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From St. Marks to the Suwanee River
ALONG THE COAST.-- SADDLES BREAKS DOWN.-- A REFUGE WITH THE FISHERMEN.-- CAMP IN THE PALM FOREST.-- PARTING WITH SADDLES.-- OUR NEIGHBOR THE ALLIGATOR.-- DISCOVERY OF THE TRUE CROCODILE IN AMERICA.-- THE DEVIL'S WOOD-PILE.-- DEADMAN'S BAY.-- BOWLEGS POINT.-- THE COAST SURVEY CAMP.-- A DAY ABOARD THE "READY."-- THE SUWANEE RIVER.-- THE END.
LEAVING St. Marks, we rowed down the stream to the forks of the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers. The sources of the Wakulla were twelve miles above these forks, and consisted of a wonderful spring of crystal water, which could be entered by small boats. This curious river bursts forth as though by a single bound, from the subterranean caverns of limestone. Each of the several remarkable springs in Florida is supposed, by those living in its vicinity, to be the veritable "fountain of youth;" and this one shared the usual fate, for we were assured that this was the spring for which the cavalier Ponce de Leon vainly sought in the old times of Spanish exploration in the New World.
On Monday, March 13th, we left St. Marks River, and, as the north wind blew, were forced to keep from one to two miles off the land on the open Gulf to find even two feet of water. In many places we found rough pieces of coral rocks upon the bottom, and in several instances grounded upon them. As the wind went down, the tide, which on this coast frequently rises only from eighteen inches to two feet, favored us with more water, and by night we were able to get close to the marshes, and enter a little creek west of the Ocilla River, where, staking our boats along side the soft marsh, we supped on chocolate and dry bread, and slept comfortably in our little craft until morning.
We were now in an almost uninhabited region, where only an occasional fisherman or sponger is met; but as we pulled along the coast the day after our camp in the marshes, we were struck with the absence of any sign of the presence of man. We had hoped to meet with the vessels of sponge-gatherers anchored in the vicinity of Rock Island, to which place they resort to clean their crop; but when we passed the island in the afternoon, so scantily clothed with herbage, and upon which a few palms grew out of the shallow soil, it was deserted, while not a single sail could be seen upon the horizon of the sea.
My companion had not been well for several
days, and he informed me at this late date that he was subject to malarial fever, or, as he called it, "swamp fever." It had been contracted by him while living on one of the bayous of southern Louisiana during a warm season. Swamp fever, when at its height, usually produces temporary insanity; and he alarmed me by stating that he had been deprived of his reason for days at a time during his attacks. The use of daily stimulants had kept up his constitutional vigor for several months; but as ours was a temperance diet, he gradually, after we left Biloxi and the regions where stimulants could be obtained, became nervous, lost his appetite, and was now suffering from chills and fever. He was much depressed after leaving St. Marks, and had long fits of sullenness, so that he would row for hours without speaking. I tried to cheer him, and on one occasion penetrated the forest a long distance to obtain some panacea with which to brace his unsettled nerves.
Saddles had deceived me as to the necessity of taking daily drams, which habit is, to say the least, a most inconvenient one for persons engaged in explorations of isolated parts of the coast, and voyaging in small boats; so we had both suffered much in consequence of his bad habit. To furnish one moderate drinker with the liquid stimulant necessary for a boat voyage from New Orleans to Cedar Keys, at least five gallons of
whiskey, and a large and heavy demijohn in which to store it securely, must form a portion of the cargo. This bulk occupies important space in the confined quarters of a boat, every inch of which is needed for necessary articles, while the momentary and artificial strength given to the system is never, except as a remediable agent, productive of any real or lasting benefit. My unfortunate companion had become so accustomed to the daily use of liquor, and his shattered system had been so propped by it, that he had been like a man walking on stilts; and now that they were knocked away, his own feet failed to support him, and a reaction was the inevitable result.
After leaving Rock Island, and when about four miles beyond the Fenholloway River, while off a vast tract of marshes, poor Saddles broke down completely. He could not row another stroke. I towed his boat into a little cove, and was forced to leave him, with the fever raging in his blood, that I might search for a creek, and a hammock upon which to camp. Looking to the east, I saw a long, low point of marsh projecting its attenuated point southward, while upon it rose a signal-staff of the United States Coast Survey. A black object seemed heaped against the base of the signal; and while I gazed at what looked like a bear, or a heap of dark soil, it began to move, breaking up into
three or four fragments, each of which seemed to roll off into the grass, where they disappeared.
[Saddles breaks down.] [34KB]
I pulled for the point as rapidly as possible, for I hoped, while hardly daring to believe, that this singular apparition might be human beings. The high grass formed an impenetrable barrier for my curious vision; but nearing the spot, voices were plainly audible on the other side of
the narrow point, as though a party of men were in lively discussion. Rowing close to the land, and resting on my oars to gain time to reconnoitre either friends or foes, the deep but cultivated voice of a man fell upon my ear. A patriot was evidently haranguing his fellow fishermen, who, after lunching beside the Coast Survey signal, and not observing the proximity of a stranger, had repaired to their boats on the east side of the marsh.
"Yes," came the tones of the orator through the high grass, yes, to this state have we Americans been reduced! Not satisfied with having ravaged our country, conquering BUT NOT SUBDUING our Confederate government, the enemy has put over us a CARPET-BAG government of northern adventurers and southern scalawags and NIGGERS. Fifty niggers sit as representatives of our state in the legislature of Florida, and vote in a solid body for whichever party pays them their price. They are giving away our state lands to monopolists, and we have tax bills like THIS one imposed upon us." Here the orator paused, apparently taking a paper from his pocket. "Here it is," he resumed, "in black and white. On a wild piece of forest land, and a few acres of clearing, (which they appraise at twenty-five cents, when it cost me only six cents and a quarter per acre,) I was saddled
with this outrageous bill. I will read to you the several items:MR. L. H................................. DR. To State Taxes proper,----- .70 on - - $100.00 General Sinking Fund,----- .30 " - - 100.00 Special Sinking Fund,----- .16 " - - 100.00 General School Tax,------- .10 " - - 100.00 _______________________ Total State Tax,-- 1.26 " - - 100.00 To County Tax proper,----- .50 " - - 100.00 County School Tax,------- .50 " - - 100.00 Special County Building Tax,.35 " - - 100.00 County Specific Tax,---- 2.00 " - - 100.00 _______________________ Total County Tax,--- 3.35 " - - 100.00 Total State and County Tax,$4.61 on- - 100.00
"You will find by these figures that I am compelled to pay a state and county tax, on an over-appraised property, amounting to four dollars and sixty-one cents upon every one hundred dollars I possess. Under this kind of taxation we are growing poorer every day of our lives. Now, gentlemen, can you censure me for detesting the Carpet-bag government of my native state after you have heard this statement? Rome in days of tyranny did no such injustice to her citizens. To be a Roman was greater than to be a king; and here let me remark-- Bob Squash! what's that you are squinting at through the grass?" "Lor' sakes,
Massa Hampton, I does b'lieve it's a man in a sort of a boat. I nebber see de like befo'!"
At this point the company struggled through the high grass and invited me to land. Being seriously alarmed for my companion, who was lying helpless in his boat half a mile away, I quickly explained my situation, and was at once advised to ascend Spring Creek, on the east side of the point of marsh, to the swamp, where the orator said I would find his camp, and his partner in the fishing-business, who would assist me to the best of his ability. The orator promised to follow us after making one more cast with his seine for red-fish. I returned as fast as possible to Saddles, and trying to infuse his failing heart with courage, fastened his boat's painter to the stern of the duck-boat, and followed the course indicated by the fishermen.
Upon entering Spring Creek, with my companion in tow, we were soon encompassed on all sides by the marshes; and as the boats slowly ascended the crooked stream, the fringes of the feathery-crested palms appeared close to the margins of the savanna. The land increased in height a few inches as I followed the reaches of the creek, and, when a mile from its mouth, entered the rank luxuriance of a swamp, where, in a thicket of red cedars, palmettos, and Spanish bayonets, I discovered two low huts, thatched with palm-leaves, which afforded temporary
shelter to Captain F., a planter from the interior, his friend the orator, and their employees both white and black. The kind-hearted captain understood my companion's case at a glance, and when our tent was pitched, and a comfortable bed prepared, Saddles was put under his care.
He could not have fallen into better hands, for the planter had gone through many experiences in the treatment of fevers of all kinds. It was indeed a boon to find in the unpeopled wilds a shelter and a physician for the sick man but the future loomed heavily before me, for though Saddles might improve, he would be pretty sure on the eighth day to have a return of his malady, and would probably again break down in a raving condition.
The camp was a restful and interesting retreat. To reach the spot, the fishing-party had been obliged to cut a road eight miles through a swampy district, in places building a rough crossway to make their progress possible. The creek had its sources in several springs, which burst from the earth just above the camp. The water was of a blue tint, and slightly impregnated with sulphur, lime, and iron. In this secluded place there was an abundance of deer and wild turkeys.
The early morning meal of these hunters and fishermen was a veritable déjeuner a la
fourchette, for their menu included venison, turkey, sweet-potatoes, hoe-cakes made from fresh maize flour, and excellent coffee. Captain F. and an old negro woman remained in camp to clean and salt down the fish caught on the previous afternoon, while the orator and his party went down the creek in two long, narrow scows, loaded with two nets, their necessary fishing implements, and a hearty luncheon. Long poles were used to propel their craft. Upon meeting with a school of fish, they encompassed it with the two nets, each of which was three hundred feet long, and easily captured the whole lot, which was composed of several species.
When in luck, the fishing-party returned to the camp by noon; but when the wind interfered with their success, they did not reach their swampy retreat until night. After a rest, and a good warm supper, the orator and one of his white associates, each with his torch of resinous pine wood and well-loaded gun, would quietly traverse the silent forests and grassy savannas, luring to destruction the fascinated and unsuspecting deer. Thus stalking through the darkness, and peering eagerly on all sides, the appearance of the fire-like globes of the deer's eyes, from the reflected light of the hunters' torches, was the signal to fire, which meant, with their unerring aim, death to their prey and future feasts for themselves.
With their venison these men served a very palatable dish made from the terminal bud of the palmetto known as the "cabbage," and from which the tree derives its name of "cabbage-palm." A negro ascended the palm and cut the bud at its junction with the top of the tree. It was then thrown to the ground, and climbing other trees, more followed in quick succession. When a sufficient quantity had been gathered, the turnip part, from which the tender shoot starts, was cut off and thrown aside, as it was bitter to the taste. The shoot, divested of this part, resembled a solid roll, from four to six inches in diameter. From this was unrolled and thrown aside the outer coverings, leaving the tender white interior tissues about three inches in diameter and fourteen inches in length. Thus divested of all objectionable matter, the cabbage could be eaten raw, though it was much improved by cooking, the boiling process removing every trace of the acrid, or turnip, flavor. These men ate it dressed in the same way as ordinary cabbage, and it was an excellent substitute for that dish. The black bear is as fond of the palmetto cabbage as his enemy the hunter. He ascends the tree, breaks down the palm-leaves, and devours the bud, evidently appreciating the feast. After the removal of the bud the tree dies; so this is after all an expensive dainty.
Captain F. had pre-empted a tract of one hundred and sixty acres of land, to cover the sources of Spring Creek, and it was his intention to resort to this camp every year during the mullet-fishing season, which is from September to January. The salted mullet is the popular market-fish with the back-country people, though the red-fish is by far the finer for table use.
While with these men, we were treated with the generous hospitality known only in the forest, but Saddles did not improve. He seemed to be suffering from a low form of intermittent fever, and looked like anything but a subject for a long row. Captain F. insisted upon sending the invalid in his wagon sixteen miles to his home, where he promised to nurse the unfortunate man until he was able to travel forty miles further to a railroad station. On the 15th of March, the party, having made their final arrangements, were ready to make the start for home. It was our last day together.
Circumstances over which I had no control forced me to part from Saddles. I furnished him with a liberal supply of funds to enable him to reach Fernandina, Florida, by rail, and afterwards sent him a draft for an amount sufficient to pay his expenses from Cedar Keys to New Orleans, as he abandoned all his previous intentions of returning to his old home in the north.
The Riddle with its outfit, and about sixty pounds of shot and a large supply of powder, I presented to the good captain who had so generously offered to care for my unfortunate companion. As I was to traverse the most desolate part of the coast between Spring Creek and Cedar Keys alone, I deemed it prudent to divest myself of everything that could be spared from my boat's outfit, in order to lighten the hull. I had made an estimate of chances, and concluded that four or five days would carry me to the end of my voyage, if the weather continued favorable; so, on the evening of March 15, the little duck-boat was prepared for future duty.
The hunters and fishermen brought into camp the spoils of the forest and the treasures of the sea, while the grinning negress exerted herself to prepare the parting feast. Deep in the recesses of the wild swamp our camp-fire crackled and blazed, sending up its flaming tongues until they almost met the dense foliage above our heads, while seated upon the ground we feasted, and told tales of the past. Poor Saddles tried to be cheerful, but made a miserable failure of it; and his pale face was the skeleton at our banquet, for human nature is so constituted that a suffering man gains sympathy, even though he be only paying the penalty of his own past misdemeanors.
My boat was tied alongside the bank of the
creek, close to the palmetto huts. There were only two feet of water in the stream as I sat in the little sneak-box at midnight and went through the usual preparations for stowing my self away for the night. I touched the clear water with my hands as it laved the sides of my floating home, but my gaze could not penetrate the limpid current, for the heavy shades of the palms gave it a dark hue. I thought of the duties of the morrow, and also of poor Saddles, who was tossing uneasily upon the blankets in his tent near by, when there was a mysterious movement in the water under the boat. Some thing unusual was there, for its presence was betrayed by the large bubbles of air which came up from the bottom and floated upon the surface of the water. Being too sleepy to make an investigation, I coiled myself in my nest, and drew the hatch-cover over the hold.
The next morning my friends clustered on the bank, giving me a kind farewell as I pushed the duck-boat gently into the channel of the creek. Suddenly Saddles, who had been gazing abstractedly into the water under my boat, hurried into the tent, and in an instant reappeared with the gun I had given him in his hands. He slowly pointed it at the spot in the water where my boat had been moored during the night, and drawing the trigger, an explosion followed, while the water flew upward in fine jets
into the air. Then, to the astonished gaze of the party on the bank, an alligator as long as my boat arose to view, and, roused by the shock, hurried into deeper water.
[Parting with Saddles.] [76KB]
It was now evident what the lodger under my boat had been, and I confess the thought of being separated from this fierce saurian by only half an inch of cedar sheathing during a long night, was not a pleasant one; and I shuddered while my imagination pictured the consequences of a nocturnal bath in which I might have indulged.
Having observed in different countries the habits of some of the individuals which compose the order SAURIA,--the lizards,--I will present to the reader what I have gleaned from my observation upon two species, one of which is the true alligator (A. Mississippiensis), the other the well-known true crocodile (C. acutus), which recently has been declared an inhabitant of the United States. It is only a few years since it was found living on the North American continent, for previous to its discovery in southern Florida, its nearest known habitat to the United States was the island of Cuba.
The order of lizards is separated into families. The family to which the alligators, crocodiles, and gavials belong, is called by naturalists CROCODILO. The distinctions which govern the separation of the family CROCODILO into the
three genera of alligators, crocodiles, and gavials, consist of peculiarities in the shape of the head, in the peculiar arrangement of the teeth, webbing of the feet, and in some minor characteristics; for, outside of these not very important anatomical differences, the habits of the three kinds of reptiles are in most respects quite similar, some of the species being more ferocious, and consequently more dangerous, than others.
The alligator, also called caiman by the Spanish-American creoles, inhabits the rivers and bayous of the North and South American continents, while the crocodiles are natives of Africa, of the West Indies, and of South America. The fierce gavial genus is Asian, and abounds in the rivers of India. The alligator (A. Mississippiensis) and the crocodile (C. acutus) are the only species which particularly interest the people of the United States, for they both belong to our own fauna.
Our alligator inhabits the rivers and swampy districts of the southern states. I have never heard of their being found north of the Neuse River, though they probably ascend in small numbers some of the numerous rivers and creeks of the northern side of Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. The bayous and swamps of Louisiana and the low districts of Florida are particularly infested with these animals. The frequent visits of man to their haunts makes them
timid of his presence; but where he is rarely or never seen, the larger alligators become more dangerous. During warm, sunny days this reptile delights in basking in the sunlight upon the bank of a stream for hours at a time. At the approach of man he crawls or slides from his slimy bed into the water, but if his retreat be cut off; or he become excited, a powerful odor of musk exudes from his body. During the winter months he hibernates in the mud of the bayous for days and weeks at a time. When the alligator enters the water, a pair of lips or valves close tightly, hermetically sealing his ears so that even moisture cannot penetrate them. His nostrils are protected in the same way.
As the season for incubation approaches, the female searches for a sandy spot, and digging a hole with her fore-feet, deposits there her eggs, which are somewhat smaller than those of a goose. They are usually placed in layers, carefully covered up in the sand, and if not disturbed by wild animals, are hatched by the heat of the sun. It frequently happens that the alligator cannot find a sand-bank in which to place her eggs, and on such occasions she scrapes together with her fore-feet grass, leaves, bark, and sticks, mixed with mud, and converting the whole into a low platform, deposits the eggs upon it in separate layers, each layer being sandwiched with the mixture of mud, sticks, &c., until more than
one hundred white eggs, of a faint green tint, are carefully stowed away in the nest.
The exterior of the nest, which has a mound-like character, is daubed over with mud, the tail of the alligator being used as a trowel. The first duties of maternity being over, the female alligator acts as policeman until the eggs are hatched. Her office is not a sinecure, for the fowls of the air, and the creeping things upon earth, are attracted to the entombed delicacies secreted in this oven-like structure in the swamp. Many a luckless coon and cracker's pig searching for a breakfast, receive instead a blow from the strong tail of the female alligator, and are swept into the grasp of her terrible and relentless jaws.
Moisture and heat act their parts in assisting the process of incubation, and the little alligators, a few inches in length, issue from the shell, and are welcomed by their mail-clad mother into the new world.
Like young turtles just from the shell, the baby alligators make for the water, but unlike the young of the sea-turtles, the saurians have the assistance of their parent, who not unfrequently takes a load of them upon her back. From the first inception of nest-building until the young are able to take care of themselves, this reptile mother, like the female wild-turkey, resists the encroachments of her mate who would devour, not only the eggs, but his own crawling children.
In fact, if opportunity were offered by the absence of the mother from the nest and the young, his alligatorship would eat up all his progeny, and exterminate his species, without a particle of regret. He has no pride in the perpetuation of his family, and it is to the maternal instincts of his good wife that we owe the preservation of the alligator.
The young avoid the larger males until they are strong enough to protect themselves, feeding in the mean time upon fish and flesh of every description. In the water they move with agility, but on land their long bodies and short legs prevent rapid motion. They migrate during droughts from one slough or bayou to another, crossing the intervening upland. When discovered on these journeys by man, the alligator feigns death, or at least appears to be in an unconscious state; but if an antagonist approach within reach of that terrible tail, a blow, a sweep, and a snapping together of the jaws prove conclusively his dangerous character. He is a good fisherman, and can also catch ducks, drawing them by their feet under water. The dog is, however, the favorite diet of these saurians, and the negroes make use of a crying puppy to allure the creature from the bottom of a shoal bayou within reach of their guns.
Though clad in a coat of thick, bony scales, a well-directed charge of buckshot from a gun,
or a lead ball from a musket, will penetrate the body, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary.
The negroes in the Gulf states say that "de 'gators swallows a pine knot afore dey goes into de mud-burrows for de winter;" and the fact that pine knots and pieces of wood are found in the stomachs of these animals at all seasons of the year, gives a shade of truth to this statement. Even the hardest substances, such as stones and broken bottles, are taken in considerable quantities from the bodies of dead alligators. Their digestive organs are certainly not sensitive, their nervous systems not delicate, and their intelligence not remarkable. It gives an alligator but little inconvenience to shoot off a portion of his head with a mass of the brain attached to it; and they have been known to fight for hours with the entire brain removed.
Though generally fleeing from man upon terra firma, the alligator will quickly attack him in the water. A friend of mine, mounted upon his horse, was crossing a Florida river in the wilderness, when entering the channel of the stream, the horse's feet did not touch the bottom, and he swam for a moment or two, struggling with the current. My friend suddenly felt a severe grip upon his leg, and the pressure of sharp teeth through his trousers, when, realizing in a flash that an alligator's jaws were fastened upon him,
he clasped the neck of his horse with all his strength. For a few seconds he was in danger of being dragged from the back of his faithful animal; but his dog, following in the rear, gained quickly on the struggling horse, and the alligator, true to his well-known taste, loosed his hold upon the man, and catching the dog in his strong jaws, dragged the poor brute to the bottom of the river.
The alligator is fast disappearing from our principal southern rivers, and is also being captured in considerable numbers in isolated bayous by hunters, who kill the creature for his hide, as the alligator boots have a durability not possessed by any other leather.
There is much interest connected with the discovery of the existence of the true crocodile (C. acutus) in the Floridian peninsula. While the alligators have broader heads, shorter snouts, and more numerous teeth than the crocodiles, the unscientific hunter can at once identify the true crocodile (C. acutus) by two holes in the upper jaw, into which and through which the two principal teeth or tushes of the lower jaw protrude, and can be seen by looking down upon the head of the animal. The longest teeth of the alligator do not thus protrude through the head or snout, but fit into sockets in the upper jaw. I first studied the true crocodile in the island of Cuba, where there are two distinct
species of the genus, one of which is our Florida species (C. acutus). At that time science was blind to the fact that the true crocodile was a member of the fauna of the United States. At a meeting of the "Boston Society of Natural History," held May 19, 1869, the late comparative anatomist, Dr. Jeffries Wyman, exhibited the head of a crocodile (C. acutus) which had been sent him by William H. Hunt, Esq., of Miami River, which stream flows out of the everglades and empties into Key Biscayene Bay, at the south-eastern end of the Floridian peninsula.
A second cranium of the Sharp-nosed Crocodile was afterwards obtained from the same locality, but the honor of killing and recognizing one of these huge monsters belongs to the young and enterprising author of the "Birds of Florida," a work full of original information, the illustrations of which, as well as the setting up of the type, being the work of the author's own hands. I refer to Mr. C. J. Maynard, of Newtonville, Massachusetts, who has furnished me with a graphic description of his meeting with, and the capture of, the crocodile while engaged in his ornithological pursuits during the year 1867. Mr. Maynard says:
"This crocodile is particularly noticeable for its fierceness. I have met with it but once. Three of us were crossing the country which lies
between Lake Harney and Indian River, on foot, when we came to a dense swamp. As we were passing through it we discovered a huge reptile, which resembled an alligator, lying in a stream just to the right of our path. He was apparently asleep. We approached cautiously within ten rods of him, and fired two rifle-shots in quick succession. The balls took effect in front of his fore-leg, and striking within two inches of each other, passed entirely through his body. As soon as he felt the wounds he struggled violently, twisting and writhing, but finally became quiet.
"We waded in, and approached him as he lay upon a bed of green aquatic plants with his head towards us. It was resting on the mud, and one of the party was about to place his foot upon it, when a lively look in the animal's eyes deterred him. Stooping down, he picked up a floating branch, and lightly threw it in the reptile's face. The result was somewhat surprising. The huge jaws opened instantly, and the formidable tail came round, sweeping the branch into his mouth, where it was crushed and ground to atoms by the rows of sharp teeth. His eyes flashed fire, and he rapidly glided forward. Never did magician of Arabian tale conjure a fiercer-looking demon by wave of his wand than had been raised to life by the motion of a branch. For a moment we were too astonished to move.
"The huge monster seemed bent on revenge, and in another instant would be upon us. We then saw our danger, and quicker than a flash of light, thought and action came. The next moment the gigantic saurian was made to struggle on his back with a bullet in his brain. It had entered his right eye, and had been aimed so nicely as not to cut the lids.
"To make sure of him this time, we severed his jugular vein. While performing this not very delicate operation, he thrust out two singular-looking glands from slits in his throat. They were round, resembling a sea-urchin, being covered with minute projections, and were about the size of a nutmeg, giving out a strong, musky odor. We then took his dimensions, and found he was over ten feet in length, while his body was larger round than a flour-barrel. The immense jaws were three feet long, and when stretched open would readily take in the body of a man. They were armed with rows of sharp, white teeth. The tusks of the lower one, when it was closed, projected out through two holes in the upper, which fact proved to us that it was not a common alligator, but a true crocodile (C. acutus)."
If Mr. Maynard had been at that time aware of the value of the prize he had captured, the market-price of which was some four or five hundred dollars, he would not have abandoned
his crocodile. He afterwards sent for its head, but could not obtain it. This reptile will probably be found more numerous about the headwaters of the Miami River than further north. It sometimes attains a length of seventeen feet. Since Mr. Maynard shot his crocodile, others from the north have searched for the C. acutus, and one naturalist from Rochester, New York, captured a specimen, and attempted to make a new species of it by giving it the specific name of FLORIDANAS, in place of the older one of C. acutus.
The morning sun was shining brightly as I pulled steadily along the coast, passing Warrior Creek six miles from my starting-point off the shores of Spring Creek. About this locality the rocky bottom was exchanged for one of sand. Having rowed eleven miles, a small sandy island, one-third of a mile from shore, offered a resting-place at noon; and there I dined upon bread and cold canned beef. A mile further to the eastward a sandy point of the marsh extended into the Gulf. A dozen oaks, two palmettos, and a shanty in ruins, upon this bleak territory, were the distinctive features which marked it as Jug Island, though the firm ground is only an island rising out of the marshes. Sandy points jutting from the lowlands became more numerous as I progressed on my route. Four miles from Jug Island the wide debouchure of Blue Creek came
into view, with an unoccupied fishing-shanty on each side of its mouth.
Crossing at dusk to the east shore of the creek, I landed in shoal water on a sandy strand, when the wind arose to a tempest, driving the water on to the land; and had it not been for my watch-tackle, the little duck-boat must have sought other quarters. As it was, she was soon high and dry on a beach; and once beneath her sheltering hatch, I slept soundly, regardless of the screeching winds and dashing seas around me.
Before the sun had gilded the waters the next morning, the wind subsided, my breakfast was cooked and eaten, and the boat's prow pointed towards the desolate, almost uninhabited, wilderness of Deadman's Bay. The low tide annoyed me somewhat, but when the wind arose it was fair, and assisted all day in my progress. The marine grasses, upon which the turtles feed, covered the bottom; and many curious forms were moving about it in the clear water. Six miles from Blue Creek I found a low grassy island of several acres in extent, and while in its vicinity frequently grounded; but as the water was shoal, it was an easy matter to jump overboard and push the lightened boat over the reefs.
About noon the wind freshened, and forced me nearer to the shore. As I crossed
channel-ways, between shoals, the porpoises, which were pursuing their prey, frequently got aground, and presented a curious appearance working their way over a submarine ridge by turning on their sides and squirming like eels. By two o'clock P. M., the wind forced me into the bight of Dead-man's Bay. The gusts were so furious that prudence demanded a camp, and it was eagerly sought for in the region of ominous name and gloomy associations. I had been told that there was but one living man in this bay, which is more than twenty miles wide. This settler lived two miles up the Steinhatchee River, which flows into the bight of Deadman's Bay.
In a certain part of the wilderness of this region a tract of savanna and pine lands approached near to the waters of the Gulf, and was known as the "Devil's Wood Pile." Superstition has made this much-dreaded forest the scene of wild and horrible tales. Fishermen had warned me of its dismal shades, and of the wild cattle which roamed unheeded through its dreary recesses. Hunters, they said, had entered it in strong force, but the wild bulls were so fierce that the bravest were driven back, and the dangerous task abandoned. Calves had been born in the fastnesses of the "Devil's Wood Pile," and had grown old without being branded by their owners, who feared the sharp horns of the paternal bulls, the courageous defenders of their native pastures.
Skirting the marshy savannas of His Satanic Majesty's earthly dominion, I ascended the Steinhatchee River, when a clearing with a rough house and store gave unmistakable signs of the proximity of the settler of whom I had heard. I was preparing to make my camp near the landing, when the proprietor made his appearance, courteously inviting me to his house, where he held me a willing prisoner for three days, giving me much information in regard to life in the woods. He had been a soldier in the Seminole war, and had passed through varied experiences, but had "settled down," as he expressed it, to the red-cedar business. Six long years had this man and his wife delved and toiled in the desolate region of Deadman's Bay, seeing no one except a few cedar-cutters from the interior, who stocked up at his store before going into the wilderness.
A great deal of red cedar is cut on the shores and in the back country of the Steinhatchee River. The squatters and small farmers, called crackers, engaged in this work, are not hampered by the eighth commandment, and Uncle Sam has to suffer in consequence, most of the timber being cut on United States government reserves. It finds its way to the cedar warehouses of merchants in the town of Cedar Keys. I have seen whole rafts of this valuable red cedar towed into Cedar Keys and sold there, when the parties
purchasing knew it to be stolen from the government lands. My kind host, Mr. James H. Stephens, was the first honest purchaser of this government cedar I had met, for he cheerfully and promptly paid the requisite tax upon it, and seemed to be endeavoring to protect the property of the government.
From Mr. Stephens's hospitable home I proceeded along the Gulf, past Rocky Creek, to Frog Island, a treeless bit of territory where a little shanty had been erected by the Coast Survey officers to shelter a tide-gauge watcher. The island was now deserted. The coast was indeed desolate, and it was a cheering sight in the middle of the afternoon to catch a glimpse of signs of the past presence of man on Pepperfish Key, an island a little distance from land, rising out of the sparkling sea, and crowned with a rough but picturesque shanty,--another reminder of the untiring efforts of our Coast Survey Bureau.
A prominent point of land near this islet runs far into the Gulf, and is known as Bowlegs Point, supposed to be named after a chief of the Seminole Indians, whom I happened to meet many years before I saw the point which had the honor of bearing his name. Our meeting was in a southern city, but I had the misfortune to appear on the wrong day, and lost the honor of being received by that celebrity, as he had
partaken too freely of the hospitality of his white friends, and could only utter, "Big Injuin don't receive! Big Injuin too much drunk!"
As night approached I crossed a large bay, and entered the very shoal water off Horse Shoe Point, close to Horse Shoe and Bird islands. These pretty islets were green with palmetto and other foliage, while upon the firm land of Horse Shoe Point appeared, in the last rays of the setting sun, a white sandy strand crowned with a palmetto hut and a little white tent. Two finely modelled boats rested upon the beach, and five miles out to sea was pictured upon the horizon, like a phantom ship, the weird and indistinct outlines of a United States Coast Survey schooner. The tide was on the last of the ebb, and finding it impossible to get within half a mile of the point, I anchored my little craft, built a fire in my bake-kettle, made coffee on board, and, quietly turning in for a doze, rested until the tide arose, when in the darkness I hauled my boat ashore and awaited the "break o' day."
As soon after breakfast as wood-etiquette admitted, I joined the party on the beach, and was welcomed to their breakfast-table under the shelter of their pretty white tent; learning, much to my satisfaction, that I was an expected guest, as my arrival had been looked for some days before. This party from the
schooner "Ready" was engaged in establishing a base-line two miles in length at Horse Shoe Point, and was under the charge of Mr. F. Whalley Perkins, who was assisted by Messrs. John De Wolf, R. E. Duvall, Jr., and William S. Bond.
The readers of my "Voyage of the Paper Canoe" may recognize in Mr. Bond, a member of this party, a gentleman whom I had met on board the Coast Survey vessel "Casswell," in Bull's Bay, on the South Carolina coast, the previous winter. Only those who have gone through similar experiences can imagine what I felt at being thus brought into contact with men of intelligence. It was as though a man had been pulling through a heavy fog, and suddenly the sun burst forth in all its glory. Nature is grand and restful, and green savannas and tranquil waters leave fair pictures in our memories; but after all, man is eminently a social being, and needs companions of his kind.
[Map of Maria Theresa portage Suwanee-St. Marks.] [60KB]
My lonely voyage had been so monotonous that this return to the society of civilized man had a peculiar effect upon my mind, it being in so receptive a state that the most minute incident was noted; and the tent with its surroundings, the breakfast-table with its genial hosts, the very appearance of the water and the sky, were so in delibly impressed upon my memory that they never can be effaced. It is fortunate the
picture is a pleasant one, as in fact were all the hours passed with the gentlemen of the schooner Ready.
On Saturday evening the party prepared to go on board the Ready; and as I was to pass Sunday with them, it was deemed prudent to send my boat to a safe anchorage-ground on the east side of Horse Shoe Bay, where, moored among some islands, my floating home would be protected from boisterous seas and covetous fishermen.
Climbing the sides of the Ready, I was filled with admiration for the beautiful vessel, the last one built especially for the Coast Survey service. The entire craft, with its clean decks and well-arranged interior, was a model of order and skilful arrangement. The home-like cabin, with its books and various souvenirs of the officers, was in strange contrast with the close quarters of my own little boat. The day was most pleasantly passed; and as the morrow threatened to be windy, Mr. Perkins kindly offered to put me on board the sneak-box before sunset. The gig was manned by a stalwart crew of sailors, and the chief of the party took the tiller ropes in his hands as we dashed away through the waves towards Horse Shoe Bay.
At four in the afternoon we entered the sheltered waters of a miniature archipelago close to the coast, and I beheld with a degree of
affection and satisfaction, experienced only by a boat man, my own little craft floating safely at her moorings. The officers gave me a sailor's hearty farewell, the boat's crew bent to their oars and were soon far in the offing, growing each moment more indistinct while I gazed, until a white speck, like a gull resting upon the sea, was the only visible sign left me of Mr. Perkins and his party.
My voyage of twenty-six hundred miles was nearly ended. The beautiful Suwanee River, from which I had emerged in my paper canoe one year before, (when I had terminated a voyage of twenty-five hundred miles begun in the high latitude of Canada,) was only a few miles to the eastward. Upon reaching its debouchure on the Gulf coast, the termini of the two voyages would be united. It would be only a few hours' pull from the mouth of the Suwanee to the port of Cedar Keys, whose railroad facilities offered to the boat and her captain quick transportation across the peninsula of Florida to Fernandina, on the Atlantic coast, where kind friends had prepared for my arrival.
While I gazed upon the smooth sea, a longing to pass the night on the dark waters of the river of song took possession of me, and mechanically weighing anchor, I took up my oars and pulled along the coast to my goal. Before sunset, the
old landmark of the mouth of the Suwanee(the iron boiler of a wrecked blockade-runner) appeared above the shoal water, and I began to search for the little hammock, called Bradford's Island, where one year before I had spent my last night on the Gulf of Mexico with the "Maria Theresa," my little paper canoe. Soon it rose like a green spot in the desert, the well-remembered grove coming into view, with the half-dead oak's scraggy branches peering out of the feathery tops of the palmettos.
Entering the swift current of the river, I gazed out upon the sea, which was bounded only by the distant horizon. The sun was slowly sinking into the green of the western wilderness. A huge saurian dragged his mail-clad body out of the water, and settled quietly in his oozy bed. The sea glimmered in the long, horizontal rays of light which clothed it in a sheen of silver and of gold. The wild sea-gulls winnowed the air with their wings, as they settled in little flocks upon the smooth water, as though to enjoy the bath of soft sunlight that came from the west. The great forests behind the marshes grew dark as the sun slowly disappeared, while palm-crowned hammocks on the savannas stood out in bold relief like islets in a sea of green. The sun disappeared, and the soft air became heavy with the mists of night as I sank upon my hard bed with a feeling of
gratitude to Him, whose all-protecting arm had been with me in sunshine and in storm.
Lying there under the tender sky, lighted with myriads of glittering stars, a soft gleam of light stretched like a golden band along the water until it was lost in the line of the horizon. Beyond it all was darkness. It seemed to be the path I had taken, the course of my faithful boat. Back in the darkness were the ice-cakes of the Ohio, the various dangers I had encountered. All I could see was the band of shining light, the bright end of the voyage.
[Last night on the Gulf of Mexico.] [21KB]