Fort Chokonikla

Fort Chokonikla

By Spessard Stone

Fort Chokonikla, meaning burned house, was established on October 26, 1849 as a defensive action to an isolated, but deadly uprising by a band of five Indians on July 12, 1849, in which they at the Indian River settlement, near Fort Pierce, killed one man, and then on July 17 at the Kennedy-Darling trading post on (now) Paynes Creek murdered Capt. George S. Payne and Dempsey Whidden and wounded William McCullough and Nancy (Whidden) McCullough.

After burning the post, the Indians fled only to be taken into custody by Seminole leaders, who wanted to avoid a war. On October 18, 1849, Billy Bowlegs and Sam Jones turned over three of the murderers and the severed hand of a fourth to Gen. David E. Twiggs. Thus was a war averted, but, while the state militia, demobilized, the federal government resolved to settle the continuing problem by a build up of regular Army soldiers and erection of a chain of forts, one being Fort Chokonikla, one- half mile north of the ruins of the trading post.

The Francis Collins papers and notes (1849-50) at the Barker Texas History Center of the University of Texas at Austin provide some further insights into the fort, the spelling of which is reproduced as written, with comments in brackets:

        "December 7, 1849, Ft. Crawford--

        "Have been invited by my most esteemed friend, Mrs. Morris [wife of Brevet Major William W. Morris, commander of Fort Chokonikla], to a Christmas dinner at Chokkonickla, but the distance forty miles is too great for me to get there. Have also been invited by Doct. Braden [a physician and plantation owner at Manatee settlement, now Bradenton], shall go if circumstances will permit, tho' twenty miles is a good ways to go after a dinner-thro' the woods.
        "Dec. 23d--
        "Express arrived during last night from Chokkonickla informing Capt. [John C.] Casey that Assunwah and Kapiktsootsee, two Indians of note, had come in and desired to see him and Gen. Twiggs. The Capt. returns this morning. I accompany him.
        Dec. 29th--
        "Returned from Chokkonickla. While there, attended an Indian council.
        "I took a Christmas dinner with my friend Mrs. Morris who is there on a visit to her husband. As might have been anticipated, she set before us [Brevet Major Samuel C. Ridgely, 4th Artillery, was of the party] a most sumptuous repast, and it may be many a day before I shall get another as elegant a dinner as I had in that little log hut.
        "I passed the week very pleasantly and think I shall long remember, for more reasons than one, my visit to Chokkonickla. Brown road back with me. We came through (32 miles) in one day, on horse back. The only event of the road was a ridiculous drenching we received."

The New Orleans Daily Picayune of January 3, 1850 regaled its readers with this Fort Chokonikla dispatch, dated December 10, 1849, written probably by Major William W. Mackall:

        "Florida Luxuries-
        "The following extract of a letter from an officer of the U. S. Army in Florida, to a friend in this city, written with the prospect of making himself and wife 'comfortable in a log cabin, twelve by fifteen feet in the clear,' shows in glowing terms something of the luxuries and comforts to be enjoyed in that climate.
        "I will here give you a list of our vegetables for dinner yesterday (Sunday) and which were procured by ________ [?] and myself after 8 o'clock in the morning to wit: fish, partridges, squirrels, curlew and ducks, of which enough to last two messes of three portions each for three days, were caught and killed between 10 o'clock A. M. and 3 P. M., and we have not yet got into the good hunting grounds or fishing waters!
        "There is a place not far from here (say 20 or 30 miles) where, it is said, the ducks are so fat they cannot dive, but that while they attempt it, their heads under the water and their tails sticking out, you may grab their legs, and thus 'bag' as many as you wish!
        "I give you this story as it was related to me, and you understand distinctly that I am not at all responsible for it.
        "But one thing is certain, this is a great country, and our surgeon, who is an Irishman, has come to the conclusion that a man, commencing without any ready cash, starts with a capital of $1,250 a year ($1,000 in climate and $250 in pine knots).
        "We won't want any chimney to our cabin, but only a pine knot fire in front. The luxuries of the soil and climate will be our food and raiment."

A Florida Department of Natural Resources pamphlet, in part, gives the following account of the fort:

        "No fighting occurred at the fort, although a number of men died from disease. Sickness, particularly malaria and fever, were constant problems and ultimately caused the fort to be abandoned (July 1850).
        "As many as 223 men, including a regimental band, were garrisoned at the fort at one time, but usually the number was smaller. On one occasion, 153 of the 166 troops at the fort were sick, on detached duty or under arrest.
        "Boredom was always a problem at frontier outposts, and courts-martial handed down sentences of all descriptions in an attempt to maintain order and discipline."

Dr. Jonathan Letterman in the following letter to Bvt. Major Wyse, "Comd. Ft. Chokhonikla, Florida," recommended the closing of the fort:

Fort Chokhonikla

        July 1st 1850


        In consequence of the sickness existing among the troops at this Post, I deem it incumbent upon me to make it the subject of a special report.

        The prevailing sickness is caused by malarious exhalations, and is chiefly in the form of intermittent and remittent fevers, which are in a majority of cases irregular, and accompanied, frequently, with excessive vomitting, owing to an inflammation of the inner coat of the stomach, which is often difficult to allay.

        These irregular cases are of a character more serious than that of a regular Intermittent, for it is a well known fact that irregularities in diseases, and especially in fevers, are more to be dreaded than the disease itself when the disease is regular in its form and progress, although to a superficial observer it may appear more severe.

        There are but few men, among those that have been stationed for any length of time, who have not been attacked with inter- mittent or Remittent fever, and although none have died, yet, from constant exposure to the exciting cause of these diseases, they are continually relapsing, and, as a consequence thereof, there are but few of these men capable of performing duty requiring much exertion or exposure.

        Company M 4th Arty. numbering on the 1st ultimo fifty men has presented sixty-two cases of sickness. During the month of June, showing that, on an average, each man has been sick once, and one fourth of the company twice during the past month.

        From the situation of this Post, surrounded on three sides by a marsh now but partially under water, it is my opinion that these fevers will increase with the progress of the season and terminate in congestive and severe Remittent fevers and that the troops stationed here will be unfitted for active duty.

        I have thought it expedient therefore to express to you my opinion of the unhealthiness of this Post, and the debilitating effect of the miasmata upon the troops stationed here, that you may be aware of the present health of the command, and the probability of an increase in the manner and malignancy of the cases of disease.

        I would therefore recommend that this Post be abandoned, at least for the present, unless there be an urgent necessity for its occupation.

        I am Sir

        Very respectfully

        Your obdt. Servt.

        J. Letterman Ass. Surg. U.S. Army

As recommended by Dr. Letterman, the fort was abandoned on July 18, 1850. Its site is contained in Paynes Creek State Park, located on SR 664-A, east of Bowling Green.

For more information on the park, call 1-863-375-4717, or e-mail them at [email protected]

R.G. 393, U. S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, Pt. 1. Western Division and Department, 1820-54. Letters Received, Box #4 [1850 (A-W and Unentered], NA, courtesy of Dr. Canter Brown, Jr.

R.G. 393, U. S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920, Pt. 1. Western Division and Department, 1820-54. Letters Received, Box #4 [1850 (A-W and Unentered], NA, courtesy of Dr. Canter Brown, Jr.

Paynes Creek State Historic Site

Paynes Creek State Historic Site

January 3, 2001 & December 8, 2002