private letter, written from Chattahoochee on the 6th, we learn that Mr. S.D. Thom, a well-known citizen of Columbus, was found dead, on Sunday, Sept. 3d, on the road between Luke Lott's house and Gregory's saw-mill, in Jackson county, Fla., about fifteen miles from Ocheesee, with nine buckshot in his body. He was buried on the 4th. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 19, 1865.

Thom, as the above excerpt notes, was a prominent businessman in Columbus, Georgia. He had gone down the Chattahoochee River from that city in a small boat and stayed with a friend named A.D. Bull on the night of August 26th:

...[H]e showed a bag which he said contained $800 in gold, and told his host that he was going to see Mr. Luke Lott, whom he knew, and whom he had promised a visit, if he ever came to Florida, to buy bacon. He left the next morning in a bateaux, a negro being with him, for Lott's place. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 19, 1865.

Calhoun County as it appeared in 1860
when it still extended all the way to the
Gulf of Mexico. Ocheesee is at the top left.
The mention that Thom had gone to Florida to "buy bacon" means that he was planning to purchase a large supply of pork. He was engaged in business in Columbus and the amount would have been considerable.

Luke Lott, said by the article to have been an acquaintance of the murdered man, was a fascinating - and deadly - character. 

He lived in northern Calhoun County between the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers, but owned a large plantation that extended well into Jackson County. He had been successful and highly-regarded before and during the war, although there were also rumors that he had murdered one of his slaves. Lott was the captain of the Calhoun County Home Guard unit and military records indicate that he was a friend of Governor John Milton. 

He was a pro-secession "fire eater" - to use the terminology of the day - and became a bitter enemy of the "Carpetbaggers" (Northerners who moved South) and "Scalawags" (Southern political allies of the Carpetbaggers) who controlled Florida during the Reconstruction era. He was, in fact, later accused of becoming an armed assassin.

...The report is that he went to Lott's deposited his money with him, remained a day or two, and was last seen with Lott, going towards Marianna to buy bacon. Report further says that Thom had deposited some $8,000 and $4,000 with Lott, but the writer is confident that he had not exceeding $400. Some friend should examine into the affair. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 19, 1865.

The reports of the time do not mention the exact location where Thom's body was found other than to note it was on the road between Luke Lott's home, in Calhoun County, and Gregory's Mill, in Jackson County.

The beautiful old Gregory House at Torreya State Park was
the home of Jason Gregory, the builder of the mill mentioned
in the accounts of S.D. Thom's murder.
Gregory's Mill had been built in around 1850 by Jason Gregory, a well-known resident of Ocheesee, It stood on the headwaters of Carpenter Sink Creek about 1.5 miles west of State Road 69 and about the same distance north of the Calhoun County line. Gregory is primarily remembered today as the builder of the beautiful old Gregory House that once stood at Ocheesee but now can be toured at Torreya State Park.

Lott lived almost due south of the mill in northern Calhoun County, although he had extensive land holdings throughout the area.

Civil law had broken down in the region by the end of the War Between the States, largely due to the capture or killing of so many local authorities during the Battle of Marianna. The U.S. military responded to the reports of the murder and an investigation of sorts followed:

We learn that Mr. LUKE LOTT, a citizen of Calhoun county, well known here, is under arrest in this city charged with the murder of Mr. THOM, of Columbus, Ga. Since his arrest a negro has been taken into custody for the same offence under suspicious circumstances. The case will be tried before a Military Commission. Mr. D.P. Holland is council for the accused. The case of Mr. Lott, we understand, is one of mere suspicion only. - Tallahassee Semi-Weekly Floridian, October 25, 1865.

Jackson County as it appeared in 1888 (more or less!). The murder took
place south of Grand Ridge on the Calhoun County line.
D.P. Holland, who served as Lott's attorney during his trial before the military tribunal in Tallahassee, had been a lieutenant colonel and later a colonel in the Confederate service. His legal expertise proved worthwhile and Lott was acquitted of the charges against him. 

The fate of the African American man also charged with the crime is unknown. It is interesting to speculate whether he might have been the same man who accompanied S.D. Thom on his trip down the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, but this is not known with certainty.

The value of the stolen money is difficult to assess because so many different amounts were given by writers at the time. Gold was worth $30 per ounce in 1865 so a rough estimate, based on the range of values given for Thom's bag of coins, would be $16,738.05 to $503,400 at today's gold price of $1,258.50 per ounce.

This estimate is based strictly on the value of the gold itself and does not consider the value of 19th century gold coins to collectors! A single $20 Double Eagle gold piece from 1865 in excellent condition can be worth thousands of dollars today.

In other words, S.D. Thom's lost bag of gold could be worth millions. 

The money was not recovered at the time of his murder and may still be out there today, buried somewhere near the line that divides Jackson and Calhoun Counties.

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: