The American army reached Holmes Creek in the Florida Panhandle 200 years ago today as Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson continued his westward march on Pensacola.
This article continues a special series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
The soldiers saw no enemy warriors as they marched through western Jackson County, although several large bands were in the area. Econchattimico, Holms, the Atasi Mico and other chiefs were somewhere in the region between the Chipola and Escambia Rivers. Some believe, in fact, that the Red Stick leader Holms was the namesake for Holmes Creek, which flows from the Alabama line near today’s Graceville to join the Choctawhatchee River below Vernon.
This is possible but there is also evidence that the creek is named for a Dr. Holmes who lived on it during the 1820s. When Jackson passed through his soldiers called it the Okchiahatchee. The Okchia were a small tribe that was part of the Creek Confederacy. A small band of them lived on lower Holmes Creek in 1778. The word “hatchee” means “river” in Muskogee and other Creek dialects.
Holmes Creek was also called the Weekaywee Hatchee by Native Americans. The word Weekaywee (or Wekiwa) means “spring” or “springs” in Muscogee. If the name “Weekaywee Hatchee” sounds familiar there is a reason. It is now spelled Weeki Wachee and millions of visitors have seen the mermaid shows at Weeki Wachi Springs State Park in today’s Hernando County, Florida.
“Spring River” was a good name for Holmes Creek. The Northwest Florida Water Management District has inventoried 57 natural springs feeding just the creek’s Washington County section. There are more along the section that forms the border between Jackson and Holmes Counties, but no one knows how many. Washington County has developed its section of Holmes Creek into a major outdoor attraction that offers paddling, swimming, picnicking, birding, hiking, hunting, fishing and other activities. To learn more, please see Visit Washington County Florida.
Jackson’s army reached the creek at or near the point where today’s Tri County Road (CR-162) crosses over. A natural ford at this point was a commonly used crossing point in historic times. Union soldiers crossed Holmes Creek here on their way to the Battle of Marianna in 1864.
Capt. Hugh Young, the topographer on Jackson’s staff, left a vivid description of the route from Rock Arch Cave (see The crossing of the Chipola River) to Holmes Creek:
…[T]hree miles through good pine land a little rolling – then, after passing an oak and hickory flat – leaving a thickety pond on the right the soil changes to a grayish mixture of sand and white clay – the surface becomes flat and glady and the scrubby pine and wiregrass indicate the worst kind of soil. This continues five miles. The soil then changes again to a deep yellow better than the gray but scarcely cultivatable – same for two miles – then flat with scrubby thickets for two miles – then poor, but a little higher, for two miles to the creek. A great deal of this tract after leaving the good land of Chapulle is a little similar to the flat glady land east of St. Mark; but is more varied by partial inequalities of surface. It is also without palmetto, none being yet seen west of Apalachicola. The thickets have much cypress but are without that luxuriant variety of evergreens which cover the baygalls of East Florida. [I]
Young’s description of the terrain makes it easy to follow the approximate route of the army west from Rock Arch to Holmes Creek. The cave where the army camped on the night of May 12, 1818, is off FL-73 northwest of Marianna and the route followed 200 years ago today was probably along the old path known today as Lovewood Road. The “good pine land a little rolling” is very clear as one travels west along Lovewood Road from its intersection with FL-73, as is the “oak and hickory flat” that is the southern end of the plateau where the community of Webbville once stood.
The “thickety pond on the right” was Jackson Pond, a swampy wetlands on the north side of Lovewood Road just west of US 231 and just north of Cottondale. From there the army continued west along Lovewood Road to FL-77 between Graceville and Chipley. The path west of FL-77 is no longer in use, but it crossed areas of fields and woods to reach Holmes Creek near the Tri County Road bridge across from today’s Tri-County Airport. The soldiers camped there for the night.
The lands between Rock Arch Cave and Holmes Creek are better for agriculture than Capt. Young thought. Some of Jackson County’s most productive farmlands are found in this region. Crops and farm techniques have changed since the early 19th century and the topographer likely would not recognize the region today.
Holmes Creek, however, still matches the description that he left in 1818:
Okchiahatche is a branch of Choctahatche, is thirty feet wide at the crossing place – with sandy bottom and banks and a narrow thicket. It crosses the Florida line thirty-nine miles west of Chatahouchie, and five miles west of Chapulle. [II]
The army camped along the creek banks on the night of May 13, 1818, spending its second night in the county that bears Jackson’s name today. Not a living soul was encountered in the entire distance from Ocheesee Bluff on the Apalachicola River to Holmes Creek.
This series will continue.
If you would like to experience the 1817-1818 era, mark your calendar and attend the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle in Chattahoochee on November 30 – December 2! This fantastic event features Seminole/Creek, civilian/militia and military living history encampments, Seminole War battle reenactments, the replica 19th century keelboat Aux Arc, demonstrations, memorial services, exhibits, food, vendors and much more! Please visit www.scott1817.com for more information.
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If you would like to follow the army’s route through Jackson County – with a detour or two along the way – please use this map. Marianna is a great overnight base for exploring Jackson’s march through the eastern Florida Panhandle. It offers an array of accommodations and good local restaurants as well as easy access to Florida Caverns State Park, the Chipola River and many other points of interest. Stop by the historic Russ House & Visitor Center at 4318 Lafayette St, Marianna, FL for more information or click Visit Jackson County, Florida.
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, :154-155.