Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Overlooked chapter of history gets its due

Renva Penton, 70, a retired Realtor from Pinellas County, calls her backyard view of lake-pocked, forest-rimmed Chocachatti Prairie "just gorgeous."

Bernard Romans, in his 1775 book A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, described a settlement there as being "in a beautiful and fertile plain."

Displaced Creek Indians put down roots here, according to a 1987 report by historian Barry Wharton, because the land offered "extensive hardwood forests and numerous lakes ... (and) several large prairies ideal for cattle or other livestock grazing."

The lesson being that early Americans valued choice real estate just as much as modern ones — and that this land on the southeast edge of Brooksville was so desirable that the Creeks, having all of Florida from which to choose, picked this spot and two others: the Red Hills outside of what is now Tallahassee and Paynes Prairie, near present-day Gainesville.

It's true: Chocachatti was one of three centers of the Seminole tribe, which is what the Creeks and other black and Indian refugees called themselves after fleeing to Florida.

Their settlement here has to be one of the most significant events in our local history — certainly far more so than the non-event we make a huge fuss over every year, the Brooksville Raid.

And at last, a local group has started to make at least some fuss about this, the county's Seminole past.

The Historic Hernando Preservation Society — hernandopreservation.bravehost.com — is trying to raise about $4,000 for two markers on the State Road 50 truck bypass, on the northern edge of the prairie.

One will tell the history of the Chocachatti settlement, which lasted nearly 70 years, from the late 1760s, when the Creeks were driven from their homeland in Georgia and Alabama, until the late 1830s.

The other marker will identify the nearby homestead of Hernando's first white settlers, the Hope family, which — judging from artifacts that have been unearthed there — probably claimed a recently abandoned Seminole homestead.

Some historians have even argued that the Hope land, about 2 miles west of the prairie, was once the town center of Chocachatti.

No, said Wharton, of HDR Environmental, Operations and Construction in Tampa, who wrote his 1987 report for county planners and is helping the preservation society get recognition for Chocachatti: Every document he's seen places the town center north of the prairie, near the current site of Brooksville Cemetery.

"This was a political, ceremonial and social center and not necessarily a huge population center," Wharton said.

That's because the Seminoles were hunters and farmers who tended to spread out.

They raised cattle that they probably rounded up from large herds left by the Spanish — "a windfall on the hoof," Wharton said — which is why they were attracted to the naturally open, intermittently flooded Chocachatti Prairie.

They would have fished in its spring-fed basins and in other nearby lakes. They gathered nuts and roots in the surrounding hammock — the hardwood forests that covered the nearby hills — which is also where most of them lived.

Their log houses were a lot like those built by early white settlers, as were the crops they raised on cleared patches of fertile hammock land: corn, peas, watermelons and oranges.

In fact, the hills seemed as important to the Seminoles as the prairie. As many as several hundred of them lived in small settlements all along the Brooksville Ridge, which stretches between Citrus and Pasco counties.

And because this was far enough south to escape the conflict that sometimes consumed the northern Seminole settlements, and far enough west to allow trade with Spanish sailors, it was unusually prosperous.

"Individuals were showing signs of amassing some wealth, in terms of large numbers of cattle and pigs," Wharton said.

The good times started to end when conflicts drove more of the northern Seminoles south and were long gone by 1836, just before the start of the Second Seminole War, when a large number of Chocachatti Seminoles were removed to the Oklahoma Territory.

Did some stay behind to fight? And if so, how many?

Those are just a couple of the questions that could be answered with more research and more archaeology, Wharton said.

So the historical markers, hopefully, are just a beginning. Maybe, in the future, some of the prairie will preserved. Ideally, there would be a visitors center.

And its name, still listed as Griffin Prairie on many maps, should definitely be changed, in all references, to Chocachatti Prairie.

I talked with the one person most likely to object to this, Frances Griffin, 80, the widow of the prairie's namesake, former County Commissioner James Griffin, who farmed cattle and sod there for decades.

No, she said, she didn't mind if the name was changed, not at all.

"It's always been Chocachatti Prairie," she said. "Everybody knows that."

Or at least they should.

Comments
Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

By Joey JohnstonTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough deserved better Friday. But the offense didn't offer much, allowing the Orioles to escape with a 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 11,354 at Tropicana Field."It ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.In July, absolutely.But, now?And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

TAMPA — Captain Steven Stamkos said the Lightning's window for contending for a Stanley Cup championship is not closing."I think it's wide open," he said Thursday, one day after the Lightning lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to the C...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

It’s human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 5 hours ago
In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

TAMPA — Michael Bratt told a story.He said that Hernando County sheriff’s deputies attacked him in his home early one morning eight years ago, beat him severely on his front lawn, and continued the assault as they took him to a hospital.But another s...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Updated: 5 hours ago
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 7 hours ago
For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

By JOEY JOHNSTONTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For openers, the Rays will use RHP Sergio Romo, the 35-year-old career reliever, as tonight's starter against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.Romo is making his third career "sta...
Updated: 8 hours ago