Sunday, September 6, 2015

An Ode to Baltzell Springs Group

An Ode to Baltzell Springs Group

Baltzell Springs Group, collectively, is either a 1st or a 2nd magnitude springs group along the beautiful and wild Chipola River in Marianna, Jackson County, Florida. I have seen conflicting reports regarding the actual recorded flow.

Baltzell Springs is a place rich with history. The first recorded crossing of the Chipola River was made in 1686 in the vicinity of Baltzell by Spanish explorer Marcos Delgado. He was on an expedition in "La Florida". Delgado reported leaving "the Blue Springs" and passing around the head of a smaller spring before arriving at the Chipola River where the water was approximately six feet deep and the horses and men were able to swim across.
Before Delgado, and his men, the Chacato tribe of native Americans inhabited the area.
In 1818, the seventh president of the United States, Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson and his army camped at Baltzell before crossing the Chipola River at a natural land bridge, about a mile downstream. Native Seminole and Creek tribes hid nearby in  caves as the general made his way across Florida.

Over 180 years later, Baltzell Springs group was featured in the March 1999 issue of National Geographic.

How Baltzell Springs got it's name is quite as unique and interesting as the springs themselves.
The Baltzell family came to America from Alsace, Germany and settled in Frederick, Maryland in 1735. Eventually, some of the Baltzell's moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, and eventually to Marianna, Florida, in 1830.

On September 27th, 1864, a remarkable incident took place. According to the “reminiscences” of an eyewitness to the Battle of Marianna, a Union officer objected when Colonel Zulavsky ordered the burning of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. This officer, 20-year-old Major Nathan Cutler of the 2nd Maine Cavalry, supposedly tried to have the orders countermanded, but they were repeated and the structure soon went up in flames. According to Mrs. Daniel Love, Major Cutler was a pious and brave man. Unwilling to stand by while the church and its Bible were destroyed, he dashed through the kerosene-fueled flames and saved the St. Luke’s Bible from its lectern. Shortly after he emerged from the church, however, he was confronted by two young boys from an opposing company. They ordered him to halt and he wheeled on them with his saber, but then saw how young they were and was unable to strike. They had no such reservations and blasted him from his horse with shotgun blasts. Major Cutler often visited the area when he returned to Marianna after the war and undoubtedly came into contact with Baltzell. Mrs. Love’s account is further strengthened by the fact that she was a family member of Frank Baltzell. Only thirteen years old at the time of the battle, Frank was one of the two young home guard members who confronted and shot the major.

Today, not only is the springs group named after the Baltzell family, but a road in Marianna is, as well. I have heard several variations of the name including: Bosel, Bozel, and recently Buttzel. 
While doing research, I found a portrait of Colonel Baltzell (the same above mentioned Frank Baltzell) that was hung on the wall at 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Headquarters at Fort Hood Texas from 1999-2009. The name was spelled "Buttzel".

I chose Baltzell Springs Group as my photography icon spring due to the personal spiritual connection and feeling of adventure, exploration, and wildness of the area. I imagine that this portion of the Chipola River and springs may look very similar to how it looked over 300 years ago when Delgado recorded his encounter with the "blue springs". To this day, there is no "easy" way to access these springs. There is no land access. One must put a small watercraft into the mysterious Chipola River about a mile downstream from the springs. The place where one accesses the river is also where the river goes under ground and reemerges about 1/4 of a mile downstream. The upstream paddle to Baltzell is a natural obstacle course that will test one's paddling skills. Downed trees, snags, limestone outcroppings, banked alligators, and a swift, constant current have dumped many and flushed them back downstream along their journey. I've described my experience of the journey as being in a natural pinball machine, but fighting to get  upstream as opposed to going with the flow. However, once you reach the confluence where the clear water flowing out of Baltzell's spring run mixes with the muddy waters of the Chipola, you begin to realize that all of the hard work was not to go unrewarded.  As you paddle up the 1/6 of a mile crystal clear spring run, the first thing you will notice is the abundance of a submerged variation of pistia stratiotes, also known as "water lettuce", or as the locals call it "cow lilies". Attached to much of the submerged vegetation just below the surface are tiny snails with black conical shells. Once you reach the headspring of Baltzell, a sharp pleasure will overcome you. It did me. There are no words to describe the wonders of the azure blue waters and feelings of tranquility that one experiences when they see, smell, and hear the surrounding ancient forests. The abundance and natural beauty of flora is none surpassed anywhere else through out our state than on the lower Chipola River, particularly that in and around Baltzell Springs.

I strongly encourage exploration of our naturally beautiful state. There is still much to be rediscovered. Be sure to make Baltzell a stop along your journey!

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