A Second Seminole War ride through Jackson County, Florida

by Dale Cox

This stagecoach on display at Fort Mitchell Historic Site in Alabama is similar to the one that ran between Marianna and Chattahoochee in 1836.

Stagecoaches seem quaint and picturesque today, but they were dangerous and often deadly means of travel during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).

Marianna was in a state of panic when Capt. Ethan Allen Hitchcock reached the Jackson County city on a night in May 1836. He was on his way from Louisiana to Washington, D.C., with news for President Andrew Jackson of the capture in Texas of Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna when he arrived in Marianna to find the citizens cutting logs and building a fort. Rumors swirled that Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) warriors surrounded the town and the people feared impending attack. (Learn more in the previous article Fort Marianna & the Panic of 1836).

Hitchcock found no solid information in Marianna and decided to continue his journey. He and another passenger, identified only as “Mr. Anderson,” boarded their stage coach the next morning to make the 25 mile journey east to Chattahoochee. The only other passenger was the driver, no one else being willing to make the trip.

Jackson Blue Spring (or Blue Springs as it is called locally) was along the route followed by the stagecoach in 1836.

The road to Chattahoochee then followed the general route of today’s Blue Springs Road east from Marianna to Jackson Blue Spring (Blue Springs Recreational Area) where it turned onto what is now Reddoch Road. It then followed Reddoch Road across modern SR-69, continuing on via Providence Church Road and a trail that no longer exists to today’s Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook at Sneads. (See the bottom of this page for a general map of the route showing modern roads).

The stage left Marianna and passed Jackson Blue Spring that morning before arriving at a stage stop somewhere along today’s Reddoch Road. Capt. Hitchcock remembered that it was about 10 miles east of town. There it was necessary to change horses and take on a new driver:

Ten miles farther on we stopped for a change of horses, but the new driver stood sullenly with his hands in his pockets refusing to go ahead. He declared that the Indians were in possession of the road between us and the Appalachicola, and that if we attempted to proceed, we should be cut off and all scalped, adding that he did not mean to expose his life for twenty dollars a month. Anderson and I fell upon him with words and finally shamed him into doing his duty, and he mounted the box and drove on. [1]


The journey continued without incident until the stagecoach reached the high hill where the Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook can be found today on the west bank of Lake Seminole. Ahead lay the extensive Pope Lake Swamp, a more than one-mile wide floodplain forest that can still be seen beneath the US 90 bridge between Sneads and Chattahoochee:

The Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee was crossed via ferry in 1836.

An immense swamp covered the last mile of our journey, before reaching the river, and the driver insisted that this swamp would be filled with Indians. I had with me a pair of pistols and a sword, and, giving Mr. Anderson one of the pistols, we drove into the swamp, though it has often occurred to me that pistols would not be likely to afford much protection in such a case as the drive apprehended. Until this moment Mr. Anderson’s cheerfulness and good humor (107) had not the least abated throughout the journey, which he had frequently enlivened with songs, having an excellent voice and a good deal of taste in music. He also exulted over his friends who had turned back to New Orleans and laughed heartily in anticipation of beating them to New York. But as we entered the swamp we both became silent, for a sense of our utter helplessness in case of an attack could hardly fail to impress us alike. Darkness had also fallen, which increased the seriousness of the situation. At length, however, we reached the right bank of the river without having been saluted with an Indian yell. [2]

Reddoch Road follows the route used by stagecoaches traveling from Marianna to Chattahoochee int he 1830s.

The only American Indian warriors nearby were those living on the reservations established in 1823 for the chiefs Econchattimico, Yellow Hair and Vacapachassie (“Mulatto King”). Econchattimico’s Reserve was about 10 miles north of Sneads on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River. The other reservation, led by John Yellowhair in 1836, was along the Apalachicola between US 90 and the now-closed Gulf Power plant. The chiefs and warriors of these towns were no threat to the travelers and some had even joined the U.S. Army in its campaign against the Seminoles in central Florida.

There was no bridge across the Apalachicola River at that time and it was necessary for the stagecoach driver and passengers to call for a ferry boat to come and get them:

We were obliged to call loudly for the ferryman, but he at length came from the other side of the river and conveyed us across; and now Mr. Anderson broke into most joyous expressions on account of having safely passed all danger. But Mr. Boniface stepped up saying, ‘Don’t be in a hurry, sir; you have the greatest danger of all yet before you.’ And he proceeded to describe a place on the road farther north where it was crossed by the great Indian trail over which hostiles were continually passing making their way from the Creek nation down into Florida. [3]

A view of the landing at Chattahoochee as sketched by a French visitor, the Comte de Castelnau, around the time of the 1836 stagecoach ride.

The ferry landing on the Chattahoochee side of the river was at today’s River Landing Park. A tavern atop the large prehistoric mound served travelers with bed, food, liquor and more. The town itself lay up the hill on its modern site.

Originally called Mount Vernon after President George Washington’s estate, Chattahoochee had been founded more than one decade earlier by John Tanner and others. The community stood at the crossroads of the east to west Old Spanish Trail and the north to south Jackson Trail that led from Fort Scott in Georgia to Fort Gadsden on the lower Apalachicola River.

The U.S. Army was building the Apalachicola Arsenal on the site of today’s Florida State Hospital when the stagecoach arrived, but the project was only about half finished and would need another three years to complete. It became an important manufacturing center and storage point for weapons, ammunition and other military supplies during the latter years of the Second Seminole War. One of the magazines has been restored as the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum and the Officer’s Quarters remain in use today as the hospital’s Administration Building.

Capt. Hitchcock continued his journey by taking another stagecoach north across Georgia to Augusta where he arrived in safety sometime later. He later returned to the Apalachicola River where he convinced the Muscogee (Creek) chief Pascofa to surrender in 1843. Hitchcock, who eventually rose to the rank of general, also was responsible for the “Creek Pocahontas” Milly Francis being awarded a pension and special medal of honor by Congress for her actions in saving the life of an American soldier during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.

Note: Learn more about the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee and Milly Francis in Dale Cox’s books The Early History Of Gadsden County: Episodes From The History Of Florida’s Fifth County and Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas.

Today’s US 90 did not exist in 1836 and the stagecoach followed an earlier route along Blue Springs and Reddoch Roads. FLDOT Map

 

[1] Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Fifty Years in Camp and Field, p. 106.

[2] Ibid., pp. 106-107.

[3] Ibid., p. 107.