A feature article "The Chumuckla Arch"
Chumuckla is located in Northern Santa Rosa County, North of Pace, Florida, and 20 miles South of Alabama. The story begins with Native Americans making their homes in the watershed areas and bays of the region. By 1700 a well developed agrarian and hunting village had developed along the Escambia River. The village and tribe developed near the fresh water spring now called "Mineral Springs" or "Chumuckla Springs" were known as the Chumuckla. These were a part of the Creek Nation. The main trading route of the Creek Nation ran generally between the Mobile / Pensacola Area and Montgomery Alabama, much of it along the ridge West of the River and along the current Highway 29. Chumuckla Springs and the village were on the East side of the River. A Spanish outpost was established on Mulat Bayou at the South end of the County by the fleet navigator for the famous Explorer, DeSoto. this was Diego de Maldonado. The 'base camp' was well hidden up the Bayou and out of sight of any accidental encounters with other Europeans. This was the FIRST North American European colonyt! It remained there for three years. DeSoto's exploration inland commenced from Appalachicola, to the North and then West. Once DeSoto's exploration party returned to the Gulf Coast (DeSoto
As Spanish, British and French incursions and claims made their mark on the area, the next few hundred years were relatively peaceful. Trading with tribes like the Chumuckla, America made its first Millionaire of a man named Panton who ran a fur trade at Pensacola. European traders combed the Southeast and many of them became permanent residents. They intermarried with the indigenous people and sometimes received land grants to begin small frontier farms. Timber was plentiful for their farm buildings and forts. But, as yet, timber was not a major commercial enterprise for the residents. The French and Indian War of the 1730's created more alliances between Indians and Europeans. The American Revolution created others… sometimes opposite of the prior alliances. At one point, one of the great Creek Chiefs held a rank of General in as many as three different Armies, including the American Army. Florida remained a Spanish territory in the early 1800's but by 1810 it was largely under protection of the British. British, Spanish and French intrigue wrestled with the American expansion over just who would control the Gulf Coast and the gateway to the recent Louisiana Purchase. Meanwhile, as if there were not enough people creating problems for the Gulf Coast Peoples, An Indian leader from Ohio, named Tecumseh came up with a new concept of purity and religion for his fellow Native Americans. His brother "the Prophet" traveled south to the Creek Nation and convinced many to forego the contact with the Europeans and to cleanse their blood by removing the pure Indians from the 'mixed bloods' among them ... Or at least from that point to choose sides. Things were growing tense for quiet farming and hunting villages like Chumuckla. Most of the people there, by that time, were of mixed blood.
Red Eagle, who was a mixed blood Chief, would have rather not pushed the issue, but his more intense brothers, kidnapped his family and threatened to kill them all if he did not lead a raid on Ft. Mims, which was a thriving farm/fortress in Alabama on the Tensaw River. There was a skirmish over a deal with rifles at Burnt Corn and a few days later, Ft. Mims was attacked. Over 500 men, women and children were killed. Some say over 800. This was essentially a civil war issue among the Creek, because most of the people at Ft. Mims, like most of the people at Chumuckla and other villages in the area were of mixed blood. This opened up the Creek War. Andrew Jackson came down and forced a battle at Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. It crushed the Indian uprising ... but a few braves escaped. Jackson's troops hunted down escaping braves and ... with sirens flashing ... crossed over into Spanish Territory to chase them right to the Chumuckla Village. The 8 or 9 braves in question got away, but the Chumuckla Village was burned to the ground. The people were gathered up and sent to Pensacola. Meanwhile the escaped Braves were eventually captured in Pensacola, hiding in Panton's fur warehouse. The villagers of Chumuckla were shipped off to Texas, where their descendents can still be found. However ... some of the villagers were able to hide from the troops, finding refuge in homes of their cousins, aunts and uncles who were not of 'mixed blood'. The names of many of these people from that period are still prominent in the population.
When the American Civil War came to pass, there were now many people of European decent in the area and a great migration of Scots and Irish had moved in from the American East Coast. Also, after the incorporation of Florida into the United States, the institution of Slavery opened the doors to larger number of African immigrants, generally entering the state as slaves, but many coming as free men or having already come into the area as escapees from Alabama and Georgia plantations and mixed with Creek and later the more Southern, Seminole population.
Timber became a primary industry and the previously small lumber mills were now becoming large mills. Cattle herds flourished among the pines. From the many small cattle operations came many accomplished horsemen and many of these found service in the Confederate cavalry units. There were even Creek Indian cavalry units. But, there were also people in the area who were not fond of the concept of slavery, or of the concept of disbanding the Union, or who just failed to grasp the whole idea of fighting another group of Americans when there seemed to be past issues with every other nation in Europe or elsewhere who wanted a piece of the action on the Gulf Coast.
While most of the people in any given area (like Chumuckla) joined with their state and the Confederacy, some did join the Union. After the war, the South in general was in a depression that lasted nearly 100 years. However, there was one bright spot in the economy … it was timber. It had not yet been exploited for commercial use to any great extent. A man named SKINNER came to the area from Illinois. He was a carpetbagger. He was looking for land. He took advantage of an offer of land from the government that stipulated a cheap price for any land you could cross over in a boat. In his land application, he did not mention he rode over the land in a boat that was on a wagon. He gained 10's of thousands of acres for a fraction of the value. But, it was this purchase that set the timber industry on a roll. Rails ran all through Chumuckla to haul timber out. One of the main timber settlements of the Area was at Coon Hill, not far from the original Chumuckla Indian Village. Creek beds were channeled into flumes to send logs to the Escambia River. Remnants of the turpentine industry are still found in the woods, and finding a 'catface' on a tree was common until the late 1960's. Once the native forests were felled, crops of all kinds began to fill the spaces. Much of the Skinner land eventually became a part of the Pace empire and the Pace Empire eventually became St Regis' Paper company land where the native trees were replaced by several growths of pulpwood pine trees. Much of this land is now a part of Champion Corp.
As the land became available for other crops, Cotton flourished. A cotton Mill was established in the community of Chumuckla (now centered about three miles south of the Springs, on higher ground). The Pace company ran a company store there. Eventually a little schoolhouse was built. The community grew. The hard times from post civil war days slowly faded. By 1950, peanuts, cotton, and corn were abundant. Truck crops that looked very similar to the garden varieties grown by the original Chumuckla people were now common again. A few superb vegetable transplants thrive in Chumuckla, like okra, a superb food the slaves refused to leave behind in Africa. The soybean became popular and became a major crop by the 1960's and 70's. Cattle continue to thrive in fertile pastures. The current school was built in 1937, first serving all 12 grades. Efficiencies led to its becoming an Elementary School in the late 1970's. Many of the people who attended this school knew the name meant "Good Water" or "Healing Waters", but few had a clue what happened to the original Chumucklans. Most of them could look into their own heritage and find out to their surprise that indeed... THEY really WERE ...THE Chumuckla Indians !! The main business area moved up to the crossroads at Highway 197 as the cotton gin and the Pace company store fell into ruin and eventually burned down. Chumuckla has become an outpost now for generations of farmers and mill workers and teachers and mechanics and military families and business owners of all types.
Special Thanks to Vic Campbell of www.chumuckla.com for contributing the above history. Much or the color of this narrative is influenced by the lectures and writings of Warren Weekes, whose books are still available (see Chumuckla.com) and from conversations with Lavern Howell of Chumuckla and Cary Ellis, Jr., of Bogia.
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