'A Tallahassee Girl' Excerpt #3

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   WHOEVER  goes  to  Tallahassee will   hear
        of   the   mysterious   smoke   of   Wakulla.
It was  first  talked  of  in  the  early  days  when
St. Mark's was just beginning to  be known as a
landing-place for Gulf-coast vessels.  The sailors
saw it, from far out on  the water, a  tall,  slender
column, now  black like  pitch-smoke, now gray
like  the smoke  from  burning  leaves, and  anon
white  like  steam.     Its apparent  location  is  in
the  midst  of  a  swamp, very  little  above  tide-
water,  wherein  grow every conceivable aquatic
weed and grass and  bush and tree, ---- a jungle
a  hundred-fold  more  difficult to penetrate  than
any in Africa or India.                                        
    Every  newspaper  attache  who  happens  to
get  into   Middle   Florida  feels  in  duty  bound
to   "write   up"   this  smoky   phenomenon,  but

304            A TALLAHASSEE GIRL              

always at  a  distance, and  mostly from  hearsay
evidence.     He  gets   upon  some  high,  windy
hill  near  Tallahassee,  and,  looking  south-east,
sees, or,  what  is  quite  the  same,  imagines  he
sees,  the  lifting  jet  trembling  against   the  sky,
and  he writes.    He goes and sees Judge White,
and  writes  more.     He  sees  Col. Brevard,  or
Mayor  Lewis, or Capt.  Dyke, and  adds  some
interesting  particulars.    He  interviews  an aged
darky,  who  remembers  " when  de  fus'  house
wus  built   in  Tallahassee,"  and   prolongs   the
account.      For  the  rest   he  draws   upon  his
ready  imagination,  or,  if  his imagination should
chance to be slow to  move,  he whets  it  with a
bottle of scuppernong.                                      
    The older  inhabitants  of  Tallahassee  may, if
you  are  an  intimate  friend,  tell  you  that  once
"The  New York  Herald" sent a  man to explore
the  swamp, and  explain the smoke of  Wakulla.
You  will  hear   that   this  man   got  lost  in   the
jungle, and came near dying, and saw  wonderful
things,  and   went  away  a  wiser   and   silenter
correspondent  than  was   ever   in   that   region
before  or  since.    You   may   get   from  Judge
White ---- a   genial   and   genuinely   interesting

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gentleman ---- some  account  of  his  own  effort
to  reach  the  foot  of  that   tall   smoke-column ;
how  he floundered  for miles  through  mud-slush,
water,saw-grass, swamp-weeds,and bay-thickets,
millions  of   mosquitoes,  and  legions  of  snakes,
till,  at  last,  he   reached  a  tall   pine   on  a  tus-
sock ;   how  he  nailed  cleats  and  climbed,  and
nailed  cleats  and   climbed,   up  this  tree,  for  a
hundred   feet  or  more,  and,  with  a  field-glass,
looked  at   the  smoke,   still   six   miles   distant ;
and  how  his assistants  all  gave up and  deserted
him,  and  how  the  wild  jungle  was  utterly   im-
passable  any  farther,  and  how  he  came  down
from  his tree, and  floundered  and  splashed  and
swam  and dragged  and  fought  his way back  to
terra  firma,  sick,  discouraged,  but  more  than
ever   impressed   with   the   strangeness   of   the
smoke  rising  from  that  awful  quagmire.            
    And  it  is  no hoax, no  illusion, no  creation of
a  vivid   Southern   imagination.     The  smoke  is
there.     It  has  been  noted  and  commented  on
for nearly  fifty  years.     It  has been seen, almost
constantly,  from  the north,  the  east,  the  south,
and  the west.     Its location has been  accurately
determined  by  intelligent  observations.    It  is  a

306              A TALLAHASSEE GIRL              

permanent   and   persistent  mystery.     It   is  the
greatest   physical   phenomenon  in  Florida.     It
is   a   standing    temptation   to   inquisitive   and
adventuresome   folk, ---- a  constant   taunt  and
banter  which   Nature   flaunts   in   the   faces  of
scientific   explorers,  and   it   offers   the  reward
of  fame   for  high  achievement   to  whomsoever
will  solve  its  riddle.                                          
    It was, as  has  been said,  first  noticed  by  sail-
ors  on  the  Gulf  coast,  and  by  sponge-fishers ;
afterwards  it  came to  be a source of  considera-
ble  speculation  by  the early inhabitants of  Leon
and  Wakulla counties.    For  a  time  it  was  be-
lieved  that  it  was  a  sort  of   beacon  or  signal
made  by  a  band  of  smugglers  or  pirates, who
had  a  rendezvous  there.   Some  would  explain
it  by   supposing  that   runaway  negroes  had  a
camp  in   the  swamp.    During  the  war  it  was
held  to be a  colony of  deserters from  the Con-
federate   army.    Since  the   war   it   has   been
dubbed  a  volcano.    Such,  in  short, is  the  his-
tory  of  the  Wakulla  smoke.                            
    Cauthorne,  with  a   native  colored  guide,  a
pack-mule, a canvas boat, and,  indeed, an  outfit
exactly suited  to  his  purpose,  went  forth  upon

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his  preliminary survey.    It  is  not a  part  of  this
story  to  follow  him  step  by  step  on  his  most
extraordinary  journey, nor could it  be done  if  it
were  desired.   He  has  maintained  a  reticence
regarding   his  adverntures,  which  nothing   has
induced  him  to cast aside.    What  is known  is
here given,  gained  mostly  from  the  statements
drawn   from   a  family  of   negroes  living  on  a
tussock deep in the swamp of Wakulla, in whose
cabin he lay for  nine days sick of  malarial  fever.
It  seems that  Cauthorne  got  lost, and  that  his
guide, discovering  the  fact, stole  the  mule and
deserted, making  his  way  to  Tampa, where he
sold  the animal for  thirty-eight dollars, and  em-
barked  on  a  vessel  bound  for  New  Orleans.
Thus  abandoned,  Cauthorne   wandered  about
for  days  without  food,  and  was at  last seized
with  a  fever  which  prostrated  him.    He  was
found  in  a  state  of  delirium,  by  a  negro  girl
who was hunting for a lost cow.   She ran for her
father ; and  together  they dragged, carried, and
rolled  Cauthorne  to  their  cabin.   He was very
sick.    They  applied  such  simple  remedies  as
they  possessed, and nursed him with  that  kind-
liness and  tender care so  characteristic  of  their