The Wakulla Volcano Archive

Excerpt from

Dream State

Diane Roberts, 2006

Page 224
The Wakulla Volcano
Malcolm and Edgar Lafayette Roberts, intermittent schoolboys, full-
time farm and logging hands, decided to make their own still in 1918.
They had a spot by a little spring down toward Langston Branch. They
had an old sugar-boiling kettle. They had a wooden barrel top for a lid.
They had a big water bucket Brother John had found up at Great-
Granddaddy Smith's place. They had a stash of baling wire. They
bought a broken-off copper coil from one of the Spears boys. He
charged them 2 cents and wouldn't say where he got it. One Sunday
afternoon when Mama had gone over to Sister Harriet's to see the new
baby, they took a little sugar and a little yeast and a little malt and lit-
tle meal from the kitchen.
They'd seen plenty of stills. The country from Vause Branch to
Morrison Hammock, from Smith Creek to Sopchoppy, from Red
Lake to Whitehead Lake, was full of them. They'd heard all the stories
put about to scare people away. There were ghosts: the ghosts of dead
Indians, of dead Spaniards, dead Civil War soldiers, dead babies. There
were monsters: the giant gator (forty foot long if he's an ince and ter-
rible as Beelzebub) that lived in Hitchcock Lake; the hoodoo doctor
with his necklace of black cat bones and witch spells scratched in the
sand; and the bears - Edgar Lafayette (known to his brothers and sis-
ters as "Lee" and grandchildren as Papa) had seen with his own eyes
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a bear as big as any one of his daddy's oxen, eyes red as raw meat
chained to the front porch of the house where those strange old boys
were living, three brothers who never wore anything but overalls
without shirts, winter or summer, and never said anything to anybody.
Word was the had three stills back in the hammock, and they'd turn
that bear loose on anyone who came calling.
Fiercest of all, the volcano. Way down in the deep forest maybe
around Wakulla Springs, maybe as far east as the Wacissa River, there
was this volcano. It wasn't a mountain volcano like the ones in the pic-
tures of Aetna or Karkatoa. This was a swamp volcano, a volcano special
to Florida. A fellow from Lippincott's Magazine came down in 1882 and
wrote a whole article about it. He called it "the Wakulla Volcano."
Not that he saw it up close; few people had seen it up close. Mostly
you saw a line of smoke going straight up like a portico column, some-
times white as a cowbird, sometimes black as a crow. At night the thing
would glow a kind of gray green. Some days you could look out the
south windows of the Capitol and there it was, twenty, maybe twenty-
five miles away. In the 1850s Princess Murat use to invite her salon
guests to take their glasses of Madera out onto the veranda at Bellevue
and look at the ashy spray through opera glasses. The princess would
remind everyone that, of course, the late prince had been brought up
in the shadow of Vesuvius when he was crown prince of Naples.
Cabeza de Vaca had seen the smoke rising from it in 1529 when he
was crashing around directionless in a bog. Jane Broward and Rufus
Tucker had seen the strange, silvery eruption from a boat on the Wakulla
River in 1844. Richard Roberts told Ellen Smith he'd been real close to
it, near Tiger Creek, and that it was over in Liberty County. Granddaddy
Tucker would the the young 'uns that he knew where it was but reck-
oned it wasn't his place to pander to the curious and the vulgar.
Like everything in Wakulla County (rivers, borders, stills,
houses, husbands), the volcano moved around.
The volcano had its uses. Somebody spread the rumor that the vol-
cano would kill you with a swamp disease if you got too close. The
old-time colored people said it was Satan stirring his tar kiln. White
preachers would point out the door in the general direction of the swamp
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and say that the fiery pit of hell (which might be right out there just off
the Newport Road) awaited evildoers, lawbreakers, and drunkards.
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