1950s Florida – Panhandle Images

Wikipedia Graphic

The Florida Panhandle, an informal, unofficial term for the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Florida, is a strip of land roughly 200 miles long and 50 to 100 miles wide (320 km by 80 to 160 km), lying between Alabama on the north and the west, Georgia also on the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Its eastern boundary is arbitrarily defined. – Wikipedia

My books are set in the Florida Panhandle because that’s where I grew up, learned the lay of the land, and heard the old stories. I lived in Tallahassee which is sometimes considered part of the panhandle and sometimes considered part of the “Big Bend.”

The panhandle is often viewed as more like Georgia than the peninsula part of the state. Panhandle residents often think the peninsula with its tourist attractions has been ruined by overdevelopment and destinations that either don’t belong there or are caricatures of the once wild land they displaced.

The Panhandle features white sandy beaches, often called The Redneck Riviera, but now generally in advertising and promotion are referenced as “The Emerald Coast.”

If you sample the beaches of the Emerald Coast and the Atlantic Coast, you’ll notice that most of the Emerald Coast isn’t covered with the kind of excessive development such as that found around Daytona Beach and other cities. (Gosh, I hope I don’t sound biased.) You’ll also notice the sand, is pure white, in fact blindingly white making sunglasses highly desirable. This sand is much different than the coarser sand of the Atlantic Coast.

Florida Memory Photo


According to Wikipedia, “The Apalachicola River /æpəlætʃɪˈkoʊlə/ is a river, approximately 112 mi (180 km) long in the State of Florida. The river’s large watershed, known as the ACF River Basin, drains an area of approximately 19,500 square miles (50,505 km2) into the Gulf of Mexico. The distance to its farthest head waters in northeast Georgia is approximately 500 miles (800 km). Its name comes from the Apalachicola people, who used to live along the river.”

The river is not only a recreation spot, but highly important in the watershed’s environment as well as the oyster industry in the Gulf Coast town of Apalachicoa. Water usage of the river between Georgia and Florida has been under dispute for years, with Florida saying that Atlanta draws off too much water at Florida’s expense.

Florida Forest Service Photo

According to the Florida Forest Service, “The natural resources found on Tate’s Hell State Forest are very diverse due to the unique and various natural community types. At one time Tate’s Hell State Forest supported at least 12 major community types, which included wet flatwoods, wet prairie, seepage slope, baygall, floodplain forest, floodplain swamp, basin swamp, upland hardwood forest, sandhill, pine ridges, dense titi thickets and scrub. Currently, the forest contains approximately 107,300 acres of hydric communities such as wet prairie (contains a vast diversity of plant species), wet flatwoods, strand swamp, bottomland forest, baygall and floodplain swamp.”

The area is under restoration to repair damages from the forest’s long-time usage by the a timber industry that logged out many of the older trees, disrupted natural waterflows throughout the region by constructing roads that served as dykes, and a rape the land style of forest management.

Wikipedia Photo


The logging industry also had very poor stewardship over the Panhandle’s once ubiquitous wiregrass and longleaf pine forsts, cutting out the old trees and either not replacing them or replacing cut areas with slash pines. Many native species have been threatened by this policy. The forest service was very slow to understand what Native Americans and early residents understood: longleaf pine forests need fire to survive. For years, fires were extinguished before natural processes could be completed.

Florida Memory Photo

These boats still exist, but I see the 1950s as the heyday of the cabin cruiser. Most of us knew somebody who owned one, and fortunately those people liked to cruise the rivers, head to obscure beaches, and visit the barrier islands (St. George Island and Dog Island).

Florida Memory Photo


The Garden of Eden was once a tourist attraction near the small town of Bristol with signs pointing to places where Biblical events purportedly occurred. A local minister worked out a rather complex theory that sought to prove this spot along the Apalachicola River was the real garden of Eden. The signs are gone now, though a Garden of Eden trail still exists. The unique habitat is managed by the Nature Conservancy as the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.

Florida Memory Photo


The St. Joe Paper Company was a major economic player in the economy of the Florida Panhandle and probably the area’s largest landowner. Like the Florida East Coast Railway (the old Flagler system route to Key West), the company was owned by Dupont. The tracks that remain are now used by a shortline railroad (Apalachicola Northern) between Port St. Joe on the Gulf coast the town of Chattahoochee near the Georgia Border.

Google Maps


This is where I grew up. You can see the barrier islands just south of Carrabelle and Apalachicola. My friends and I sailed boats between beaches near the junction of highways 319 and 98 to those islands, and my scout troop camped there and in many spots in the Apalachicoa National Forest. The wildlife refuge near St. Marks was a favorite family day trip. My Florida Folk Magic Novels are set near the towns of Hosford and Telogia. The area is rich in history, myths, habitats, recreation, and experiences perfect for a kid growing up who loved being out doors more than indoors.




The Tate’s Hell Stories

“Who was Tate, you wonder? In Sumatra they still tell his story: how he left the frontier village at dusk a century ago with his two hunting dogs and his puppy Spark, to kill a panther that had been raiding Sumatra livestock. He carried a Long Tom shotgun and a Barlow knife, and he thought he knew where the darkening waters ran.”

– Gloria Jahoda, The Other Florida (1967)

Tate's Hell is a Florida state forest located in the panhandle counties of Franklin and Liberty. With diverse habitats, including a notorious swamp, it's named after the legendary Cebe Tate who was killed by a rattlesnake while hunting a panther there in 1875.
Tate’s Hell is a Florida forest located in the counties of Franklin and Liberty.

When my 1950s-era novella Conjure Woman’s Cat came out, my publisher said that with all the book’s mentions of Tate’s Hell Swamp, how about a Kindle series of stories about the place?

Fortunately I had a bunch of things on hand, including a short story from an anthology and scene from my out-of-print novel The Seeker that just happened to be set there and in nearby Carrabelle.

I couldn’t resist the idea of taking snakes to Eden. Most of all, I enjoyed learning more about the animals and their Florida wild places environments for the folktale collection.

I’ve enjoyed coming up with three short stories and one short collection of folktales for the series.

crowssmallcoverDream of Crows: This dark story about a businessman and a sexy conjure woman who lives next to a cemetery on the edge of Tate’s Hell is the most recent. It originally appeared in the Lascaux Prize 2014 Anthology.

If you’re prone to nightmares, be warned that this story is written in the second person and makes the reader the main character. Free June 24-28.

Opening lines: During the coroner’s inquest into the matter of your death, a well-meaning friend or relative will step forward with your affidavit stating that you read Dream of Crows because you saw it in your spouse’s copy of The Lascaux Review, heard several clerks at Barnes and Noble speculating about its deeper meanings, or—more likely—because you were intrigued by the probable connection between the short story and an odd string of assisted suicides in a Florida’s Tate’s Hell Swamp. 

SnakebitCOVERSnakebit: This slightly less dark short story came out just before Dream of Crows. Two college students fall in love while working as seasonal employees at a resort hotel in the northwest.

At the end of the summer, they return to their respective colleges that are far apart. When she’s assaulted on a dark street outside the college gates, she refuses to let him visit her. Finally, when he’s allowed to travel to Florida in June, he finds her much changed. The more he sees, the more he thinks he’ll have to sever the relationship. However, before he does so, the magic of Tate’s Hell intervenes.

The Dream: Then the squalling wheels in the coach’s rear truck in a tight curve fetched up the memory of the caterwauling panther of a nightmare that stalked him thirteen miles up the track. He ran between small ponds beneath a bright moon. Coowahchobee sprang out of a dark stand of hat-rack cypress and chased him through shallow water. He was trapped, suddenly, in an unyielding thicket of titi where the small white flowers exploded overhead like a dying constellation. He saw brown eyes above a deep growl that ran through his soul seconds before the claws snagged his left arm when the large cat dragged him away from the water. 

CarryingSnakesCoverCarrying Snakes Into Eden: “Eden” in this story refers to Florida’s former Garden of Eden attraction on the Apalachicola River. It’s rather a tongue in cheek story about two college students who pick up a hitchhiker with a sack of snakes he captured in Tate’s Hell. He says they’re need in the Garden of Eden.

The students learn that skipping church that Sunday morning may have long-term consequences.

Opening Lines: When John and I drove to Carrabelle on a gray Sunday morning for brunch with the Boynton sisters, skipping church was the least of our sins. Julie and Kathy were seniors, cheerleaders, and the most popular blondes in high school. John and I, mere juniors, wore clean sport shirts and Jade East aftershave. Brunch was canceled when the parents returned from New Orleans on Seaboard’s Gulf Wind a week early. They saved us from prospective sins of the flesh. But we weren’t home free. In fact, our transgression on that April day in 1961 was a first for the Florida Panhandle.

LandBetween2015The Land Between the Rivers: This series of three folktales set in Tate’s Hell at the dawn of time is introduced by Eulalie, my conjure woman in the novella. They begin where the Seminole creation myth leaves off with stories about Panther, Snakebird and Bear–the first animals to walk the earth in the old legends.

Panthers, of course, are highly endangered in Florida. When I was young, there were panthers in Tate’s Hell. Now they’re gone from the panhandle and can only be found in central and south Florida.

Openning Lines: One day when I was just a piddling kitten no bigger than a crow, I fell into Coowahchobee Creek while helping my conjure woman look for crawfish. The cold water spun me around like pinecone. I sulled up into a snarling fit three times my normal size and swatted the rocks and roots along the bank with my claws.
“Hush, little one,” Coowahchobee whispered. “Lena, look directly into Eulalie’s haint blue eyes and your thoughts will tell her you are ready to hear our stories.”



These stories all see for 99 cents and occasionally are featured free in book sales. I hope you enjoy them even if you don’t live in the Florida Panhandle.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)“Conjure Woman’s Cat” is available on Kindle ($2.99) and in paperback ($8.58) and, in addition to Amazon, can also be found at Powell’s, B&N, Smashwords and other online book sellers.