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Tallahassee, Florida

Camp Life in Florida; A Handbook for Sportsmen and Settlers.


The city of Tallahassee, the capital of the State of Florida, is situated in Leon county, about thirty miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, and half-way between the eastern and western limits of the State. Tallahassee is an Indian word, and signifies "old fields." The present site of the city was perhaps long ago the corn fields of the savages. It is situated upon the broad, flat top of a hill, and is about a mile in length, by three-eighths in breadth. Its People are hospitable, refined, polite, and very sociable; and the stranger visiting there will receive more attention than at any other city ill the South. It is a very paradise for bachelors, on account of the number, the beauty, and the charming manners of the ladies. The climate is very pleasant, and the number of soft, warm "Indian summer" days during the winter is very great—and though a fire is necessary in the evenings, yet, during the day the visitor can remain almost entirely in the open air with comfort and pleasure.

To the sportsman, the prospect is admirable. In every direction, for miles from the town, are wide fields, which swarm with quail. A fair day's shooting—allowing the sportsman to take, his breakfast at a reasonable hour, and start leisurely, returning for supper at dark—for a good shot, and with a good dog, is not less than from sixty to one hundred and forty birds. The coveys are all large, and often two or more are found in one field. In the neighborhood of the town are many small lakes, in which duck and other wild fowl are plentiful, while at Lakes Lafayette and Jackson, six distant, and some miles in extent, there is good fishing as well as good shooting. About two miles from town, and on a high hill, which lies between several small lakes, is a favorite resort for duck-shooters—as the birds are continually passing and repassing from lake to lake. There is abundance of accommodation in the city, and the young gentlemen take pleasure in giving the sportsman all necessary information and assistance. Horses and vehicles are readily obtained. Deer are often killed within a few miles of the town, as well as wild turkeys.

St. Mark's, but an hour's ride from the city by rail, is on the Gulf and the fishing and wild fowl shooting is of the best. Boats and assistants are easily had.

One of the pleasantest trips, is a visit to the famous Wakulla Spring—which lies about sixteen miles from Tallahassee, almost due south-and out of which flows the Wakulla river, a stream a hundred feet wide, and three feet deep, with a two-mile current where it leaves the spring. The route, with the exception of a few miles near Tallahassee, is through the pine woods, which extend to the very edge of the spring—though, as the ground begins to fall, there is a considerable intermixture of other varieties of timber, and a heavy undergrowth. The Wakulla Spring is about fifty yards long, by seventy-five broad, and is famous for the transparency of its waters. Floating in a boat on its surface, one seems suspended in mid air-and, when the day is perfectly calm, the water smooth and the sun bright, the illusion is perfect. The ordinary depth of the spring is eighty-five feet, and objects on its bottom can be seen almost as plainly as if held in the hand. Visitors usually take with them small, round, bright pieces of tin, which appear like tiny mirrors lying on the bottom, which is smooth and covered with a fine white sand. On the western side is a broad ledge or cliff of rock, the top of which is sixty-five feet below the surface. At the edge of this cliff the water is black, and I found bottom at a little over one hundred and twenty-five feet. Out of this Gulf the stream seems to gush, and one can see the fish floating over in front of it, steadily maintaining their position-though the somewhat quick motion of the fins and tail show the resistance they are obliged to overcome.

The water is impregnated with limestone, and is icy cold. One or two persons who have experimented in swimming in this spring, after a few seconds' immersion, became so benumbed as to require assistance to get back into the boat. The sides of the spring are very steep; being almost perpendicular for some distance below the surface. The river leading from the spring is full of grass, and among this lie the fish. Fishing with a line is out of the question-but many are caught with a "gig."

There is a legend connected with the spring, which goes on to say that many years ago, long before the white man trod the shores of America, this spring was a little fountain, and was the favorite resort of a pair of mastodons. One day while standing at the spring, cooling themselves by throwing over their backs "trunkfuls" of the icy water, the ground suddenly gave way beneath their feet—and the ill-fated pair found themselves swimming in a lake of ice-cold water. Terrifically they, "trumpeted," and frantically they strove to clamber out upon the bank-but the steep sides afforded no foot-hold until benumbed and overcome with the cold, and feebly struggling, they sank, with their trunks lovingly entwined, to rise no more. As my fair informant remarked: "lovingly they had spent their lives together, and in death they were not divided." The bones of the ill-fated pair remained long at the bottom of the spring -a memento of their fidelity and their fate. Some years ago, some enterprising individuals succeeded in getting out their skeletons, which were large and perfect, and shipped them to New York. The vessel was wrecked during the voyage and they were lost. [*]

The country around Tallahassee is attractive and beautifully undulating. There are many fine views, and pleasant drives in almost any direction. All the varieties of forest vegetation peculiar to the country are abundant. The superb magnolia, with its glossy deep-green leaves and large cream-white flowers, the bay-tree, the live-oak, so famed for ship timber, the scarlet oak, the sweet gum, the sycamore, the long-leaved pine, the catalpa, the hickory, the beech, the wild plum and crabapple, of size almost incredible until seen; the dogwood, whose large white flowers, and berries of vivid scarlet, far exceed in size those of its northern compeer; grape, and other vines of every variety and size; the yellow jessamine, which climbs the trees and overspreads their tops with its clusters, and hangs in graceful festoons from every branch, in a wealth of floral profusion which illumines its surroundings, and covers its forest supporters with a crown of glory. Along the fences and hedges the Cherokee rose—I may tell you its legend some day—clambers in wild luxuriance, its fair snowwhite blossoms shining like stars in the dusk of the evening, as you ride along. The oleander, the Cape jessamine and the crepe-myrtle, puny shrubs and hot-house plants at the North, here are trees, that grow to the height of twenty feet. The camellia, too, reaches the height of ten feet or more, and living in the open air, blossoms with a luxuriance unknown to its sisters of the northern conservatory.

But why say more. The lover of the rod and gun keenly appreciates all of nature's loveliness—and where is the beauty and delicacy of God's handiwork more manifest than in the "Land of Flowers"?


[*]Chas. Lanman, Esq., in his "Wilds of America," says that the bones referred to were sent to Philadelphia by Geo. S. King, of Florida, and deposited in the museum there.-ED. [Back to Document]

Excerpt from "Camp Life in Florida; A Handbook for Sportsmen and Settlers." Chapter 15. Compiled by Charles Hallock, published by Forest and Stream Publishing Company. American News Company, Agents. 1876.


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