Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Book looks into 10 Southern Ghost & Monster Stories

I'm please to announce the release of my latest book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge.

This volume investigates 10 of the best known ghost and monster stories from Jackson County, Florida, through the eyes of a historian. After repeating the legends, the book delves into the real histories behind each of these tales and comes up with some fascinating results!

The book is available for order at

The story featured in the book title is the tragic story of Elizabeth Ann Croom Bellamy, a young woman who died during antebellum times. Elizabeth has connections to both Florida and North Carolina and her dead sparked what may be Florida's best known ghost story. Her restless spirit is said to haunt Bellamy Bridge, a historic steel-frame bridge that spans the Chipola River north of the city of Marianna.

A fascinating tale that originated during the antebellum era, the real truth behind the legend is even more intriguing than the legend itself.

Other stories include tales from Marianna, Greenwood, Graceville, Sneads, Parramore, Cottondale and even Two Egg!

100% of the cover price of this volume is being donated to help fund the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, a new public historic site on Highway 162 near Marianna that is being constructed without the expenditure of a single extra tax dollar.

Thank you in advance for your support of this project and I hope you enjoy the book!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

10 Great Ghost Stories of the South!

Recent Photo of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge
With Halloween just one day away, I thought it would be a great time to share this year's list of 10 Great Ghost Stories of the South!  So, here we go...

  1. The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge (Marianna, Florida) - This is a great story that originated in the 1800s and preserves the tragic tale of an unfortunate young woman who is said to haunt the environs of one of Florida's oldest bridges.  Learn more at
  2. The Face in the Window (Carrollton, Alabama) - The face of a terrified man can be seen in the window of the old Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton.
  3. The Edgefield Ghost (Greenwood County, South Carolina) - This early 19th century haunting was one of the most noteworthy in American history and was witnessed by hundreds of people including ministers and reporters!  Learn more at
  4. The Bell Witch (Adams County, Tennessee) - Possibly America's most famous haunting, the Bell Witch incident supposedly took place in Adams County, Tennessee.  Learn more at:
  5. The Crescent Hotel (Eureka Springs, Arkansas) - The Crescent Hotel bills itself as America's most haunted hotel, and with good reason! Learn more at
  6. The Ghost of Big Cedar (near Branson, Missouri) - Big Cedar Resort just south of Branson is said to be haunted by the wife of one of its original owners!  This is one of the most famous ghosts of the Ozarks.  Learn more at
  7. Ghosts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse (St. Augustine, Florida) - One of Florida's most intriguing ghost stories, the tale of the strange figures in the St. Augustine Lighthouse has attracted attention for years. Learn more at
  8. Ghost of Allatoona Pass (Bartow County, Georgia) - This ghost used to catch rides on trains along the old railroad leading north from Atlanta!  Please click here to learn more:
  9. Ghosts of Waverly Mansion (West Point, Mississippi) - Waverly Mansion near West Point is said to be one of the most haunted places in Mississippi.  Please click here to learn more:
  10. Ghost of St. Simons Lighthouse (St. Simons Island, Georgia) - The unhappy spirit of a former lighthouse employee is said to haunt the beautiful old tower of the St. Simons Lighthouse.  Please click here to learn more

Friday, August 17, 2012

USS Kidd - WWII Destroyer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

USS Kidd and Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, Louisiana
One of my favorite Southern scenes is the view of the historic World War II warship USS Kidd framed by downtown Baton Rouge from the I-10 bridge over the Mississippi River.

Now a museum and memorial, the destroyer was built and launched in New Jersey in 1943. Named for Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, Sr., who was killed when his flagship - the battleship USS Arizona - was destroyed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

USS Kidd
The crew of the ship, however, always enjoyed their association with another "Captain Kidd," the famed pirate or privateer of the late 17th century. A swashbuckling caricature of the pirate graces the funnel of the ship and the USS Kidd was the only U.S. Navy warship ever authorized to fly the infamous "Jolly Roger" pirate flag.

The Kidd spent most of her World War II career in the Pacific. She was one of the destroyers that escorted the battleship USS Alabama to Pearl Harbor and took part in fighting throughout the island hopping campaign waged by the U.S. across the Pacific. At one point she closed to within 11 miles of the Japanese mainland.

Learn more about this historic warship and find out how she came to become part of the Baton Rouge cityscape:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monster 17'7" Python found in Everglades National Park

Record Python examined at University of Florida
Photo Courtesy: UF News
The news this week that a Burmese Python measuring 17'7" long has been found in the Everglades National Park is stunning.
Please click here to read a full report from the University of Florida.

Not only was the snake the largest of its kind ever found in Florida, it was carrying a record 87 eggs. Another python measuring 16'8" has also been found in Florida in recent years. It will be placed on display soon at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

The National Park Service reports that more than 1,800 pythons have been removed from Everglades National Park since 2002, but concede that the number removed represents only a fraction of the total number present in the vast wetland.

The snakes, park service scientists report, are havinging "devastating consequences to our ecosystem." They are feeding on native wildlife and competing with native wildlife such as alligators. In fact, the Burmese pythons even sometimes eat alligators!

In addition to trying to locate and remove the snakes, the park service is tagging some of them with transmitters so they can follow individual snakes and see where they are going and congregating. It is hoped the process will help researchers locate areas where the snakes accumulate. This will hopefully help in the capture and removal of more of the snakes.

To learn more about Burmese pythons in the Everglades, check out this outstanding site put together by the National Park Service:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Two Forgotten Alabama Battles of the Civil War

Reenactors fire a salute commemorating Battle of Fairview
I've just added new pages to the main site on the Battle of Fairview and the Battle of Newton, two all but forgotten Civil War actions that took place in the Wiregrass region of South Alabama.
These two battles were unique in that both were fought by citizens to defend or avenge their communities against outlaw raider gangs, not by soldiers of the Union and Confederacy lining up to fight each other.

Battle Branch, Site of the Battle of Fairview, Alabama
The Battle of Fairview took place on September 2, 1864, in Coffee County, Alabama. A band of outlaws called Ward's Raiders and led by Jim Ward had burned the courthouse in the county seat of Elba the previous spring, trying to destroy the conscription or draft records there. The records were saved, so on the night of September 1 the raiders came back and set fire to buildings all around the square as well as the bridge over the Pea River. Local citizens took up arms and gave chase, cornering the raiders at Battle Branch in the Fairview Community. To learn more about the Battle of Fairview, please visit

Battle of Newton Monument in Newton, Alabama
The Battle of Newton took place in nearby Dale County, Alabama, on March 14, 1865. Joseph Sanders was a lieutenant in the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) but exceeded his orders and led a mixed band of U.S. cavalrymen and outlaw guerrillas against the Dale County seat of Newton. His target, as had been the case with the Battle of Fairview, was the courthouse and its conscription or draft records. And just as had been the case in Elba, the citizens of Newton took up arms. The battle evolved differently because at Newton, the citizens were waiting when Sanders and his men rode into town. To learn more about the Battle of Newton, please visit

Sketoe's Hole Memorial
If you are interested in the Civil War in the Wiregrass, you might also enjoy reading the story of Ghost of Sketoe's Hole. The legend revolves around the hanging of a man in Dale County, Alabama, during the closing months of the war and the "hole that will not stay filled." To learn more, please visit

You can also read about many other Alabama battles and forts by visiting

Monday, July 30, 2012

(Monster Monday) Two-Toed Tom, Alligator Monster of FL & AL

Florida Indians Battle Monster Alligators
Two-Toed Tom is said to rival the size of these gators.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the monster story I posted here last Monday, so I thought we might make Monster Monday a regular feature for awhile.
Today we focus on Two-Toed Tom, the legendary red-eyed, demon-possessed alligator Monster of Northest Florida and South Alabama. The story has echoed through the swamps along the border for more than 100 years and is still well-known today.

The monster first came to prominence in South Alabama where he terrorized farm communities just north of the Florida line. Described as red-eyed and demon-possessed, he gained his unusual name after an attempt to capture him left him with only two toes on one foot.

Alligator in North Florida
Tom was shot, dynamited and otherwise attacked but could not be killed. He eventually tired of the constant battles in Alabama and moved across the line to Florida. He soon appeared in Sand Hammock Lake in the little town of Esto in Holmes County, Florida. After driving out the other bull alligators in the area, he turned his focus on people.

I had the unique opportunity in 1989 to interview one of the survivors of an authentic Two-Toed Tom attack. She then lived in a retirement home in Pensacola and had been attacked by the monster when she was a little girl some 70 years before.

Reptilian mile
She described how she had been walking with her mother along a sandy path near Sand Hammock Lake. When she skipped ahead in the playful manner of most kids, she suddenly heard her mother scream. Turning around to see what was wrong, she was stunned to see that the feared alligator monster had come out into the path between them. It stood up on its hind legs and roared at both of them.

Their screams soon attracted the men of the community, including one who showed up with a "war rifle" to shoot the monster. Blasted with the high-powered rifle, the monster fell still but as the men gathered around to inspect it, the beast suddenly reanimated and swept them all down with the fierce lashing of its tail and escaped back into the swamp.

This is just one of the stories that have grown up around Two-Toed Tom, who is said to still inhabit the swamps of Washington, Holmes and Walton Counties in Northwest Florida. If you would like to read more about him, please visit

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Elijah Clark State Park - Lincolnton, Georgia

Elijah Clark State Park in Lincolnton, Georgia
Georgia's Elijah Clark State Park pays tribute to one of the most remarkable men in American history: General Elijah Clarke.
The famed frontiersman and soldier had just moved to the back country of Georgia when the American Revolution erupted in 1775. Over the years that followed he proved himself to be an extremely competent commander and took part in such battles as Kettle Creek, Augusta, Musgrove's Mill, Blackstock's and Fishdam Ford. He was wounded twice while fighting for the independence of the United States.

After the war, Clarke went on to become a successful politician before leading an effort to establish yet another independent country - the Trans-Oconee Republic - in the back country of Georgia. Unhappy with the progress of both the fledgling United States and his own State of Georgia, he decided just to build a country of his own!

Learn more about this remarkable man and the park that pays tribute to his legacy by visiting our new page at

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bigfoot Attack in the Okefenokee in 1829?

Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia
It is a little known fact that one of the earliest written accounts of the creature we now call Bigfoot or Sasquatch actually originated from Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp, not from the Pacific Northwest.

The 1829 newspaper report tells of how giant footprints were found in the swamp, where Indian legend held a race of giants lived. After explorers found the footprints, a party of hunters worked its way into the Okefenokee hoping to find the man or animal responsible for the tracks. They got more than they bargained for, when the 13-foot tall creature charged their camp. A fierce battle ensued in which both men and the monster were killed.

Thick Growth in the Okefenokee Swamp
Is the story true?

That's an interesting question and one that is impossible to answer. The tale was widely reported in U.S. newspapers in February of 1829 and the correspondent emphasized that people living on the margins of the swamp in Ware County, Georgia, swore to its truth.

I've just added a new page on the 1829 incident to the main site at It includes numerous quotes from the original report on the Okefenokee Bigfoot Attack as well as detail on the legends of mysterious creatures in the swamp.

Please click here to access the story page:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No Battle of Marianna Reenactment This Year in Florida

Battle of Marianna Reenactment, 2011
Courtesy Ashley Pollette
The Marianna Day Committee tells me there will not be a reenactment of the Battle of Marianna in Florida this year.

The small reenactment had been a feature of Marianna Day observances over the last few years, but was expensive to produce and difficult to coordinate. As a result, last year's event will be the last, at least for now.
Marianna Day, 2011
Courtesy Ashley Pollette

The Committee does plan to host other events to commemorate Marianna Day, which honors the anniversary of the 1864 battle. The William Henry Milton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) will continue to hold its annual memorial ceremony at the Battle of Marianna Monument downtown, the Blue Springs Chapter of the Children of the American Revolution (CAR) will provide information on the numerous noteworthy people buried at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, scene of heavy fighting during the battle. The Committee will also announce other events over coming weeks to commemorate the anniversary of the battle.
Fought on September 27, 1864, the Battle of Marianna was a small but highly significant action. It took place at the culmination of the deepest penetration of Florida by Union troops during the entire War Between the States. On their way to and from Marianna, the Federal soldiers covered more land miles than did Sherman on his March to the Sea through Georgia.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit or consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Expanded Edition). It is available in both print and Kindle editions by following the links below. You can also find it on iBooks.

Book:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition - $17.95
Kindle:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida - $9.95

Friday, July 20, 2012

Paddlewheel Steamboat Montgomery - Pickensville, Alabama

U.S. Snagboat Montgomery
Many residents living along the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in Florida, Alabama and Georgia can still remember the days when the paddlewheel riverboat Montgomery used to churn its way up and down the waterway. The historic steamboat is now on permanent display in Pickensville, Alabama.

The historic snagboat was built in Charleston for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1926. For nearly sixty years it worked to keep the channels of a number of Southern rivers free from snags and debris. By the time the Montgomery was retired in 1982, it was one of the last original paddlewheel steamboats of its kind in the United States.

Pilot House of the Montgomery
In 1984, after its days of use as a snagboat were over, the Montgomery doubled as a Mississippi riverboat in the made for tv movie Louisiana. Starring Margot Kidder, that film ended with a steamboat race and a boiler "explosion" aboard the Montgomery.

Once its starring role was over, the steamboat was restored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and placed on permanent display at the Tom Bevill Visitor Center in Pickensville, Alabama. It has since undergone a second restoration and been placed on display in a dry slip adjacent to the visitor center.

To learn more about the historic U.S. Snagboat Montgomery, please visit

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Ozark Howler: Monster Cat in the Ozarks?

Ozarks of Arkansas
One of my favorite stories from my years of living in different parts of the South is the tale of the Ozark Howler in Arkansas. (It is also said to live in Missouri and Oklahoma, maybe even in Texas).
Now let me be clear from the start that this mysterious animal or beast or monster or whatever it is has been the focus of an incredibly large number of hoaxes and false reports. One hoaxer even admitted to a researcher that he spread as many false stories as he could to poke fun at the Chupacabra craze that swept through Texas a decade or so ago.

Small Waterfall in the Ozarks
That said, there are real stories from sincere eyewitnesses of a strange creature roaming through the Ozark Mountains. Its nightly cries are said to sound like a the screams of a woman.

I first heard reasonable eyewitnesses talk about the Arkansas Howler in 2004 when I was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Several people that I talked to who had seen or heard it or found its prints did not believe it to be a real "monster," but instead thought that a mountain lion or cougar was loose in the Boston Mountains that stretch between Fort Smith and Van Buren on the south and the booming Northwest Arkansas corridor.

Wildlife authorities maintained at that time that there were no native cougars left in Arkansas. Nevertheless, residents who lived in and along the fringes of the Boston Mountains, which are part of the Ozarks, were serious in their claims that a large animal was roaming their neighborhoods.

Cougar as seen in a USDA Photo
The most convincing evidence I saw during my time in Arkansas were photos from a trail cam belonging to a couple that lived north of Van Buren in Crawford County. The photos without doubt showed a large, tawny cat that looked just like a cougar to me. State wildlife officials did not dispute that it could be a big cat, they simply point out that there is no evidence of a breeding population of such animals in Arkansas.

Be that as it may, they do agree that there could be cougars or other large cats roaming the wild areas of the Ozarks, just believe that if they are there, they were someone's pets that either escaped or were released by their owners when they got too big and dangerous.

The Ozarks from White Rock Mountain
Now to be fair, other eyewitnesses claim to have seem something much more monstrous than a cougar in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks. Sightings ranging from a cat much bigger than a cougar to a cat-like monster with glowing eyes and horns growing from its head have been reported.

Whatever it is, and a recent investigation in Newton County, Arkansas, obtained plaster casts of what a biologist identified as possible Puma tracks (Puma is another name for a big cat like a cougar), the Ozark Howler is very much part of the modern folklore and tradition of the Ozarks.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tennessee Williams Boyhood Home - Columbus, Mississippi

Tennessee Williams Birthplace & Boyhood Home
Columbus, Mississippi
The famed American writer Tennessee Williams was born in this Victorian home in Columbus, Mississippi. The house today serves as the city's official welcome center.

Tennessee Williams was born as Thomas Lanier Williams on October 26, 1911. His grandfather, Rev. Walter Dakin, was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus and his daughter and son-in-law were then living in the rectory as well. Thought to have been built in around 1875, the charming and colorful Victorian home served as home for the future playwright and writer for three years.

The Pulitzer Prize winning writer lived here for 3 years.
Adopting the name Tennessee, Williams of course went on to write two Pulitzer Prize winning plays, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." He noted in a letter to his grandfather once that much of his writing was based on Columbus, Mississippi. Scholars also agree that he relied heavily on his own family for the characters in his plays and books.

Columbus is unique in that it has had close associations with two Pulitzer Prize winners. Novelist Eudora Welty attended what is now Mississippi University for Women (lovingly called the "W") in Columbus. She received a Pulitzer in 1973 for The Optimist's Wife.

When the Tennessee Williams Birthplace was threatened with demolition in 1993, the community came together and the home was relocated to 300 Main Street in the city and beautifully restored to its 1911 appearance. It is now open to the public and has been designated a Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries, U.S.A.

To learn more, please visit

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stephen D. Lee Home & Museum - Columbus, Mississippi

Stephen D. Lee Home in Columbus, Mississippi
Stephen D. Lee was a remarkable soldier, political leader, preservationist and educator. At the age of thirty, he became the Confederacy's youngest lieutenant general. Wounded twice in combat, he fought on fields ranging from Second Manassas and Antietam to Tupelo and Nashville.
His home is a treasured museum today in Columbus, Mississippi. Inherited by his wife, the beautiful old brick residence was General Lee's home after the War Between the States (or Civil War) when he did some of his most noteworthy public service.

Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, CSA
Born in Charleston in 1833, Stephen Dill Lee entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was 17 years old. He graduated in the Class of 1854 alongside J.E.B. Stuart, G.W. Custiss Lee and John Pegram. An outstanding artilleryman who had served in the Third Seminole War, he resigned his commission and entered the service of the South after his home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union.

Serving in the East until 1863, Lee rose to the rank of Brigadier General while fighting with noted heroism at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Fredericksburg. Ordered to Mississippi to assist in the defense of Vickburg he was wounded at Champions Hill and was captured when Union forces took Vicksburg on July 3, 1863.

Stephen D. Lee Home & Museum
Exchanged after four months, he was promoted to major general and then to lieutenant general. In July 1864 he fought alongside Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Tupelo. He went on to serve under John Bell Hood in the Franklin and Nashville Campaign, during which he was wounded again while commanding a rear guard action during Hood's retreat out of Tennessee. He recovered in time to take part in the Carolinas campaign and was among the officers and men surrendered at Bennett Place in North Carolina.

Still in his early 30s when the war came to an end, Lee went on to serve his adopted state of Mississippi with great distinction. He was the first president of today's Mississippi State University, a leader in the effort to create Vicksburg National Military Park, a state legislator and the President of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History. From 1904 until his death in 1908, he was national Commander of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), of which today's Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is a successor. The Official Charge of the SCV is taken from one of his speeches.

To learn more, please visit

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waverly - Mississippi's Haunted & Historic Mansion

Waverly Mansion
An architectural wonder, Waverly Mansion was once the center of a vast Mississippi cotton plantation. Still a private residence, the home is open to the public daily and is located between the Mississippi cities of Columbus and West Point.
Designed during the 1840s, the house took several years to construct and was finished in 1852. The octagonal cupola, its distinguishing architectural feature, offered Col. George Hampton Young a 360 degree view of his plantation and the surrounding countryside. It also was part of a unique 19th century "air conditioning" system.

The Gates of Waverly
The interior of the house is open from the cupola down to the ground floor and when the windows are open, it generates airflow that moves warmer air up and out of the cupola as cooler air flows in through the downstairs window. The resulting "breeze" helped cool the house during the hot Mississippi summer and was a remarkable innovation for its day.

Waverly also had interior lighting powered by gas manufactured on the grounds and then piped into the house. An exterior ice house was dug 20 feet deep and provided storage for blocks of ice brought in from Northern climes. The natural insulation provided by storing the ice so far underground helped keep it from melting for weeks at the time and allowed the residents and their guests to enjoy chilled beverages.

The home's original owner, Col. Young was a friend of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and the "Wizard of the Saddle" once spent three weeks at Waverly recuperating from battlefield wounds.

And then their are the ghosts! The 20th century restoration of Waverly apparently awakened quite a collection of them, ranging from a young girl who cries for her mother to a mysterious horse and rider that appear in the yard. Waverly is traditionally said to be one of the most haunted houses in the South.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Battle of Kings Mountain - Blacksburg, South Carolina

Ferguson's Cairn (right) and the crest of Kings Mountain
Thomas Jefferson called the Battle of Kings Mountain the "turn of the tide of success" in the cause for American Independence.

Outraged by threats made against their lives, homes and families, a large force of "Overmountain Men" came across the Blue Ridge from Tennessee and trapped 1,100 British soldiers on the top of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. By the time the fighting was over, 225 British soldiers and Loyalist allies had been killed, 163 were wounded and 716 were prisoners of war.

Kings Mountain National Military Park
The bloody battle ended the threat of Major Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist (Tory) Battalion to the Patriot settlers in the Carolina backcountry and the frontier families living across the mountains in what is now Tennessee. The disaster dealt to Ferguson's command also proved to the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, that he could not pacify South Carolina by force. He had hoped to suppress the Revolution there by forcing residents to either swear their loyalty to King George III or suffer the consequences.

Rocky Slopes of Kings Mountain
As Thomas Jefferson noted, the Battle of Kings Mountain was the first in a series of bloody disasters handed to Cornwallis and his army by Patriot forces in the South. It was followed three months later by Daniel Morgan's stunning victory over Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens and a few months thereafter the bloodletting at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Combined these battles put Cornwallis on the road to Yorktown, where he was trapped and defeated by George Washington.

The site of the battle is now preserved at Kings Mountain National Military Park near Blacksburg, South Carolina. The park features a paved interpretive trail that winds through key areas of the battlefield and across the crest of the mountain. It also has monuments, the stone cairn where Patrick Ferguson is buried and a recently remodeled museum that includes outstanding displays on the battle.

To learn more, please visit

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Battle of Fowltown - Decatur County, Georgia

The exact site of Fowltown has never been identified.
Military reports placed it 3-4 miles south of modern Bainbridge.
Most people today associate the Seminole Wars of the 19th century with Florida, but the series of three conflicts actually began near what is now Bainbridge, Georgia.
On November 21 and 23, 1817, U.S. troops attacked the Lower Creek Indian village of Fowltown. Headed by Neamathla, a chief who would figure prominently in early Florida history, the town was located three or four miles south of the site where Bainbridge would later be established.

Neamathla was not a signer of the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which had ended the Creek War of 1813-1814. That treaty ceded most of what is now Southwest Georgia to the United States. Neamathla, however, lived on the land and refused to give it up. When Major David E. Twiggs, who commanded Fort Scott on the lower Flint River, told the chief that he and his people must move, Neamathla replied that the land was his and that he was "directed by the Powers above to defend it."

Gen. Edmund P. Gaines
(Late in Life)
To overcome the chief's determined resistance, Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines ordered Major Twiggs and 250 men from Fort Scott to march on Fowltown and bring Neamathla back to the fort. The troops marched on November 20, 1817, and arrived outside the village before daylight the next morning.

Twiggs attempted to surround Fowltown in the darkness, but the movement of his troops was discovered. A party of warriors opened fire on the American lines as others helped get the women and children away to safety in the surrounding swamp. The U.S. troops responded with a single volley of fire, killing five of Neamathla's followers, one of them a woman. No U.S. casualties were suffered.

This first skirmish did not rise to the level of battle and the soldiers failed in their mission to capture Neamathla. Unwilling to let the matter end there, Gen. Gaines send a second force back to Fowltown two days later.

Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle
On the morning of November 23, 1817, a command of 300 soldiers from the 4th and 7th Infantry Regiments arrived at Fowltown under the command of Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle. The soldiers found the village abandoned and began to load corn from the Indian storehouses into a wagon they had brought along.

As this operation was underway, however, Neamathla and around 60 of his warriors suddenly emerged from the swamp that nearly surrounded the town and opened fire. The U.S. troops responded and this time a pitched encounter broke out.

Remembered today as the Battle of Fowltown, the firefight was the first battle of the Seminole Wars. You can learn more about it and what happened next by visiting

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stephen C. Foster State Park - Fargo, Georgia

Boat Tours lead into the Okefenokee Swamp
Located 18 miles from Fargo in the edge of the famed Okefenokee Swamp, Stephen C. Foster State Park is one of my favorite Georgia State Parks.

Popular with lovers of the massive 438,000 acre swamp and the night time skies of the South alike, the park is named for 19th century American composer Stephen C. Foster, who penned the much loved Florida State Song, "Suwannee River" ("Old Folks at Home"). It covers 80 acres and is located on a natural island in the Okefenokee.

While most visitors come for its guided boat tours; boat, canoe & kayak rentals, and the access it provides to the water trails that wind through the swamp, the park is actually a great place to learn about the history and ecosystems of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Interpretive Center at Stephen C. Foster State Park
An often overlooked feature (on the day I visited I had the place to myself) is the park's interpretive center. Basically a museum of the natural and cultural life of the Okefenokee. The displays include animals, snakes, insects and birds (some of them live, others mounted) along with both audio and written descriptions of them and their importance to the ecosystems of the swamp. Other displays explain how the swamp was formed and help visitors understand its natural importance.

The interpretive center also features artifacts, maps, historic photographs and other displays that detail the cultural history of the swamp, from prehistoric times to the modern era. There are exhibits on the Native Americans who once lived in the Okefenokee, on the Second Seminole War and on the early settlers and loggers who once made lives for themselves in the "Land of the Trembling Earth." Among the artifacts on display are weapons, tools and an original Okefenokee moonshine still.

Boat Rentals and Guided Tours leave the Park Marina
 The park also offers the Trembling Earth nature trail, a primarily boardwalk trail that winds through the edge of the Okefenokee. Interpretive panels point out a variety of animals, trees and plants while also explaining the history of the swamp.

Because the park is located so far from the lights of towns and cities (18 miles from the nearest town, Fargo), it is known for its spectacular night skies. For stargazers, it is a great place to come and watch meteor showers and just see the stars. The park has a variety of activities that help visitors learn about the skies at night.

To learn more about Stephen C. Foster State Park, please visit

To learn more about the Okefenokee Swamp, please visit

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Okefenokee Swamp - "The Land of the Trembling Earth" in Georgia & Florida

Okefenokee Swamp
One of the five largest swamps in the world, the Okefenokee Swamp covers 438,000 acres in Georgia and Florida. It is on the tentative list to become a World Heritage Site.

There are three main entrances to the Okefenokee and each is a gateway to a mysterious and beautiful region that is rich in both natural and cultural history. Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo serves as the western gate, Suwannee Canal Recreation Area near Folkston is the eastern and Okefenokee Swamp Park near Waycross is the northern.

The origins of the word "Okefenokee" are as mysterious as the big swamp itself. One long popular legend holds that the name is a Creek Indian word meaning "Land of the Trembling Earth." There is probably a lot of truth to the legend. In the Hitchiti language of the Lower Creeks, the word Econfinoka translates literally to "trembling earth." Econfinoka sounds very similar to Okefenokee when pronounced out loud.

"Land of the Trembling Earth"
The Chehaw Indians of South Georgia spoke the Hitchiti language and a chief of Chehaw named Tustenuggee Hadjo gave U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins this explanation in 1796. Hawkins spelled the word "Akinfinocau" and said it meant "quivering earth."  He also pointed out that a similar word in the Choctaw language that he spelled "Okefinacau" meant "quivering water." While the latter looks closer to the modern spelling, the Choctaw did not live in Georgia so the name is probably of Lower Creek origin.

Hawkins paraphrased the chief in his journal:

Alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp
...He had seen most of the border of the Okefinacau, and once attempted with some young lads to pursue a bear he had wounded; they went in several hours, and were compelled to return. The whole earth trembled under them, and at several places, where the surface was pressed with the foot, water would spout out. One of his lads sunk in so deep that he called for help, and they took him out. There are some large cypress, but the growth mostly dwarf. Some of the Tallassee people had been in much farther than he had; they saw some ponds, many aligators, turtles and snakes, particularly a small snake with a button at the end of the tail like the rattlesnake; they saw a considerable number of them, and some times 20 or 30 in one view, coiled up on the small grassy nobs; two of these people were killed with the bites of them. He knew of one man who attempted a settlement near this swamp, but he gave it up because the tygers killed his hogs, cattle and sometimes horses. - Benjamin Hawkins, 1796.

The "tygers" referred to in the chief's account were panthers. 

The chief's description of how the "whole earth trembled under them" is based on reality. The Okefenokee Swamp is formed in a vast shallow bowl, the bottom of which has accumulated layers of peat over the centuries. Trees take root in this peat bog and it is actually possible to make them shake by jumping up on the ground. 

To learn more about the Okefenokee, please visit our new Okefenokee Swamp section at

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Miss Lillian Carter was a Southern mother we all loved

Miss Lillian Carter (left) as her son is nominated
Democrat, Republican or Independent, we all found something to love in the plain spoken, socially active mother from Plains, Georgia, "Miss Lillian" Carter.

Today is Mother's Day and I found myself thinking about some of the unique Southern women of our time. One of my favorites, I must admit, has always been Lillian Carter. She lived a life that was as big as the times in which she lived.

Born in Richland, Georgia, in 1898 as Lillian Gordy, Mrs. Carter was known to people around the world as "Miss Lillian." She was raised in a home where women were taught to take a strong role in changing the world around them. These were lessons she carried with her through life.

Lillian and Earl Carter home near Plains
After marrying James Earl Carter, Sr., usually known as Earl Carter, in 1923, she and her new husband made their home in Plains, Georgia. Carter ran a farm and farm supply business there and Miss Lillian worked as a registered nurse in the local hospital. She became a strong opponent of segregation and her son, future President Jimmy Carter, eventually would challenge famed segregationist Lester Mattox in one of the fiercest gubernatorial elections in Georgia history.

Like many of the other mothers of Plains, Miss Lillian guided her family through the dark days of the Great Depression instilling her children a belief that all things were possible. She also often provided nursing care for patients who could not afford to go to the doctor, volunteering countless hours working among her neighbors, both black and white.

In 1946 she saw son Jimmy graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and accept an officer's commission in Admiral Hyman Rickover's famed American nuclear submarine fleet.

Plains, Georgia
By the time her husband died from cancer in 1953, she had lived a full life. Sadly, the Earl died from pancreatic cancer, a disease that would also kill Jimmy Carter's two sisters and younger brother.

After Earl's death, when Jimmy and Rosalynn came home to run the family business, Miss Lillian launched a second career of service that would continue through the rest of her life. From 1955 to 1962 she served as a house mother to a fraternity at Auburn University and then in 1966, when she was already in her late 60s, she entered the Peace Corps and served as a volunteer in India for two years.

She ran a campaign office for Lyndon Johnson and crisscrossed the country making more than 600 speeches for Jimmy when he was running for President. She became a popular fixture on television news during Carter's administration, known for her outspokenness and feisty Southern charm.

Lillian Carter was named recipient of the Synagogue Council of America's Covenant of Peace Award in 1977 and became honorary chair of the Peace Corps National Advisory Council three years later. She died in 1983, even as her son was following her example and beginning a post-presidential career modeled in many ways after her own years of service. Jimmy Carter's involvement in Habitat for Humanity alone inspired millions of people around the world to support the efforts of that organization leading to a massive private initiative to build homes for those in need.

You can learn more about Miss Lillian in Plains, Georgia, today, where her legacy is a much loved part of the community's history. Her life is among those interpreted there.

To learn more about Plains and the Carters, please visit: and

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - Middlesboro, Kentucky

Civil War cannon and earthworks at Cumberland Gap
One of America's truly great national parks, the Cumberland Gap is a beautiful mountain pass that was the original gateway to the West for American pioneers.

The gap takes its name because it cuts through Cumberland Mountain. It is 26 miles long and 1-4 miles wide. Prior to Daniel Boone's blazing of the famed Wilderness Road in 1775, it was the route of the Warrior's Path used by Shawnee and Cherokee Indians. These tribes hunted in Kentucky and considered the "dark and bloody ground" to be their exclusive hunting grounds. They often warred with each other over use of the pass and hunting rights.

Cumberland Gap NHP
Daniel Boone opened the Wilderness Road in 1775 and despite bloody violence in Kentucky during the American Revolution, it did not take long for thousands of American frontier families to follow in his footsteps. The National Park Service, in fact, estimates that as many as 47 million Americans can trace their ancestors to settlers who passed through the Cumberland Gap.

Rock Formations at Cumberland Gap
The natural pass through the mountains was a strategic point during the Civil War and both Union and Confederate armies each held it twice. The remains of Fort Lyon and Fort McCook are popular historic sites in the park today. Visitors can explore Civil War fortifications and look out at the Gap from the view of the soldiers that once held the forts.

Cumberland Gap today is a national historical park. Over 20,000 acres of beautiful mountain scenery is protected by the National Park Service, which also provides campsites, picnic areas, hiking trails, a visitor center, historic sites and even guided tours of the Gap Cave, one of a number of natural caves and caverns in the park.

To learn more, please visit