"Bogs, Creeks and Woods"
One early Spanish explorer
used these words to describe
the area of today's state park.
"Great Forest of Chipole"
A Spanish soldier reported
camping in the "Great Forest
of Chipole" during a 1676
military expedition.
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Florida Caverns State Park
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Florida Caverns State Park
The Spanish at Florida Caverns State Park
The Natural Bridge of the Chipola
Early Spanish explorers used the natural bridge to
cross the Chipola River.
A Legacy of Soldiers and Priests
The first record of Spanish explorers passing
through what is now Florida Caverns State
Park dates from 1674.

In June of that year, a small party of soldiers
and missionaries followed an Indian trail
west from the Apalachicola River and
crossed over the Natural Bridge of the
Chipola. They were on their way to establish
new missions among the Chacato villages of
western Jackson and eastern Washington

The mission effort lasted only for about one
year before a portion of the Chacato drove out
the Spanish in an uprising.

In 1676, Spanish troops came back to the
region when Captain Juan Fernandez de
Florencia led an expedition against a Chisca
fort near the Choctawhatchee River. In his
report, he described camping near the
Natural Bridge:

,,,We went to spend the night in a great forest
called Chipole; and the next morning we
knelt to pray and commend ourselves to our
lady, as it was here day.

The captain's account is the first known use
of the word we know today as "Chipola."  
Although often claimed to be a Choctaw word
meaning "Sweetwater," the term is instead a
surviving remnant of the Chacato language.
Its exact meaning is unknown, but it is
interesting to note that it originally was used
to describe the massive swamp and not the
river itself.

The final known major Spanish visit to the
vicinity came in 1693 when Florida's newly
designated governor passed across the
Chipola at the Natural Bridge. He was on his
way to completing the first European
overland crossing of West Florida.
when Florida's newly designated governor,
Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, described
crossing the Natural Bridge during a season
that was anything but dry:

...We ran into considerable difficulty in getting
both the horses and the men on foot through
because of the many bogs, creeks and
; the horses mired to their cinch straps,
and the men on foot to their waists.

The Spaniards eventually made it across and
went on to rest beyond the western border of
the park at a large cave before continuing
their journey west to Pensacola Bay.
"Rocks and Habitable Caves"
A Spanish missionary wrote
in 1693 that Native American
hunters often camped in the
caves of the area.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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