San Carlos de Chacatos - Washington County's Spanish Mission
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Mission San Carlos de Chacatos, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Mission San Carlos de Chacatos, Florida
by Dale Cox
When early Spanish explorers first entered Northwest Florida, they found the region between the
Chipola and Choctawhatchee Rivers inhabited by a powerful tribe of Native Americans called
Sometimes identified by modern writers as the "Chatot" and occasionally incorrectly identified
with the Choctaw of Alabama and Mississippi, the Chacato lived in a series of villages
stretching from today's Houston County, Alabama, through Jackson and Holmes Counties into
Washington County. Their name is memorialized by the Choctawhatchee River, originally called
the "Chacta Hatchie." The word "Chacta" was an early spelling of Chacato and "hatchee" is a
common Native American word for river. Translated, the original name of the Choctawhatchee
was the "Chacato River" or "River of the Chacato."
Archaeologically, the Chacato were a chiefdom of the "Late Mississippian" era (A.D.
1250-1540). Research at Chacato village sites reveals they lived by both hunting and farming.
Their favorite game foods included bison (buffalo), deer, bear, opossums and raccoons. They
grew corn, squash, melons and other crops in their fields, gathered nuts, berries and roots from
the woods and fished in the rivers, ponds and creeks of their territory.
When first encountered by the Spanish, they were at war with virtually all of their neighbors. Early
records record that the Chacato were considered fierce warriors who resisted all intrusions on
their territory. Surviving documentation mentions their conflicts with the Apalachee of Florida's
Big Bend region, the Apalachicoli (Lower Creeks) who lived on the Chattahoochee River in
Georgia and Alabama and the Panzacola tribe of Pensacola Bay. In 1639, Florida's Spanish
governor, Damian de la Vega Castro y Pardo, reported that he had negotiated a peace between
the Chacato, Apalachicoli, Amacano and Apalachee tribes. "It is an extraordinary thing," he
wrote, "because the aforesaid Chacato never had peace with anybody."
Over the years that followed, a portion of the tribe sought to improve relations with the Spanish
and asked that Franciscan missionaries be sent to their villages. It would take twenty years for
the Spanish to respond, but in 1674 they sent an expedition west to found missions among the
Starting west from the mission and fort of San Luis de Talimali (today's Tallahassee), three
Franciscan priests and a detachment of soldiers under Lt. Andres Peres followed an old trail
leading to the Apalachicola River near present-day Sneads. Crossing the river, they followed the
path on to Calistoble (Blue) Spring in Jackson County and across the Natural Bridge of the
Chipola at today's Florida Caverns State Park. From here they proceeded a few miles to a
Chacato village located at the mouth of a large cave. In a few days they would return here to
establish the mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino, but on their outward journey the Spanish
continued on to a second, much larger village, they identified as the primary town of the Chacato.
This town, identified Lt. Peres as "Achercatane," was located on the main trail 3-4 leagues (9-12
miles) from the cave at San Nicolas. Recent scholarship suggests that the San Nicolas cave
was the unique cavern now known as Arch Cave, located about 3 miles northwest of Marianna.
From there, the trail followed by the Spanish turned southwest and entered Washington County
between the modern communities of Chipley and Cottondale.
A march of 9-12 miles from Arch Cave would place the primary Chacato village somewhere in
the vicinity of Orange Hill, Chipley or Falling Waters State Park. The exact site has never been
found, but the old trail ran through the valley between Orange Hill and the state park, an area
very similar in nature to the locations of other known Chacato villages.
The Spanish reached "Achercatane" (also spelled "Yalcatanu") on June 18, 1674. After securing
the permission of the Chacato leaders, they built a church in the village that they named "San
Carlos de Chacatos" in memory of St. Charles Borromeo.
The soldiers soon left the region, but three friars remained behind to minister to the Chacato
convert them to Christianity. Rodrigo de la Barreda was the friar assigned to the San Carlos
mission. His fellow friar, Miguel de Valverde, took up residence at San Nicolas in Jackson
County, but the third soon disappears from the record and his fate is unknown.
The effort to convert the Chacato went well at first. As many as 300 members of the tribe
became Christians at the two missions, the largest group at San Carlos which was the larger of
the establishments. Trouble soon erupted, however, when the missionaries told some of the
older Chacato chiefs that Christians were only allowed to have one wife. The chiefs were
shocked by this, as multiple wives were common in their culture, and soon began to threaten
the safety of the two friars. Help was summoned from San Luis and a detachment of heavily
armed soldiers marched into the region as a show of force.
The military intervention temporarily quieted the situation, but appears to have outraged some of
the Chacato. Biding their time, they organized under the leadership of the old chief Diosale (or
Dioscale) of the village of San Antonio (north of San Nicolas, possibly in Houston County,
Alabama). Diosale was outraged because the missionaries had forced him to give up two of his
In July of 1675, Diosale's faction began their move on the missions. Rodrigo de la Barreda was
at this time the only friar still working among the Chacato, as Miguel de Valverde was
temporarily absent. Informed of the plan by a Christian chief, the friar asked for an escort to take
him to the mission of Santa Cruz de Sabacola,at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint
Rivers in today's Seminole County, Georgia. Before he could leave San Carlos, however, he
received further information that Diosale's warriors had taken up a position on the trail leading
to Santa Cruz with plans to ambush and kill him.
The friar, joined by the chiefs and most of the warriors of San Carlos, took shelter in the mission
buildings and prepared to defend themselves against the anticipated attack. When the attack
did not come, Rodrigo de la Barreda set out for Santa Cruz on foot with an escort of two
warriors. After they were well into the journey, however, the two warriors turned unexpectedly on
him and struck him severe blows to the head and face with a stone axe. Knocked to the ground,
the friar scrambled to grab the musket he usually carried and was able to shoot and kill one of
his attackers. The other warrior fled and the wounded friar continued on foot, staying away from
the main path, and eventually reached Santa Cruz.
The rebellion and attack prompted the Spanish to send troops against the Chacato. Marching
west from San Luis, they crossed the Chipola River, dispersed the rebelling warriors and
captured most of the leaders of the revolt, including Diosale. Establishing a headquarters at
San Carlos, they convened a hearing of sorts at which Captain Juan Fernandez de Florencia,
the lieutenant governor, took testimony from a number of Chacato witnesses.
When the Spanish troops left a short time later, however, the missions were not reestablished
and both San Carlos and San Nicolas were quickly abandoned by their occupants, many of
whom fled to their Alibamo relatives in Central Alabama.
The Spanish revisited the abandoned San Carlos site in 1677 during a military campaign
against a fortified Chisca (Yuchi) town west of the Choctawhatchee River. At that time they
reported that the site was abandoned.
The efforts of Rodrigo de la Barreda and Miguel de Valverde, however, were not quickly forgotten
by the Christian members of the Chacato tribe. By 1680, a large number of these had relocated
to a hilltop near the modern community of Sneads in Jackson County. A new mission, also
named San Carlos, was established here for them. It remained the westernmost Spanish
settlement in Florida until 1693, when it was destroyed by Creek raiders. The church was
destroyed and many of the Chacato were carried away as prisoners and sold to the English in
South Carolina for use as slaves.
The remaining Chacato Christians lived among the Apalachee around present-day Tallahassee
until a series of English-led raids resulted in the destruction of the Apalachee missions in 1704.
More of the survivors of the tribe were carried away into slavery, but a few dozen escaped and
disappeared into the Northwest Florida wilderness. Some years later they settled near the
French at Mobile Bay, where they were reported to be practicing Catholics. They eventually
moved on to Louisiana and Texas, where the last survivors of the tribe remain to this day. They
are still Catholics, a living memorial to the long ago efforts of Rodrigo de la Barreda at San
Carlos de Chacatos.
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.