ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge
The Chipola River
The beautiful Chipola River is
the focus of a fascinating
legend concerning Andrew
Jackson's march.
Natural Bridge of the Chipola
Jackson's army of 1,095 men
crossed the Chipola River
here during their 1818 march
on Pensacola.
Blue Hole Spring
Jackson's soldiers also
passed nearby Blue Hole
Spring, mistakenly believing it
to be the point where the river
rose back to the surface.
A Legend of "Old Hickory" and the 1818 Invasion of Florida
Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge of the Chipola
One of Jackson County’s oldest legends revolves around the passage of Andrew Jackson’s
army through the Chipola River country during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.

As the story goes, Jackson had completed a hard-driving raid through Middle Florida and had
just returned to Fort Gadsden on the Apalachicola River when he learned that Spanish
authorities in Pensacola were sheltering and supplying Creek and Seminole warriors.
Outraged, “Old Hickory” determined to seize the city and started off with an army of over 1,000
men.

Marching north from Fort Gadsden, Jackson crossed the Apalachicola at Ocheese Bluff in what
is now Calhoun County. From there, he turned northwest to Blue Spring and finally the Natural
Bridge of the Chipola River. Here, according to legend, an unusual incident took place.

As the army advanced, it was said to have been marching in two columns. The first, under
Jackson himself, was well-guided by an area chief named Lafarka or John Blunt, the man for
whom modern-day Blountstown is named. Lafarka guided Jackson’s column across the
Natural Bridge at Florida Caverns State Park, supposedly under the watchful eyes of Native
American warriors who were hiding in a nearby cave. Since the Chipola flows underground at
this point, it is said that Jackson never knew he had crossed a river.

The other column of the army, however, was not so fortunate. Legend holds that these men had
to construct rafts to get across and were so delayed in linking up with Jackson that the general
was in an explosive mood by the time they arrived. Known for his volatile personality, “Old
Hickory” flew into a rage. When his subordinates tried to explain they were delayed by having to
cross a river, he supposedly became even angrier for he had seen no river at all. It was not until
Lafarka explained the situation that Jackson could be calmed.

It is the only real legend associated with Jackson in the county that bears his name, but
unfortunately it appears to be little more than one of many tall tales that have been handed
down about the man. Jackson’s topographer, Captain Hugh Young, prepared a meticulous
account of the general’s march through Florida, and while he mentions the natural bridge
incident, he describes it as happening at a natural bridge between St. Marks and the
Suwannee River, not at the Natural Bridge of the Chipola. Apparently over time the story was
transferred from one location to another.

Although the story of the Natural Bridge incident was not true, Young’s account of Andrew
Jackson’s march through what is now Jackson County provides a fascinating early look at the
area. Having crossed the Apalachicola River, Jackson set out from Ocheese Bluff on March 10,
1818, at the head of an army of 1,092 men. The route was described by Young as being
through good country and the soldiers camped for the night at Blue Spring, which the captain
called the “Big Spring.” He described it as, “forty yards in diameter and of considerable depth
with a rock bottom and a clean and rapid current.”

On the morning of March 11, 1818, the army continued its march to the northwest and Young’s
account leaves no doubt that they knew they were marching across a natural bridge when they
reached the Chipola:

The Natural Bridge is in the center of a large swamp and appears to be a deposit of earth on a
raft or some similar obstruction. The passage is narrow and the creek, with a rapid current is
visible both above and below.

Young, of course, was wrong about the formation of the Natural Bridge. The river sinks into a
limestone passage here and flows underground for a short distance before rising back to the
surface. During the 19th century, loggers dug a canal across the top of the feature to allow them
to float timber across to a mill downstream, taking away some of the unique appearance of the
bridge.

The Natural Bridge of the Chipola is now preserved as part of Florida Caverns State Park. It lies
on the main road connecting the Visitor Center and picnic areas with Blue Hole Spring. A
marker at a canoe launch by the sink provides a brief history of Andrew Jackson’s march
through the area, an event that had great significance in the future of Florida.

By demonstrating that Spain was unable to defend its colony, Jackson’s 1818 invasion set the
stage for the transfer of Florida to the United States just three years later. Many of the men in his
army were so impressed by the Chipola River country that they returned to settle the region in
the coming years. The march through Northwest Florida was the final act in a military career
that propelled Jackson first to the governorship of Florida and finally to the Presidency of the
United States. Jackson County bears his name.
Floodplain of the Chipola
Some of the river swamps
now preserved at Florida
Caverns State Park are
virtually unchanged in
appearance from the days of
the First Seminole War.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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