The following is a legend that was handed down by earliest settlers of Jackson County. The story took place long before the first Spaniard set foot in Florida and on Blue Springs near Marianna. The spectacular natural fountain is the only first magnitude spring in the entire Chipola River Basin. The state and most divers now call it 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.
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. Her father hoped to form a military alliance with the Chisca, a militaristic group that lived along Irwin’s Mill Creek and the Chattahoochee River as well as to the west along the Choctawhatchee and in what is now South Alabama. 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 young woman’s desperation grew as the hour approached and she 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 the young woman 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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 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.
…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 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 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:
…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. Their love for each other and the beautiful spring that they protect still endures. Woe be to those who would disturb the peace and beauty of their watery domain.
To enjoy a journey into this magnificent Florida spring, click the play button in the video box below to join Rob Neto of Chipola Divers, LLC for a trip deep into its beautiful and mysterious caverns:
Blue Springs will open to the public for the summer season in May.
To learn more about the history of Blue Springs, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonbluespring or just click the play button in the video box below: