The quaint and mysterious Tate’s Hell Swamp located in Franklin County, Florida, is a natural jewel between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers. Home to many beautiful wildlife species, including rare birds and plants, the Tate’s Hell State Forest comprises over 212,000 acres that hosts several varieties of dwarf cypress, also known as “miniature” or “hat-rack” cypress. Although some of the trees are over 150 years old, none are taller than about 3/4 meters.
The area was originally dominated by a diversity of wetland types that have historically supported, and to limited extent, continue to support a variety of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.
Like many other similar places, the Tate’s Hell Swamp can be a quite eerie, especially in the evening when a variety of sounds from the wetlands and wind touching the trees create a creepy atmosphere, making people uncomfortable and frightened.
Some people who visited the area even wondered whether unknown, dangerous creatures are lurking behind the cypress trees, and some witnessed claim something strange and unidentified resides in the heart of this spooky swamp.
One interesting legend tells the swamp was named after Cebe Tate, a son of such a Jebediah Tate, who married a woman of Cherokee descent after the Civil War, purchased a vast land area, and built a small livestock farm near Carrabelle. His only son was born just before the war and he named him Cebe.
Jebediah could enjoy some happy years, but luck turned when his wife contracted scarlet fever and died. So, he and his son had to struggle to survive and the farm that had previously been a prosperous business was turning into a financial disaster.
As a superstitious man, Jebediah wondered if the death of his wife was to blame and, to find answers to his dilemma and disturbing thoughts, he visited a local Native American medicine man. Hoping to restore the farm’s prosperity once again, he made a pact with him: Jebediah agreed to give the medicine man one pig every year and promised not to enter the natives’ sacred forest. The shaman agreed, and life changed for the better until 1874 when Jebediah broke the deal. In fact, when his farm was profitable again, he saw no reason to keep his word and decided not to give the medicine man his promised pig. Of course this angered the medicine man who cursed the Tate family, and It did not take long before the family members were struck by misery, financial difficulties, and bad luck. The man warned them that they would not only see hard times, but they would go through hell.
Jebediah himself died from malaria, and his son had to work independently, but the farm faced serious problems when the cattle started to disappear mysteriously. Moreover the pine trees gave very little oil, the sugar cane was stunted, and scrub cows started to disappear.
Cebe was confused and could not understand whether these vanishings were a pure coincidence, thief, or the power of the shaman’s curse.
He struggled to keep the farm going but everything was against him. Only the pigs ate good, and multiplied so fast Cebe had to build two new pig pens in the fall.
His love life was not a success either. In the spring of 1875 he married a Jewish woman from New York, and her religion prohibited her from eating pork.
As curse of the shaman was still haunting the family, one day Cebe took his hunting dogs and went deep inside the sacred swamp in search of a cow.
This was a bad error, and his last error: suddenly, his dogs spotted a panther, chased it, and never returned. One can easily imagine, Cebe must have been in despair, and his tragic last years turned him into a tired man, despite his still young age.
While wandering through the wilderness, he became lost and stumbled through the humid hell confused, scared, and disoriented. Finally, he sat down against the gnarled knee of an ancient dwarf cypress and fell into a troubled sleep.
Hours later Cebe was awakened by a sharp sting on his leg: he had been bitten by a venomous snake, which merely hissed and slithered off into the muck.
Delirious from lack of food and the surging venom, Cebe got up and wandered through the swamp for another seven days, encountering strange animals and reeling from frightening visions.
When he finally found his way out of the forest, he came upon two men who were walking down a road, living only long enough to murmur the words: “My name is Cebe Tate and I just came through Hell.” He died shortly thereafter, and the swamp has been called Tate’s Hell ever since.
Of course, no one knows with certainty whether this frightening legend is based on true or historical events, and several versions of this story have been retold for many years. But surely something must have happened in the past that gave rise to this macabre story….
Images from web – Google Research