History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.


I am thinking about the paradox that we know as FLORIDA. I have often thought: Why are the people who live here so little interested, apparently, in the place where they are living? Why do they show so little interest in a place, or places, that hold so much of interest? Sometimes I have asked people that question and have received such an answer: "Well, I know all about this place and now I am interested in learning about other places." Sometimes when I have received such an answer, I have continued the question by saying: "Did you know that continuing with another factual question about Florida or - Santa Rosa County. The result - yes, you guessed it - they didn't know the answer!

One of the paradoxical things about this state, and about this county is that although on the surface an understanding seems so simple; yet beneath that simple-seeming exterior is one of the most complex personalities that can be found anywhere.

This state is at one and the same time the oldest and the newest among the states of the United States - and not only historically speaking is this to be found true. The same thing might just as easily and truly be said from the standpoint of geology. We find it just as true that we encounter difficulty when we come to think of Florida geographically.

We have often come to the point of attempting to summarize the geographic personality of an area, and if that area were a part of Florida, we found ourselves in immediate difficulty. In making such a summary it is customary to be very brief in an outline of the people, their number and their distribution over the landscape, the activities in which they may be engaged, both at work and at play as well as the cultural and political patterns and facilities according to which they operate. Then we may attempt to relate such people and their activities and facilities to the natural environment within which they are found. At this point we are likely to find ourselves in real difficulty.

Florida is a rather cosmopolitan state made up of people many of whom have spent most of their formative years elsewhere. Perhaps that, too, is another reason why more people are seemingly not interested in the history and geography of the state.

Florida is hard to confine within a set pattern of description. It is hard to define as a definite entity of geographic factors. The difficulty in attempting to have it conform to historical patterns is just as great. Florida comprises an area that almost defies the pattern type of description.

I sometimes wonder if herein does not lie the reason, or at least a part of the reason, why people seem to shy away from a study of Florida. Yet, I do not think that one such simple statement will entirely explain away the seeming tendency of people to shy away from studies of this wonderful state.

I have worked in the school system of Florida - in Santa Rosa County to be exact - for over thirty years and one having had such experience will have noticed the great lack of teaching information concerning the state and the county. I have had the experience of working with a group of teachers of whose number fully ninety per cent had been born, reared, and educated for their profession outside the state. Since state laws and regulations relating to teachers and teaching do not require of those teachers a knowledge of the state and county in which they are to work, the inevitable fact will be that many of them will not have had any such preparation.

Preparation for teaching Florida to boys and girls who are to make their homes in Florida may be more difficult than it may seem. One should know Florida. To really know Florida one would need to have lived Florida. It may be that one might learn to know Florida in a sort of vicarious manner, but a great deal of that information would need to have been acquired in a rather personal manner. One does not really learn the people of Florida by reading about them; one must live with them to really know them.

A great many books have been written about Florida. Some of these books have been very good; some have been only indifferent; whereas a few of them have been very bad of and for Florida. For me at least, it is not now too difficult to know whether or not the author of a given book has lived Florida, but many of the readers of books about Florida are not so fortunate. Even the most scholarly-seeming books concerning the history, the geography, or other social studies of Florida may not lack any of the common earmarks of scholarly -writing, such as the footnotes, the annotations, or the bibliography; yet if they lack that human touch of the author's having lived Florida, then they miss their mark.

The things mentioned above are just as true about the books not usually thought of as belonging in the scholarly class - the books of travel and books of fiction.

It, I am sure, is a safe assumption that far too many of the people who come to Florida, even those who come to write about Florida, come with a pre-conceived notion. The result is that they tend to make their comparisons on the basis of that pre-conceived notion. Such can be rather biased concerning any area, but it can be tragically disastrous, when put into print, concerning an area so diverse in its composition from place-to-place as Florida.

The following pages contain some of the material that I have found interesting down through the years as I have worked with the boys and girls of Santa Rosa County. These pages are not to be thought of primarily as text book material to be placed into the hands of boys and girls for only their own use, but rather as material to be used by the resourceful teacher to stimulate the curiosity of those boys and girls concerning their state and county.

Some of the material found here is truly history in the exact sense of the word; whereas other parts of it are more or less traditional in their nature. This material is not offered to measure up to the commonly accepted standards of scholarly writing; therefore many of the earmarks of such writing will be found lacking, and no conscientious attempt has been made to separate the purely historical from the partly traditional material.

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Time here in Santa Rosa County, as often elsewhere, has seemed slow to the puny mortals that have come to live here, but thus it has always seemed.

Many, many thousands of years ago the mastodon and kindred creatures fed upon the luxuriant tropical foliage that was here. Half as many, perhaps, thousands of years ago the relentless creep of the great ice sheet from the North overcame the heat, and the moist steaming jungles were crushed under countless tons of glacial ice and the mastodon was no more.

Diatoms left their matrices to mark another period of time.

Slowly, but relentlessly, the great earth raised itself, pausing at intervals to mark a new beachhead to be left behind, and there are no less than five such to be found in Santa Rosa County. The ice retreated back to its lair in the far North and this began a new age.

The certainty of things we see are matched by the uncertainty of things unseen. The beauties and intricacies of nature's beautiful patterns revealed to us out of the kindness of daylight were hidden from us under the all-covering darkness of the night that has gone before.

"We do not too long violate nature's laws." Nature has written for us her laws; we follow them to our profit, or we violate them to our everlasting hurt. Thus we say that nature is our lawgiver.

Just as important to us here - Nature is a historian. Nature tells us what we have done.

Nature is a prophetess, too. The shape of things that were is written in the shape of the things that we see now. The things that we see about us today are but the shadows of the things that were here before. Likewise the things that we see about us today shall cast their shadows down across the years as a prophesy.

Thus we see - Nature is our lawgiver. Nature is our historian. Nature is our prophetess.

The mighty oaks that spread a kindly checkered shade over the exuberance of our youth today in their play, once, not too long ago, sheltered the dusky Indian maiden and her stripling warrior. Not too long ago, either, the graceful canoe glided down these same bayous beneath the overhanging beardlike moss, that we call "Spanish Moss," which is neither Spanish nor moss. That same bayou or stream then furnished an abundance of food fish to supplement the flesh of birds and animals of the woods and the darkskinned warrior did not, nor need to, play at fishing and hunting and call it "sport."

The same harvest moon that now shines on young love on October evenings, once, not too long in the past, shone on the coppery brave as he whispered similar sweet nothings in the ear of his favored maiden. The same sun, in its unvarying progress across the heavens, now beams down on the parade ground and the landing areas of our defense posts as it shone in checkered patterns on the stealthy progress of the painted warrior as he "stole a march" upon his enemy

Even though the cry of the papoose might have been echoed by the wail of the panther kitten there was comparative peace and tranquil quiet in these woods then.

The unrelenting flow of the Escambia or the Blackwater has not changed in its tempo but only in its cargo.

Time does not change its pace or its unrelentingness.

Changes are necessary, otherwise, because of changed conditions, but time moves only as it always has and always will until the fulfillment of nature's prophecy, until the earth goes up in a blast of flame that leaves it only a shrivelled crackling of itself to be disintegrated into the cosmic dust from whence it came.

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Then the peculiar conditions which identify our little community, that we call today Milton and Santa Rosa County, very likely fits into some pattern of natural law, and into some pattern of prophetic generality as well as into some pattern of historic interest.

We should like to know:

Why is Santa Rosa County?

Are coming events but the cast shadows of things that are?

Are, in turn, the things that are but the cast shadows of the things that were?

Does history repeat itself?

Let us keep these questions in mind as we review some of the events that have lent character to the checkered past here. Let us, as we review these things, ask ourselves: Was that event a portent of this, or that? Did these things happen before?

But first let us consider the stage. What was the setting within which these things have happened? What natural background is there for the events (past, present, or future) of Santa Rosa County?

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