The 200th anniversary of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s march through the Florida Panhandle will pass quietly in Jackson County. Established in 1822 as Florida’s third county, the county is named for Old Hickory and many of its original settlers were soldiers from his army.
Andrew Jackson is a controversial figure today, largely because of his support of the Indian Removal Act. Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1830 and signed by Jackson that year, the act opened the door for the “removal” of what whites called the “Five Civilized Tribes.” This group included the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. The forced migration was carried out under the administrations of Jackson and Martin Van Buren and is remembered as the Trail of Tears.
There was not just one Trail of Tears, but many. In Jackson County, for example, Lake Seminole and the Apalachicola River were part of the Trail of Tears for Econchattimico, John Yellowhair and their followers. They were forced aboard the steamboat Rodney at bayonet point by Col. Zachary Taylor and soldiers of the 6th U.S. Infantry. The boat took them down the river and through Lake Wimico to the city of Old St. Joseph where they boarded an ocean-going schooner for the trip to New Orleans and eventually unwanted new homes in what is now Oklahoma. Settlers swarmed to occupy their rich fields and lands in Jackson County.
Tens of thousands of Native Americans made the long march west, often under brutal conditions. Hunger, disease and exposure caused innumerable deaths and the bones of proud people bleached the ground along the routes that they followed.
Jackson was not alone responsible for this brutal policy. Many Americans of his day also supported the forced removal of the tribes from the Southeast. In fact, they believed that they were being merciful in forcing Native Americans to move to new lands because their existing homes were surrounded by white settlers. Jackson and others believed that they were preventing genocide, even as they committed what many today regard as cultural genocide.
In Jackson County, at the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle, the memory of the man called Old Hickory by his soldiers has faded. No observances, discussions or even debates are planned for this week, which marks the 200th anniversary of his 1818 march.
The First Seminole War was then underway and Jackson was a major general in the U.S. Army. Ordered by the Monroe Administration to invade Spanish Florida and punish the Seminole, Miccosukee, Muscogee (Lower Creek), Black Seminole and Yuchi responsible for the bloody attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command at present-day Chattahoochee (please see Scott1817.com). The attack was in retaliation for two U.S. attacks on the village of Fowltown near what is now Bainbridge, Georgia.
Jackson invaded Florida and destroyed the large Miccosukee and Seminole towns of Tallahassee Talofa, Miccosukee and Suwannee Old Town. The Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks) was captured and American troops built Fort Gadsden at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River. They crossed the Apalachicola River to Ocheesee Bluff 200 years ago today on May 10, 1818.
The general’s objective was Pensacola, where he believed that Spanish authorities were supplying Native American warriors to help them in their war against the United States. He entered what is now Jackson County 200 years ago tomorrow (May 11) and followed an old trail that led through St. Rose, Shady Grove and Grand Ridge. Just north of Grand Ridge the trail intersected with the original Old Spanish Trail.
This road should not be confused with today’s Old Spanish Trail, which was part of the original and largely unpaved Old Spanish Trail National Highway that linked St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California. This road was built 100 years ago in 1918 as route for tourists. Its name commemorates the Old Spanish Trail, but does not follow the actual route.
In Jackson County, the original Old Spanish Trail followed what is now Reddoch Road from Florida Highway 69 northwest to Blue Springs. Jackson’s army turned onto this path and followed it to the springs where it made camp on the night of May 11, 1818.
The spring – often called Jackson Blue Spring to differentiate it from other “blue springs” in Florida – is the only first magnitude spring in the entire Chipola River basin. It is open to the
public during the summer months and is a popular place for swimming, picnicking, paddling
and other outdoor activities.
Jackson resumed his march through the county on the morning of May 12, 1818. The soldiers soon crossed the Chipola River by way of its natural bridge at Florida Caverns State Park. This unique geological landmark provided a way for travelers to cross the river without getting their feet wet. Jackson’s soldiers saw Blue Hole Spring at the west end of the bridge, but incorrectly believed it to be the rise where the river surfaces to continue its passage to the Gulf of Mexico.
Descendants of the Seminole, Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi Indians who lived in the area at the time of the march tell of how their ancestors watched Jackson and his army pass from the openings of caves that overlooked the trail at Florida Caverns State Park. The Old Indian Cave overlooks the natural bridge across which Jackson marched and it is certainly possible that Native American families hid in it as the soldiers marched by. It is closed to the public as a means of protecting rare bats that roost there each year, but Two Egg TV obtained special permission to explore the cavern during the off-season and you can see that short program at the bottom of this page.
A second legend associated with the natural bridge is that Jackson crossed the Chipola River with ease by walking over on dry land. A wing of his army, however, was following a different route and had to stop and built rafts to get across. This caused a long delay and supposedly infuriated the general. When the commander of the second column tried to explain that it had been delayed in crossing the river, Jackson exploded swearing that he had seen no river. John Blunt, a Muscogee (Creek) chief serving as Jackson’s guide, had to explain the phenomenon of the natural bridge to Old Hickory before he could be calmed.
It is a fun legend but no mention of it appears in the official reports of the army.
The solders camped that night near the Arch Cave or Rock Arch Cave, a geological wonder that is on private lands northwest of Marianna. The owners do an outstanding job of protecting the cave, the rare and endangered bats that inhabit it and its fragile interior and formations. They have allowed access to archaeologists.
The cave is very large and has a stream of water that flows inside during normal conditions. Archaeologists discovered that it has been used for thousands of years as a camp site for Native American people.
From the Arch Cave, the army continued northwest on the morning of May 13, 1818, and crossed Holmes Creek out of the county south of Graceville. The exact site of the crossing is difficult to pinpoint, but it may have been at what was later called the Marianna ford near today’s Tri-County Airport.
Andrew Jackson’s visit to what became Jackson County lasted just 2 1/2 days and involved no fighting with Native American forces, but even so had a dramatic impact on the the history of the area. Many of the first settlers were soldiers from his army who swarmed in when the war ended to occupy the best lands. They settled in the Campbellton and Graceville areas, at Blue Springs, along Irwin’s Mill Creek and on the Apalachicola River while Florida was still part of Spain.
From Jackson County the army marched west through today’s Holmes. Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties to attack the Spanish capital city of Pensacola. An international incident resulted but in 1821 the ancient colony of West Florida became a territory of the United States.
You can read more about the First Seminole War on our sister site www.exploresouthernhistory.com.
To learn more about historic Old Indian Cave, where Native Americans hid as Andrew Jackson passed by, please enjoy this short program. Below it you will also find a well-done first person interpretation of Andrew Jackson by Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park.