OUR first days journey was along the Alachua roads, twenty-five miles to the Half-way Pond, where we encamped, the musquitoes were excessively troublesome the whole night.
HALFWAY POND CAMP SITE (Cowpen Lake)
William Bartram made two trips with Indian traders into the interior of north Florida in spring 1774. They followed an established trading path that originated at the Lower Spalding Store, located at today’s Stoke’s Landing on the St. Johns River. The first trip in April 1774 carried Bartram and his companions to the “Alachua Savanna,” today Paynes Prairie, the Indian town of Cuscowilla, both south of Gainesville; the second trip in mid-June, with the traders, to the Alachua Savanna, Long Pond (near Chiefland), the Indian town and trading post of Talahascohte, Manatee Springs, and the Suwannee River. William found many intriguing plants and animals along this path, which he described and illustrated.
Bartram and his companions camped at Halfway Pond, about a long days-ride from the lower store. This site was located in the vicinity of today’s Cowpen Lake, west of the town of Interlachen, in western Putnam County. Although not specifically located, his camp, described in the following excerpt from his Travels, may have been located in the vicinity of a small water-filled sinkhole, known locally as Blue Pond, an arm of one of the larger pools in the Cowpen Lake basin. Halfway Pond, the adjoining lakes in the basin, and their surrounding pine lands were probably the sources for Bartram’s illustrations of the Florida softshell turtle, several sunfishes, coachwhip snake, and gopher tortoise.
Bartram described the area as “…a spacious meadow, beneath a chain of elevated sand hills, the sheet of water at this time was about three miles in circumference; the upper end, and just under the hills, is surrounded by a crescent of dark groves, which shaded a rocky grotto. Near this place, was a sloping green bank, terminating by a point of flat rocks, which projected into the lake, and formed one point of the crescent that partly surrounded the vast grotto or bason of transparent water, which is called by the traders a sinkhole. Just by the little cape of flat rocks, we fixed our encampment.”
“LITTLE CAPE OF FLAT ROCKS”
For years, the idea of rocks in the vicinity of the trader’s camp thwarted naturalists who tried to trace William Bartram’s trail through north Florida. There are no known limestone outcrops at the surface in the sandhill district of western Putnam County. Blue Pond, and by extension, a sand-and-clay mine at nearby Edgar, may provide an answer. Bartram’s flat rocks were not limestones at all, but fine-grained, white or variegated kaolin clays that typically formed hardened flat layers. These exposures are developed as outcrops along the south shore of Blue Pond, as well as other shorelines in the Cowpen Lake basin. These Pliocene-aged clays, mined in the Edgar area for more than 100 years, are the sources for a fine potter’s clay, known by the trade name EPK.
FLUCTUATING LAKE LEVELS
The lakes in the western Putnam sandhills are controlled by a surficial aquifer that fluctuates with rainfall. Water seeps from sands of the surrounding sandhill pinelands into sinkhole depressions buried in carbonate rocks. When rainfall is abundant, lake levels rise; during droughts, they fall. Water also leaks through the porous bottoms of many of the local lakes further contributing to lake level changes. Lake levels may have been high when William Bartram passed through the area in 1774, based on his description of a “sheet of water about three miles in circumference.”
The Cowpen Lake area is privately owned and there is no public access to the lakes. There are, however, many scenic rural roads that crisscross the lake area. Route 20A, probably following the old Trader’s Path, is part of the Putnam Bartram Century Bike route. See maps for biking information.
Bartram Trail Site Marker Number 30 has not been erected. No convenient placement for the marker has yet been found. The Lake however can be seen from Highway 20 at the coordinates provided above (Figure 1).
Bartram’s Travels – Chapter VII
A JOURNEY FROM SPALDING’S LOWER TRADING HOUSE TO TALAHASOCHTE OR WHITE KING’S TOWN, ON THE RIVER LITTLE ST. JUAN, THIRTY MILES ABOVE FORT ST. MARKS IN THEBAY OF APALATCHE.
ON my return to the trading house, from my journey to the great savanna, I found the trading company for Little St. Juan’s, were preparing for that post.
MY mind yet elate with the various scenes of rural nature, which as a lively animated picture, had been presented to my view; the deeply engraven impression, a pleasing flattering contemplation, gave strength and agility to my steps, anxiously to press forward to the delightful fields and groves of Apalatche.
THE trading company for Talahasochte being now in readiness to proceed for that quarter, under the direction of our chief trader, in the cool of the morning we sat off, each of us having a good horse to ride, besides having in our caravan several pack horses laden with provisions, camp equipage and other necessaries; a young man from St. Augustine, in the service of the governor of East Florida accompanied us, commissioned to purchase of the Indians and traders, some Siminole horses. They are the most beautiful and sprightly species of that noble creature, perhaps any where to be seen; but are of a small breed, and as delicately formed as the American roe buck. A horse in the Creek or Muscogulge
tongue is echoclucco, that is the great deer, (echo is a deer and clucco is big:) the Siminole horses are said to descend originally from the Andalusian breed, brought here by the Spaniards when they first established the colony of East Florida. From the forehead to their nose is a little arched or aquiline, and so are the fine Chactaw horses among the Upper Creeks, which are said to have been brought thither from New-Mexico across Mississippi, by those nations of Indians who emigrated from the West, beyond the river. These horses are every way like the Siminole breed, only being larger, and perhaps not so lively and capricious. It is a matter of conjecture and enquiry, whether or not the different soil and situation of the country, may have contributed in some measure, in forming and establishing the difference in size and other qualities betwixt them. I have observed the horses and other animals in the high hilly country of Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and all along our shores, are of a much larger and stronger make, than those which are bred in the flat country next the sea coast; a back-skin of the Upper Creeks and Cherokees will weigh twice as heavy as those of the Siminoles or Lower Creeks, and those bred in the low flat country of Carolina.
OUR first days journey was along the Alachua roads, twenty-five miles to the Half-way Pond, where we encamped, the musquitoes were excessively troublesome the whole night.
DECAMPED early next morning, still pursuing the road to Alachua, until within a few miles of Cuscowilla, when the road dividing, one for the town and the other for the great savanna; here our company seperated, one party chose to pass through the
town, having some concerns there; I kept with the party that went through the savanna, it being the best road, leading over a part of the savanna, when entering the groves on its borders, we travelled several miles over these fertile emminences and delightful, shady, fragrant forests, then again entered upon the savanna, and crossed a charming extensive green cove or bay of it, covered with a vivid green grassy turf, when we again ascended the woodland hills, through fruitful Orange groves and under shadowy Palms and Magnolias. Now the Pine forests opened to view, we left the magnificent savanna and its delightful groves, passing through a level, open, airy Pine forest, the stately trees scatteringly planted by nature, arising strait and erect from the green carpet, embellished with various grasses and flowering plants, and gradually ascending the sand hills soon came into the trading path to Talahasochte; which is generally, excepting a few deviations, the old Spanish highway to St. Mark’s. At about five miles distance beyond the great savanna, we came to camp late in the evening, under a little grove of Live Oaks Just by a group of shelly rocks, on the banks of a beautiful little lake, partly environed by meadows. The rocks as usual in these regions partly encircled a spacious sink or grotto, which communicates with the waters of the lake; the waters of the grotto are perfectly transparent, cool and pleasant, and well replenished with fish. Soon after our arrival here, our companions who passed through Cuscowilla joined us. A brisk cool wind during the night kept the persecuting musquitoes at a distance.
Bartram’s Travels – Chapter VI
ON my return from my voyage to the upper store, I understood the trading company designed for Cuscowilla, that they had been very active in their preparations, and would be ready to set off in a few days; I therefore availed myself of the little time allowed me to secure and preserve my collections, against the arrival of the trading schooner, which was hourly expected, that every thing might be in readiness to be shipped on board her, in case she should load again and return for Savanna during my absence.
EVERY necessary being now in readiness, early on a fine morning we proceeded, attended by four men under the conduct of an old trader, whom Mr. M’Latche had delegated to treat with the Cowkeeper and other chiefs of Cuscowilla, on the subject of re-establishing the trade, &c. agreeable to the late treaty of St. Augustine.
FOR the first four or five miles we travelled West-ward, over a perfectly level plain, which appeared before and on each side of us, as a charming green meadow, thinly planted with low spreading Pine trees (P. palustri.) The upper stratum of the earth is a fine white chrystaline sand, the very upper surface of which being mixed or incorporated with the ashes of burnt vegetables, renders it of sufficient strength or fertility to clothe itself perfectly, with a very great variety of grasses, herbage and remarkably low shrubs, together with a very dwarf species of Palmetto (Corypha pumila stipit. serratis.)
Of the low shrubs many were new to me and of a very pleasing appearance, particularly a species of Annona (Annona incarna, floribus grandioribus paniculatis;) this grows three, four or five feet high, the leaves somewhat cuniform or broad lanciolate, attenuating down to the petiole, of a pale or light green colour, covered with a pubescence or short fine down; the flowers very large, perfectly white and sweet scented, many connected together on large loose panicles or spikes; the fruit of the size and form of a small cucumber, the skin or exterior surface somewhat rimose or scabrous, containing a yellow pulp of the consistence of a hard custard, and very delicious, wholsome food. This seems a variety, if not the same that I first remarked, growing on the Alatamaha near Fort Barrington, Charlotia and many other places in Georgia and East-Florida; and I observed here in plenty, the very dwarf decumbent Annona, with narrow leaves, and various flowers already noticed at Alatamaha (Annona pigmea.) Here is also abundance of the beautiful little dwarf Kalmea ciliata, already described. The white berried Empetrum, a very pretty evergreen, grows here on somewhat higher and drier knolls, in large patches or clumps, associated with Olea Americana, several species of dwarf Querci (Oaks) Vaccinium, Gordonia lasianthus, Andromeda ferruginia and a very curious and beautiful shrub which seems allied to the Rhododendron, Cassine, Rhamnus frangula, Andromeda nitida, &c. which being of dark green foliage, diversifies and enlivens the landscape; but what appears very extraordinary, is to behold here, depressed and degraded, the glorious pyramidal Magnolia grandiflora, associated amongst these vile dwarfs, and even some of them rising above it though not five feet high; yet still
shewing large, beautiful and expansive white fragrant blossoms, and great heavy cones on slender procumbent branches, some even lying on the earth; the ravages of fire keep them down, as is evident from the vast excrescent tuberous roots, covering several feet of ground, from which these slender shoots spring.
In such clumps and coverts are to be seen several kinds of birds, particularly a species of jay; they are generally of an azure blue colour, have no crest or tuft of feathers on the head, nor are they so large as the great crested blue jay of Virginia, but are equally clamorous (pica glandaria cerulea non crestata.) The towee bird (fringilla erythrophthalma) are very numerous, as are a species of bluish grey butcher bird (lanius.) Here were also lizards and snakes. The lizards were of that species called in Carolina, scorpions: they are from five to six inches in length, of a slender form; the tail in particular is very long and small; they are of a yellowish clay colour, varied with longitudinal lines or stripes of a dusky brown colour, from head to tail; they are wholly covered with very small squamae, vibrate their tail, and dart forth and brandish their forked tongue after the manner of serpents, when they are surprised or in pursuit of their prey, which are scarabei, locustae, musci, and other insects, but I do not learn that their bite is poisonous, yet I have observed cats to be sick soon after eating them. After passing over this extensive level, hard, wet savanna, we crossed a fine brook or rivulet; the water cool and pleasant; its banks adorned with varieties of trees and shrubs, particularly the delicate Cyrilla racemifiora, Chionanthus, Clethra, Nyssa sylvatica, Andromeda nitida, Andromeda formosissima: and here were great quantities of a very
large and beautiful Filex osmunda, growing in great tufts or clumps. After leaving the rivulet we passed over a wet, hard, level glade or down, covered with a fine short grass, with abundance of low saw Palmetto, and a few shrubby Pine trees, Quercus nigra, Quercus sinuata or scarlet Oak: then the path descends to a wet bay-gale; the ground a hard, fine white sand, covered with black slush, which continued above two miles, when it gently rises the higher sand hills, and directly after passes through a fine grove of young long leaved Pines. The soil seemed here, loose, brown, coarse, sandy loam, though fertile. The ascent of the hill, ornamented with a variety and profusion of herbacious plants and grasses, particularly Amaryllis atamasco, Clitoria, Phlox, Ipomea, Convolvulus, Verbena corymbosa, Rucllia, Viola, &c. A magnificent grove of stately Pines, succeeding to the expansive wild plains we had a long time traversed, had a pleasing effect, rousing the faculties of the mind, awakening the imagination by its sublimity, and arresting every active inquisitive idea, by the variety of the scenery and the solemn symphony of the steady Western breezes, playing incessantly, rising and falling through the thick and wavy foliage.
THE Pine groves passed, we immediately find ourselves on the entrance of the expansive airy Pine forests, on parallel chains of low swelling mounds, called the Sand Hills, their ascent so easy, as to be almost imperceptible to the progressive traveller, yet at a distant view, before us in some degree exhibit the appearance of the mountainous swell of the ocean immediately after a tempest; but yet, as we approach them, they insensibly disappear, and seem to be lost, and we should be ready to conclude
all to be a visionary scene, were it not for the sparkling ponds and lakes, which at the same time gleam through the open forests, before us and on every side, retaining them on the eye, until we come up with them; and at last the imagination remains flattered and dubious, by their uniformity, being mostly circular or eliptical, and almost surrounded with expansive green meadows; and always a picturesque dark grove of Live Oak, Magnolia, Gordonia and the fragrant Orange, encircling a rocky shaded grotto, of transparent water, on some border of the pond or lake; which, without the aid of any poetic fable, one might naturally suppose to be the sacred abode or temporary residence of the guardian spirit but is actually the possession and retreat of a thundering absolute crocodile.
ARRIVED early in the evening at the Halfway pond, where we encamped and stayed all night. This lake spreads itself in a spacious meadow, beneath a chain of elevated sand hills, the sheet of water at this time was about three miles in circumference; the upper end, and just under the hills, are surrounded by a crescent of dark groves, which shaded a rocky grotto. Near this place, was a sloping green bank, terminating by a point of flat rocks, which shaded into the lake, and formed one point of the crescent that partly surrounded the vast grotto or bason of transparent waters, which is called by the traders a sink-hole, a singular kind of vortex or conduit, to the subteranean receptacles of the waters; but though the waters of these ponds in the summer and dry seasons, evidently tend towards these sinks, yet it is so slow and gradual, as to be almost imperceptible. There is always a
meandering channel winding through the savannas or meadows, which receives the waters spread over them, by several lateral smaller branches, slowly conveying them along into the lake, and finally into the bason, and with them nations of the finny tribes.
JUST by the little cape of flat rocks, we fixed our encampment, where I enjoyed a comprehensive and varied scene, the verdant meadows spread abroad, charmingly decorated by green points of grassy lawns and dark promontories of wood-land, projecting into the green plains.
BEHOLD now at still evening, the sun yet streaking the embroidered savannas, armies of fish pursuing their pilgrimage to the grand pellucid fountain, and when here arrived, all quiet and peaceable, encircle the little cerulean hemisphere, descend into the dark caverns of the earth; where probably they are separated from each other, by innumerable paths, or secret rocky avenues; and after encountering various obstacles, and beholding new and unthought of scenes of pleasure and disgust, after many days absence from the surface of the world, emerge again from the dreary vaults, and appear exulting in gladness, and sporting in the transparent waters of some far distant lake.
The vultures and ravens, crouched on the crooked limbs of the lofty Pines, at a little distance from us, sharpening their beaks, in low debate, waiting to regale themselves on the offals, after our departure from camp.
AT the return of the morning, by the powerful influence of light; the pulse of nature becomes more active, and the universal vibration of life insensibly and irresistibly moves the wondrous machine: how chearful and gay all nature appears. Hark! the musical savanna cranes, ere the chirping sparrow flirts from his grassy couch, or the glorious sun gilds the tops of the Pines, spread their expansive wings, leave their lofty roosts, and repair to the ample plains.
FROM Half-way pond, we proceed Westward, through the high forests of Cuscowilla