Upper Basin History with Dale Cox

By Dani Davis

Dale address a crowd gathered in the pavilion, where he introduced us to the area and the future plans for River Landings Park

April 27, 2024 – We joined historian, Dale Cox, for a morning of history  at the Chattahoochee Landing’s Park. We were thrilled to meet so many community members who came out to listen to Dale, making this one of our best attended outreach events in recent memory (and for good reason too!). At the start of the program, we asked those in attendance to share where they came from. Folks came from the north, Dothan, AL and Cairo, GA to our coastal communities of Port St. Joe and Apalachicola – the entire Apalachicola River Basin was well represented in attendance! Dale kicked off by taking us into the future and shared exciting plans for the Landings Park that will highlight the history and beauty of the headwaters of the Apalachicola River. He then took us into the past, about 2000 years into the past, as we walked to our first historical site within the park.

Dale takes us into the past as he introduces us to the earliest inhabitants of the area.

Standing in front of a recreated mound, Dale explains, “And at the very base levels of mounds that were here, the archeologists began to find evidence of people from what they call the ‘Swift Creek- time period … a very early woodland time period … 2500 to 2000 years ago.” Archeologists working on this area, like Dr. Nancy White from the University of South Florida who was in attendance, have found evidence of many civilizations over time that have occupied this area on the river.

Unfortunately, prior to the land being acquired by Gadsden County, the private landowner bulldozed many of the original mounds on the property in fear that the land would be seized. A few original mounds remain, but the recreated mound where Dale taught us about the earliest civilizations was constructed by researchers to give people an idea of what the original mounds looked like.

the recreated mound

We continued our historical stroll to the present with a walk to the top of a high mound with three historical markers sitting on top. Dale explains that this large platform mound was used by Indigenous tribes up until about 700 years ago. It would have been where a warrior chief or principal priest  lived and has been continually used for different purposes up until this day. When the town of Chattahoochee was founded, known as Mt. Vernon then, the residents built a tavern on the top of the mound, but prior to this important cultural establishment for the early inhabitants of Mt. Vernon, a series of important historical events occurred here. Dale walked us through a few early battles that occurred between the British troops and early Americans – but importantly, it wasn’t solely British soldiers. Alliances were formed here between British and the Seminole, Miccosukee, Yuchi and Red Stick Creek Warrior tribes, and Maroons, self-liberated African Americans. These alliances eventually led to a Treaty of Mutual Defense signed by the British and the Alachua Seminole, Tallahassee Seminoles, Miccosukee, and Yuchi and is thought to be one of the founding documents of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Dale continued to explain how important this area has been to the tribes who fought here and the battles that have taken place since the 1800s.

Dale addresses the group from the largest mound.
Dale discusses the more recent past and takes us into the 1800s.
Dale stands in front of the bones of a steamboat wreckage

We moved on to our final site of the day and wandered over to the remnants of a shipwreck just sitting out of the water while community members played with their dogs in the water. Dale shared that current research estimates that the remains of 21 steamboats lie in the waters and shoreline of the upper Apalachicola. He explains, “[This] is the largest concentration of paddle wheel steamboat wrecks, not only in the state of Florida, but in the southeastern United States.” The boats range in age from the 1830’s all the way up to the last one that sank in the 1950’s, so a history sits below the river as above it. While some of these wrecks were scuttles, many were due to boat accidents. Dale explains that before the dam was put in, the shape of the river was much different than it appears today, with a sharp 90-degree angle that would catch troubled ships off guard. Today, because of the dam, the river is much wider and less windy than it would have been naturally. Dale ended the day by discussing the quick and dramatic effects that humans can have on the landscape, what nature takes thousands of years to do – humans can alter near irreversibly in days to weeks.

The whole history group!

Dale has a wealth of information to share, and we were grateful to spend the morning with the community soaking up the information. If you want to learn more about Dale and check out his blog, you can find him here.

A photo album of the day is here.

Dani Davis is Outreach Director at Apalachicola Riverkeeper. She can be reached at [email protected]












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