Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ocheesee Pond Wild Man: A 19th Century Bigfoot capture in Florida?

Friday, May 22, 2015

The killing of Calvin Baker at the Cypress Town Jail (March 4, 1911)

Old Cypress Town Jail in Cypress, Florida
The old Cypress Town Jail stands empty along main street in the now unincorporated Jackson County community of Cypress. Its concrete walls and roof are remarkably well-preserved considering the number of years since the last prisoner was held there.

The jail was built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and was often called a calaboose during its early days. The term is a Creole word derived from the old Spanish word calabosa (dungeon). It served to house individuals charged with violating municipal ordinances and as a place of temporary confinement for suspects charged with more serious crimes until they could be moved to the county jail in Marianna.

The entire jail was smaller than a normal cell today.
Such small municipal jails were common in Florida well into the mid-20th century and at least three still stand in Jackson County. The others are in Sneads and Grand Ridge.

The Cypress jail was made almost entirely of poured concrete, which was used to form not only the walls but the roof or ceiling as well. The floor is a slab of concrete and the window is a small opening closed with heavy iron bars. The front door was of heavy wood and was locked from the outside with a padlock. If you were unfortunate enough to be placed in the jail for a night, you were simply locked in and left on your own. There were no overnight officers or guards.

Calvin Baker was locked in the jail on March 4, 1911.
This was the situation of a young man named Calvin Baker on the night of March 4, 1911. Following an encounter with alcohol, Baker allegedly proceeded to have an encounter with the town marshal.

Although accounts are meager, Baker was described as a new arrival from Georgia in Cypress, which was then a booming sawmill town on the L&N Railroad. Following an altercation of some type that was inflamed by alcohol, he produced a gun and opened fire in the dirt streets. The town marshal was summoned, but when he approached came under fire from Baker as well.

A posse was organized and together the men finally managed to subdue Baker and take away his weapon. He was lodged in the little Cypress calaboose for the night. As was the custom, the wooden door of the jail was padlocked from the outside and the prisoner was left on his own until morning.

Interior of the old Cypress Town Jail
He never saw the light of another day. The following is the account of Baker's killing as wired to the New Orleans Times-Picayune from Marianna on March 5, 1911:

...Calvin Baker, a negro, who came here from Georgia recently, was shot to death by a mob at Cypress, a small town near here, last night. Baker yesterday had threatened to shoot up the town, it is said, and attempted to shoot the town marshal when that officer went to place him under arrest on the charge of disorderly conduct. Later he was arrested by a posse and placed in the town lockup. Some time in the night a mob battered down the door of the jail and poured a fusillade of shots into Baker's body.

The murder or lynching was investigated by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, but as no witnesses ever came forward, no arrests could be made. No evidence of the names or number of the people responsible for Calvin Baker's killing has ever been found.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sharkansas headed for Syfy release?

The Jackson County-made horror film Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre is expected to finish production in Los Angeles tomorrow. Sources close to the project indicate that the Syfy channel has expressed interest.

The movie was filmed at Florida Caverns State Park, Merritt's Mill Pond and at other locations around Marianna and Jackson County, Florida, in early 2014. It was directed by famed B-movie king Jim Wynorski. His previous credits include Not of This Earth, The Return of Swamp Thing, Transylvania Twist, The Wasp Woman and Dynocroc vs. Supergator.

Sources indicate that the new film, in which the Florida Panhandle doubles for the Ozarks of Arkansas, will be reviewed by the Syfy channel for broadcast consideration. The timetable for a decision by the cable channel has not been released, but Syfy has aired a number of Wynorski's previous films.

Sharkansas filming at Florida Caverns State Park
If Syfy picks up Sharkansas, the movie will likely be a ratings grabber for the channel which has seen huge audience spikes with its modern-day monster movie franchise. The success story of Sharknado, of course, is well known to viewers and film industry experts alike.

In another development, Wynorski announced on his Facebook page that the movie contains no nudity, an indication both that he is aiming for a television release and that he is keeping his promise to local tourism and parks leaders that the movie will have no worse than a PG-13 rating.

Sharkansas tells the story of how an accident during an oil "fracking" exploration unleashes a swarm of prehistoric sharks from a buried sea deep underground. The accident coincides with an escape attempt by inmates from a women's prison and soon escaped sharks meet escaped prisoners and the rest is history.

The preview is now available and you can watch it right here:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sharkansas preview! First look at new Jackson County made horror movie...

Here it is!  Your long awaited first look at new Jackson County made horror movie "Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre." It is set for release in May!

The movie was filmed in and around Marianna and Jackson County. Filming locations included Florida Caverns State Park, Merritt's Mill Pond and El Rio Restaurant.  Some local folks even made the cast as extras.

I'll post more on how to see it as it is released.  Expected rating is no worse than PG-13.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#51 Jewels of Light, The Windows of St. Luke's (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

St. Luke Window
On Sunday (1/25) at 2:00 p.m., St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna will offer its second "Jewels of Light" Tour. This year's event honors Father Norman Bray, whose passing on January 21, 2014, was felt by friends from all denominations.

The name "Jewels of Light" refers to the church's extraordinarily historic and beautiful stained-glass windows, which are #51 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Special thanks are due to Mary Robbins for assisting with this history of the windows:

The story of the stained-glass windows dates back to the Civil War. Union troops burned St. Luke's Episcopal Church to the ground during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. In the hard times of Reconstruction, it took the parish fifteen years to raise enough money to replace its lost sanctuary.

Rare photo of 1879 church with original stained-glass windows.
By 1879, however, the replacement structure was nearing completion when Mr. Charles B. Benedict of St. John's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville offered to pay for stained-glass windows. His wife, Martha Alston Baker - called "Pattie" by her husband and friends - was a native of Marianna and the two had been married at the home of Dr. J.T. Holden in the city on August 15, 1876. She died less than three years later on January 31, 1879, and Mr. Benedict asked to donate the windows in her memory.

Rare photo of church after 1941 fire.
Courtesy of Mary Robbins
His incredible gift was accepted and the windows were prepared by the renowned artists of Payne-Spiers Studios in Patterson, New Jersey.  They graced the beautiful little church until another fire struck on March 2, 1941. The blame this time was electrical.

Once again war and hard times intervened in the replacement of the structure and it was not until Easter morning, April 6, 1947, that the present building was dedicated. World War II had slowed the work of rebuilding.

Inside St. Luke's with the windows glowing from sunlight.
To preserve the memory of the beautiful windows lost in the 1941 fire, the church contacted Payne-Spiers. The studio created the stunning windows seen today in the sanctuary, chancel and nave, along with two windows in the stairwell and two in the sacristy.  All were placed in 1946-1956.

Local artisans Ashley and Yoshiko Hill, assisted by noted artist Maria Therrien Johnson, designed and produced two windows for the Children's Chapel in 1997 and the glass transom and door windows on the north side of the church in 2002.

Philips Memorial Window
The windows placed in the 1940s and 1950s are similar to the ones donated by Mr. Benedict in 1879. The altar window is a Philips Memorial window that is but slightly changed from the original. Many of the sanctuary windows were donated by families and friends in memory of loved ones.

Of special note is the Friendship Window high in the west wall of the church. It was placed to the Glory of God and as a show of appreciation for the many friends that came to the aid of the parish after the heartbreaking fire in 1941.

Section of the St. Peter Window.
Other windows include the Nativity Window, dedicated in memory of Mr. John Hardin Carter; the Presentation Window, placed in memory of Francis Asbury Robinson and his wife, Lorena A. Bush; the Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God) Window, placed in appreciation of the organists of the church; the Sermon on the Mount Kilpatrick Memorial Window; the St. Luke Window, dedicated to the Glory of God and in memory of Dr. N.Albert Baltzell; the St. John Window, in memory of John and Floie Milton; the St. Peter Window, in memory of Sen. William Hall Milton; the St. Philip Window, in memory of Phillip D. Mathews; the St. Bartholomew Window, for the Baker family, and the St. Andrew Window, in memory of Rev. J. William Foster and his wife, Elizabeth.

The "Jewels of Light" Tour will be this Sunday, January 25, at 2 p.m.

To learn more about St. Luke's Episcopal Church, please visit

To see the full list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida, as it is unveiled, please visit

Sunday, January 18, 2015

#52 Did Titanic Curse sink the John W. Callahan? (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

The John W. Callahan
The paddlewheel steamboat John W. Callahan was a beloved sight at Jackson County's river landings. It sank in 1923 in an incident that some have linked to a curse of the Titanic.

The alleged connection between the John W. Callahan and the RMS Titanic is #52 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

In some ways it is appropriate that the fate of the Callahan has been linked to that of the Titanic. Each was a luxurious vessel that ranked among the largest ever operated by its line. Each was known for its decor and the hospitality of its crew. Each was captained by a confident officer. And each steamed off on its final voyage carrying passengers confident in ability of the vessel to overcome all obstacles of man and nature.

Interior of the John W. Callahan
The John W. Callahan was a river steamer of the Tri-State Navigation Company's Callahan Line. Named for Bainbridge, Georgia, businessman and investor John W. Callahan, Sr., it was built at Apalachicola, Florida, in 1907 and carried passengers for the first time on January 3, 1908:

By invitation of Mr. John W. Callahan a large number of invited guests were given a steamboat ride last Friday afternoon on the new steamer The John W. Callahan, which will make weekly trips to the Dead Lakes of Florida and Apalachicola. It is 127 feet long - two decks and thirty state rooms. It is electric lighted and is fitted up with the most improved machinery. - Bainbridge Democrat, January 9, 1908.

Many of the people living along Florida's Chattahoochee, Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers in 1908 had never seen electric lighting or some of the boat's other amenities. The Callahan was a marvel to them and for the next 15 years was a much anticipated sight at Neal's, Parramore, Peri and Butler Landings in Jackson County.

John W. Callahan
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
The boat also had a dramatic impact on the economy of the region. Its cargo capacity was huge and within 9-months the steamboat was bringing affordable and quality merchandise in such quantities that merchants in Northwest Florida, Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama were able to significantly reduce their prices.

By the time the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, the Callahan was the undisputed queen of the region's river steamers:

Passengers who have enjoyed the ocean trip between Savannah and New York find the Callahan's appointments of as high class, and the hourly changing scenery hardly as monotonous as just water, water, water. They find the fifteenth meal as palatable and as plentiful as the first, and they begin to figure out how much they would have to add to the round trip ticket price to buy the food alone in a hotel or cafe of the better class. - Charles F. Pekor, Jr., "Down the Chattahoochee on the John W. Callahan," Columbus Daily Enquirer, January 9, 1922.

The John W. Callahan was the first boat to pass under
old Victory Bridge at Chattahoochee, Florida.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
Ten years after the loss of the Titanic, however, the crew of the Callahan committed an error in judgment that some would blame for the steamer's loss.

Sailors believe even today that it is extremely bad luck for the name of the Titanic to be mentioned aboard ship while a vessel is at sea. Doing so can bring down a curse upon a ship, its crew and passengers.

On New Year's Eve of 1921, however, the crew of the John W. Callahan did not just mention the name of the Titanic, they sang a song about the ill-fated liner while their vessel was underway, inviting upon themselves a curse tied to the luxury liner.

It was tradition aboard the river steamers of the Callahan Line for the head stevedore to form his men into a chorus for the entertainment of passengers each New Year's Eve. On December 31, 1921, head stevedore Gross Harvey kept this tradition alive aboard the John W. Callahan, singing for the tips of the passengers.

The Titanic Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Library of Congress
He and his men, however, ran out of songs before their audience ran out of money so they turned to a new folk song then spreading across the country:

Ladies and children saved their life,
Husbands parted from their wife - 
It was sad when that great ship went down.

The lyrics are from "The Titanic," a tuned created by an unnamed troubadour in around 1915. It was first recorded in 1924 by Ernest V. Stoneman and became the first country record ever to sell 1,000,000 copies. You can hear it by clicking play at the bottom of this page.

If you believe in such things, the crew of the Callahan invited disaster by singing about the Titanic while their steamer was underway on the Chattahoochee River. In less than one year a series of strange accidents began to plague the vessel. Within two years, the John W. Callahan was history.

The problems began with a series of nagging incidents that troubled the Callahan throughout 1922, the most serious of which took place in November of that year when the steamer struck a snag near Gunn's Landing and started to sink. The quick-thinking pilot ran the boat aground to save her, but she still sustained serious damage when one end of the vessel sank to a depth of five feet.

John W. Callahan underway
State Archives of Florida/Mwmory Collection
The boat was raised, restored and back in service by March 1923. On the 3rd of that month she left Columbus with the largest shipment ever carried by a river steamer from that city - 337 tons of cargo and as many passengers as her cabins could hold. The Callahan made it to Apalachicola but it would be the last time that she would ever sniff the salt air of the Gulf.

The John W. Callahan began its ill-fated final voyage on March 20, 1923. On board were some of the leading businessmen of the South, among them James W. "Jim" Woodruff, for whom the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee, Florida, is named. The vessel was also attempting to break its own record for cargo. On her decks were 375 tons of fertilizer and a large amount of other merchandise.

The Chattahoochee River was running extremely high when the boat left Columbus and some in that city expressed fear that she would not be able to steam under the bridge at Eufaula, Alabama. The Columbus Daily Enquirer made note of this concern , "It was thought that in spite of the depth of 20 feet the boat, upon unloading some of the freight at Eufaula, would be able to get by the bridge."

Chipola River near where the John W. Callahan sank
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection (Photo by Charles Barron)
The steamer passed under the bridge at Eufaula without incident but her pilots failed to consider the cable that pulled a ferry back and forth across the river at Gordon, Alabama. The cable normally was high enough above the surface for steamboats to travel beneath it without trouble. With the river at flood stage, however, the Callahan ran into it and decapitated herself:

At Gordon, Ala., according to the local officer of the company, the boat was tied up for two days when a ferry cable caused the collapse of the builder and hurricane decks. The smoke stacks were torn down as a result. - Macon Telegraph, March 27, 1923.

As soon as the debris of the upper decks was cleared away and the stacks repaired as much as possible, the steamer continued her trip downriver. Residents of Jackson County watched as she steamed past Neal's and Parramore Landings for the last time.

The John W. Callahan
The boat made it to Chattahoochee and passed beneath Victory Bridge there to begin her final run down the Apalachicola. She reached Iola Landing on the night of March 24 and turned into the Chipola Cut-off, a channel that connects the Apalachicola with the Chipola River, the next morning. It was a Sunday:

Columbus, Ga., March 26. - There will be no salvage of the river steamer John W. Callahan, Sr., running between Columbus and Apalachicola, Fla., which struck a snag and sank 315 miles from this city Sunday afternoon, according to a statement made public today by General Manager O.W. Donnell, of the Tri-State Navigation Co., owners of the boat...The steamer is a total loss, which is estimated at $35,000 by the manager with only $8,000 insurance. - Macon Telegraph, March 27, 1923.
The steamboat Chipola, seen here at Iola Landing, helped
rescue the passengers and crew of the John W. Callahan.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection

Like the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee, the Chipola was at flood stage when the John W. Callahan went down. The pilot tried to run the steamer aground in a repeat of the maneuver that ad saved her the previous November, but this time the effort failed. The Callahan sank in 45 feet of water near the mouth of Magnolia Slough about 2 miles from Wewahitchka. She was a total loss, but the crew was able to get all of the passengers safely to shore as the paddlewheeler went down.

The scene was surreal, and the boat's loud steam whistle sounded incessantly as she slipped beneath the water:

All members of the crew escaped without injury from the steamer but Jasper Carlo, Columbus... standing on the bank dropped dead as the big whistle, which had in some manner become caught and shrieked until water killed the steam, ceased blowing. The sounding of the whistle's last blast marked the passing away of a [man] who had worked for 20 years on the Chattahoochee river being the veteran stevedore of the Tri-State Navigation Company. Carlo was buried at Wewahitchka. - Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 28, 1923.

Jasper Carlo had been one of the crewmen of the Callahan that sang about the sad fate of the Titanic just fifteen months earlier on New Year's Eve.

For years after the sinking of the John W. Callahan, river men whispered that the crew of the elegant steamer had brought disaster upon themselves by singing of the Titanic. The curse of the great White Star liner, they said, had sent the Callahan to a watery grave.

You can hear the original recording of that song here:

To read more of the stories on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida, please follow this link:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

#53 The Spanish claim to Blue Springs (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Blue Springs from the air
Shortly after Florida became part of the United States, land commissioners in Pensacola stripped a Spanish citizen's heirs of their title to more than 8,000 acres of prime land surrounding Blue Springs in Jackson County.

The story of the Blue Springs Spanish Grant is #53 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

The United States took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821. Among the first issues that officials of the new territory encountered were the claims of residents that they had been granted land in the former colony by Spanish authorities. The Spanish governors and surveyors involved in these transaction had beeen reassigned to other countries and in many cases U.S. commissioners relied on their abilities as hand-writing experts to determine whether or not alleged Spanish grants were legitimate.

1825 survey map showing Blue Springs
There were American settlers living in the area when Florida became part of the United States. Federal land office records show that 52 Americans claimed to have settled land in modern Jackson County when Florida was a Spanish colony. None of them, however, had secured land grants from Spanish authorities.

The only person to enter a formal claim for land in Jackson County under a Spanish grant was Margarita Goquet, the mother of a deceased grantee named Jose Poll. According to her claim, Poll had settled at Blue Springs (also called Jackson Blue Springs) in November 1817. Goquet said that her son had been granted 10,000 arpents there by Governor Jose Masot.

Blue Springs
An arpent is an old European unit for measuring land. In this case the 10,000 arpents claimed by Mrs. Goquet as an inheritance from her son equaled about 8,448 acres. She produced documents signed by the Spanish governor in 1817 and also found eyewitnesses willing to support her claim:

Joseph Moura, being sworn, saith that, in the year 1817, he assisted in transporting hands and provisions to the tract of ten thousand arpents of land at the Big Spring, on Chipola, granted originally to Joseph Poll, in order to commence improvements and cultivation thereon; that five or six months afterwards he visited the same place, at which time they had built a house and cleared and enclosed a large piece of ground; that Joseph Poll was the son of Margarita Goquet, who inherited the said tract of land at his death; and further saith not. - Claim statement included in report of U.S. Land Commissioners to Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, November 12, 1824, American State Papers.

It would have been nothing short of suicide for an American settler to build a house and clear land at Blue Springs in 1817. The First Seminole War erupted that fall and continued until the fall of 1818. The alliance of Seminoles and Red Stick Creeks at war with the United States had no real issues with the Spanish citizens of Florida, however, and generally allowed them to live in peace. 

Blue Springs from the water
The war did cost Jose Poll the African laborers he had brought with him to Blue Spring, which as noted in the reference above was then usually called the Big Spring of the Chipola. Whether they were slaves or free men of color is not known, as the available documents do not provide additional detail. A second eyewitness produced by Poll's mother mentioned that the laborers all left the farm. Like many other African-Americans living on the Southern frontier, they probably joined the American Indian forces then fighting against the United States:

Manuel Moura, being sworn, saith that he attended Joseph Moura when he visited the said tract of land at the aforementioned periods, and is acquainted with the facts stated by him; and further saith that the negroes employed by said Poll in the improvements and cultivation aforesaid absconded, and of which was never recovered; and further saith not. - Claim statement included in report of U.S. Land Commissioners to Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, November 12, 1824, American State Papers.

The decision of whether to grant Mrs. Goquet title to more than 8,000 acres of prime agricultural land in newly formed Jackson County was placed in the hands of three American land commissioners - Samuel Overton, Joseph White and Craven P. Luckett. The first of these men, Overton, was a close friend of Andrew Jackson.

Merritt's Mill Pond just below Blue Springs
The three ruled against Mrs. Goquet, probably much to the relief of William Robinson who was in the process of establishing a plantation on the property in question. The deliberations were subjective, as the commissioners agreed that the documents presented by the lady had actually been signed by former Governor Jose Masot.

In fact, the three U.S. commissioners almost without exception rejected any claims filed by Spanish citizens asserting ownership of large parcels of land in Florida. The three Americans did not believe that the King of Spain had given his governors the authority to make grants of large parcels of land, so they either denied such claims or sent them to the U.S. Congress for final disposition.

Did the commissioners improperly deprive a Spanish lady of 8,000 acres of land at Blue Springs that had been settled by and granted to her deceased son? The possibility that they did is very real. Whatever the truth, the land became the home and farm of William Robinson and after his death formed the core of Sylvania, the plantation of Governor John Milton.

The intriguing Spanish Land Grant at Blue Springs is #53 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County. To see other items on the list, please visit:

To learn more about the history of Blue Springs, please visit: /

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

#54 The Ellicott Line (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Ellicott Line marker on US 231 north of Campbellton
Although the marker is at the state line, the actual
Ellicott line is south of this point inside of Jackson County.
Just south of the Alabama state line and stretching from one side of Jackson County to the other can be found a line of unusual earthen mounds. These mounds are found at precise one-mile intervals and look so much like prehistoric Indian mounds that even professional archaeologists have mistaken their true origin.

They do not date from thousands of years ago nor do they contained artifacts associated with ancient American Indian burials. The mounds actually date from the late 1700s and were built by a team of American and Spanish surveyors. They form the eastern end of a survey known for more than 200 years as the Ellicott Line.

1826 survey plat showing the Ellicott Line in Jackson County
The Ellicott Line came about as a result of the Treaty of San Lorenzo, a friendship agreement signed between the United States and Spain on October 27, 1795. Among other things it established the line between Spanish West Florida and the lands of the United States as the 31st Parallel.

No one knew exactly where to find that parallel, so the two countries agreed to carry out a joint survey to locate and permanently mark their mutual border. Once the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1796, President George Washington appointed Major Andrew Ellicott as Commissioner of Limits to represent the United States in the survey.

Ellicott was already a man of considerable note by the time of his appointment to survey the Florida
Andrew Ellicott
border. Even though he was a pacifist Quaker, he served in the Maryland militia and achieved the rank of major during the American Revolution. After the war he helped future President James Madison complete the survey of the Mason-Dixon Line, a boundary still recognized today as separating North from South.

An acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson, Major Ellicott was appointed in 1791 to survey the borders of the new District of Columbia. That task completed, he revised the original plans for and laid out the nation's capital city of Washington, D.C.

After his appointment as Commissioner of Limits by President Washington in 1796, Ellicott joined with his Spanish counterpart Stephen Minor to locate and mark the 31st Parallel (Latitude 31 North). The parallel remains the border between Florida and Alabama to this day.

One of the Ellicott Mounds in Jackson County
The two men headed a survey and military party that ran the line of the 31st Parallel from the Mississippi River east to the Chattahoochee River at the very northeast corner of what is now Jackson County. Most of the work was actually done by the men of the survey party and not by the two commissioners, who avoided the backbreaking and dangerous of hacking through the virgin wilderness and building a line of large earthen mounds, each one mile from the last, to mark the border. Ellicott and Minor determined starting and ending points, but otherwise traveled by boat to meet the surveyors each time they emerged on a major river.

Elliott's Jackson County observatory was at left on the
west bank of the Chattahoochee River north of Neal's Landing.
By the time the surveyors and their small military escort reached today's Jackson County in 1799, they were in serious danger of being wiped out by irate warriors from the Creek Nation. The Creeks had not given away their lands and did not like the idea of two other nations dividing it up. Only the intervention of Col. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, and some of the senior chiefs saved the lives of the surveyors.

Ellicott and Minor reached the eastern end of the line on July 25, 1799, and met the survey party on the bank of the Chattahoochee River just north of today's Neal's Landing Park. An observatory was set up there and astronomical and meteorological observations were carried out until mid-August.

Heavy rains, cloudy weather and even a tornado interfered with the work but a final mound was placed just west of the river and the line was ruled complete. The surveyors then dropped down the river to present-day Chattahoochee where they set up another observatory to begin marking the line that divides Florida from Georgia.

1855 survey plat showing the easternmost Ellicott mound.
The Ellicott Line does not actually mark the border between Florida and Georgia. The instruments used by the surveyors were not as accurate as modern equipment and they missed the actual 31st Parallel by a good distance. Troy University resurveyed the line about ten years ago and found Ellicott's mounds as much as one mile south of the actual border with Alabama. The ones in Jackson County are hundreds of yards south of Latitude 31 North.

Of the 30 or so mounds erected along the line in Jackson County, roughly one dozen can still be located today. The others were plowed away or otherwise destroyed long ago. The best preserved ones are along the eastern end of the line north of Neal's Landing.

The 215 year old Ellicott Line is #54 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida. To read more items from the list, please visit:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

#55 Original Weeki Wachee was in Jackson County? (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs in 1969
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
When the words Weeki Wachee are mentioned, images usually come to mind of crystal clear waters and Florida mermaids. Weeki Wachee Springs is now a state park in Hernando County and the attraction's famed mermaid shows remain popular with visitors.

You might not know, however, that the first documented use of the words Weeki Wachee in Florida applied not to the South Florida park, but to the creek that now forms part of the western border of Jackson County. Now known as Holmes Creek, the original Weeki Wachee is #55 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Rising just north of the Alabama line, Holmes Creek flows in a southwesterly direction from its source until it merges with the Choctawhatchee River in Washington County. Its upper course forms the dividing line between Jackson and Holmes Counties.

The stream has been there for thousands of years and provided a route of transportation and source of food for early American Indians. The Chacato Indians lived in the area delineated by the Chipola River to the east and Holmes Creek to the west when Spanish explorers first reached the area in 1674. They fished in the creek and hunted for food along its banks.

Holmes Creek
The oldest known mention of Holmes Creek appears in the account of Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda, a Franciscan missionary who passed through Jackson County more than 300 years ago in 1693. Writing of the expedition of Spanish Governor Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, on which he took part, Barreda described his arrival at the creek:

...On the 14th [i.e. June 1693] I resumed the march northwest, and, after traveling a little more than a league through pine woods, I came to a creek. To facilitate crossing this stream, it was necessary to break down a good deal of underbrush.... 

A reading of Barreda's full journal reveals that this unnamed creek could only have been the stream we know today as Holmes Creek.

Section of Purcell-Stuart Map of 1778
"Weekaywee Hatchee" is in the right 1/3 of the image.
The next detailed document mentioning the creek was written 85 years later during the American Revolution. The colonies of East and West Florida, then possessed by Great Britain, had remained loyal to King George III despite the rebellion staged by the 13 colonies to the north. American Patriots invaded East Florida in 1778 hoping to capture St. Augustine. Military commanders there called for reinforcements from Pensacola an expedition set out from the latter city.

The British crossed into Jackson County along the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road, a trading path that followed the general route of today's State Road 2. Mapmaker and surveyor Joseph Purcell accompanied the expedition, preparing a detailed map of the road and keeping an itinerary as the party advanced.

Reaching the northwestern corner of what is now Jackson County, Purcell related that the party forded a stream that he called the "Weekaywee Hatchee" or "Spring Creek." His map and itinerary make clear that this was today's Holmes Creek.

Holmes or "Week-hay-wee" Creek on the Vignoles map of 1823.
Purcell was correct in his translation as Weekaywee (or wekiwa) means "spring" or "springs" in the Hitchiti language of the Lower Creeks. Hatchee means "creek" or "river" in the same language. The modern name Weeki Wachee is a corruption of this old Hitchiti term and when the words Weekaywee Hatchee are pronounced aloud the resemblance is easy to hear.

Although the lower end of the creek was sometimes called the Okchoyee ("Little Okchoy") in those days, the upper part bordering was still called Wekiwa Hatchee (or "Weeki Wachi") as late as 1822 when Jackson County was formed by the Florida Territorial Legislative Council. The Vignoles map drawn the following year shows it as the "Week-kay-wee."

Holmes Creek
The name Holmes Creek came into use at around that time as documents from the mid- and late 1820s use the modern name. The origin of the present name is subject to debate. Old tradition in Washington County holds that it honors the Red Stick Creek chief Holms who battled Andrew Jackson during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. This is certainly possible, although documents from the mid-1820s note that a "Dr. Holmes" was living near the creek at that time and could also have been the namesake for the stream.

The memory of Florida's original Weeki Wachee has long since faded away, but the name lives on at Hernando County's beautiful and fun playground of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

To see more from my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida, please visit:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida: The List

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Alarming facts about media coverage of Dozier School controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To continue reading:  Death at Dozier School

Friday, November 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marianna Home Guard

Commanding Officer       

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

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

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

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit