The site of Fort Chokonikla, with indoor and outdoor visitors center exhibits depicting the lives of Florida’s Seminoles and pioneers during the mid-1800s. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy walking along easy scenic trails through the park’s natural areas. This park is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Camping, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are also available.
When the Second Seminole War ended in 1842, the federal Armed Occupation Act was passed. It let Seminole War veterans apply for a 160-acre homestead in Florida. At the same time, a reservation was created for the Seminoles in southwest Florida. The Indians' ability to trade had been limited by the US government, so as to prevent them from obtaining weapons to cause further conflict. To compensate, white-run trading stores were permitted on the reservation's outskirts letting the Seminole obtain supplies and luxuries. One was constructed along the Charlo-popka-hatchee-chee (Little Trout-Eating Creek in Seminole), west of Peas Creek (later known as the Peace River), near present-day Bowling Green. The proprietors were Capt. George Payne and Dempsey Whidden.
Ignoring the terms of the treaty with the Seminoles, white settlers moved southward, encroaching on the reservation. Though Seminole leader, Billy Bowlegs, was reconciled to this, others of his people were not. On July 17, 1849, Payne and Whidden were killed by five renegade Seminoles, following which the store and everything in it was burned. Reports of the attack motivated the U.S. Army to establish a chain of fortifications across the Florida peninsula. This line of forts across the northern boundary of the Seminole reservation was intended to protect the settlers to the north and provide bases for the Army to control the Seminoles. Work began on Fort Chokonikla, (believed to derive from the Seminole "Chocka-nickler" meaning "burnt store") the first in the chain, on October 26, 1849. It was built on high ground near the former trading post. Following the fort's completion, the nearby creek became known as Paynes Creek, which it is still called to this day. The Seminoles did not want war and the fort never came under attack.
However, due to its location near a swamp, a breeding site for mosquitos, many of those stationed at the fort contracted and died of malaria. Due to the high number of casualties, the fort's doctor recommended the fort's closure. The army quickly agreed and Fort Chokonikla was vacated on July 18, 1850, after less than nine months of occupancy, and a year and a day after Payne and Whidden's deaths. It was never reoccupied. The state of Florida acquired the 410 acres of land containing Fort Chokonikla in 1974. In 1978, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park opened to the public in 1981. Although nothing remains of the fort or the trading post, visitors can learn about the history of these at the park's Visitor Center.
The Fort Chokonikla Encampment Reenactment, which is presented by staff and volunteers, reveals the sequence of events that occurred on July 17, 1849. The story comes to life through living history narration, and features black powder demonstrations, period-specific arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities, and food vendors. The event takes place every February.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
888 Lake Branch Road, Bowling Green, FL 33834
PHONE: (863) 375-4717
HOURS: 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year
The visitor center offers a self-guided tour of the park's cultural history with a video program depicting the historical events of 1849-50 and the exhibits provide each visitor with an intimate experience of the historical events that placed Paynes Creek Historic State Park on the National Registry of Historic Places.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, Crazy Crow Trading Post, Wikimedia Commons,
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors