Creeks that Tried to Save the Towns

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, May 12, 2024

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There are many romantic creeks which flow into the Flint River in Baker County. Not only are they romantic, they also were named by the Indians whose language is heartfelt and musical and seems to flow along with the unpredictable waters.

However, spreading love is not the only function of these creeks. They are working waterways. The Ichauway Nochaway Creek, which is the largest of those in Baker County, is the major contributor of drinking water.

The Coolawahee Creek, a shallow and smaller one which, during dry times can disappear and the Chickasawhatchee Creek, which is famous for being the site of an Indian battle, that took place in the large swamp formed by the creek. The consequences of this fight caused the Creek Indians to leave Baker County and try to get to Florida.

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The waters of these three creeks are known for their purity as there are no cities to dump waste water into these streams. Let’s get a better view of these waterways that are so important to the Flint River. We can start with the Ichauway Nochaway Creek.

In the history of Ichauway Nochaway Creek, it is mentioned many times as being the site of quite a few Indian villages. Local legends say that the creek’s name, is Indian for “this a way, that a way”, because it is a very winding stream. However, this story is not considered the right one. The majority of historians  believe that the name came originally from the Creek name for the stream, “Echohonanwa Nochawa”. When you break the name into parts, “Echo” was the Indian term for deer and “honanwa” was a suffix which designated that the deer was a buck. “Nochawa” was the Indian word for sleeping. Therefore, it meant “Buck Sleeping Place”. The Indians no doubt had seen many bucks sleeping in the deep forests along the creek.

Also, with a name like Ichauway Nochaway, it is no wonder that it is spelled in many different ways. One way is Itchauway Notchaway, another and the one that is used most is Ichauway Nochaway. However, many residents just shorten it to Nochaway.

If you take the Ichauway Nochaway Creek and place it in a straight line, flowing from northwest Baker County to the Flint River, it is approximately 20 miles long. If you don’t straighten it, the course is one of many twists and turns all through Baker County and this adds many miles onto its voyage.

Ichauway Nochaway also has a set of small, wet weather streams which empty into it. First in size is Alligator Creek. This ribbon of water begins near the Early County line at DeSoto Springs. Legend has it that DeSoto and his men may have camped there. However, we now know that he passed through the eastern portion of the county and may have never seen the springs that was named for him nor Alligator Creek.

Another small stream that feeds Ichauway Nochaway is Tiger Creek. This one starts as a spring that is north of the town of Patmos which is in the northern part of the county. It is near the land settled more than a century ago by the Griffin family and flows only a short distance before reaching Nochaway Creek.

This shy strip of water is home to a type of plant which is so dense that it stops fish from swimming upstream into the Ichauway Nochaway. Its banks are a type of sandy soil that is most often found on the other side of the Nochaway. However, this is unusual and does have its perks. This area is dense with blueberry bushes. They are so thick that residents make it a “to do” spring thing to go and pick as much of this tasty fruit that they can.

At the beginning of development in Baker County, most mills were built on the Ichauway Nochaway in 1825. In some areas, the water of the creek flows so swiftly that it provided enough power for many early mills, which included a saw mill, two grist mills and a cotton gin.

In addition to these mills, the Ichauway Nochaway also provided enough energy for producing electricity. The largest single structural endeavor in Baker County was a huge dam and power plant, built in the early 1920s, by Georgia Power. It provided electricity for many towns in Baker County. This dam was abandoned when the land under it started to crack and fall in. The dam’s structure has since crumbled. However, there still are some pilings standing. Mostly, it is a pile of rocks interspersed with a few boards which are the remains of the mills that once depended upon the creek for power. This is all on a private and patrolled plantation.

Most of the unusual names that we have come from the Indian tribes which lived in our area. The particularly exotic name, Chickasawhatchee, is believed to have come from the Choctaw Indians which occupied the land long ago. “Chick” was the original name given to this rather wide and swampy creek. This conclusion is because the phrase, “Chik-asha”, means “They left as a tribe not a very great while ago.”

The Choctaws and the Chick-asawsa tribes are believed to have joined together and came to the southeast as one from a territory out west. They then spread from the Tennessee River to central Florida. After a while, the two tribes separated and the Choctaw stayed in what is now southwest Alabama and on into central Mississippi, while the Chick-asawsa tribe moved northward. It is thought that the Chick-asawsa tribe occupied the land along the Chickasawhatchee Creek. When they felt that there would be better hunting up north, they left. Thus, the name given to the Chickasawhatchee by the Choctaw Indians.

However, some historians believe that the name Chickasawhatchee came from the Hitchitee tribe, who resided north of Baker County in what is now Terrell County, where the Chickasawhatchee Creek begins. In their language the word chiki or chickee means house. When you add the word that gives it a place, sasi, then add the word hahchi which means stream, you get Chikisasihahchi, House On The Stream. With the Hitchitee language being difficult to pronounce and understand, white residents changed it to the better known words of the Hitchiee tribe being hachi or hatchee, their words for house.

I hope that I was able to explain the name’s origin clearly. However, you just have to know that with a name like Chickasawhatchee, one that may have come from three different tribes, had to be confusing!

The waters of this creek and swamp are also an anomaly. Even at its beginning, the Chickasawhatchee Creek has a wide, swampy area which then gathers itself up and flows down as a stream forming the dividing line between Terrell County and Calhoun and Dougherty Counties, until it flows into Baker County. Eventually, it flows into the Ichauway Nochaway Creek at approximately the center of Baker County.

Once there, the northern half of the Chickasawhatchee Creek flows through a very large and deep swampy area, which is the second largest swamp in Georgia with Okefenokee the largest. Also, at one time, it was the site of several Indian villages. When the settlers came, they wanted to occupy that land. As a final stand, the Indians fought a fierce battle in the War of 1836. The result was that the Indians tried to flee to Florida but were eventually rounded up and became a part of the Trail Of Tears, which ended with them settling in Oklahoma.

Exact location of the battle is not clear, only that it was somewhere in the location where the islands west of Elmodel along Highway 37 exist. There is an historical marker on Highway 37 and Clear Lake Road, three miles north of Elmodel.

This last battle was fought near the settlement of Red Store Crossroads in the Chickasawhatchee Swamp. Today, this land is part of the Chickasawhatchee Wildlife Management Area.

The current of this creek is so strong that it once powered a grist and saw mill operation near Elmodel. This creek has also been known as a place which provides excellent fishing.

One might say that the lumber business was king in this area of Baker County and the Chickasawhatchee Creek. In the nearby town of Pretoria, was the large operation of the Red Cypress Lumber Company. It consisted of a large saw mill, a plane mill, and a shingle mill. There existed a turpentine still on the north side of the Elmodel-Leary Road and east side of the Chickasawhatchee Creek. With these necessary operations already in existence, the Red Cypress Company established the rest of the business by the side of the creek. This satisfied the company’s need for water.

The timber used was from land that, was cleared and would be farmed. Sometimes, the residents would cut the timber and have log rolling contests to pile up debris on the creek bank and then burn it. With all the neighbors invited to help in the work, there also was a huge picnic with plenty of food for everyone. This event was fun but also dangerous. The Chickasawhatchee was very swift in some places. Many men suffered severe cuts and painful bruises. One man even lost his life.

With the Ichauway Nochaway being the largest creek and the Chickasawhatchee being second, the third largest creek, is the Coolawahee.

As with other creeks in the area, its name was derived from the Indian word for “creek”, which means whispering waters. Coolawahee is also spelled Colanawhee.

These sparkling waters cut a course that takes it through the eastern portion of Baker County. From there, it continues on south to its final destination, where it empties into the Flint River at the town of Newton.

Coolawahee Creek’s claim to fame is that it is an excellent fishing area. In olden days, the local men would gather at the creek and set nets early in the morning. As afternoon approached, they would get the fire going and the residents started coming. The ladies of the town would bring their tasty side dishes to add to the fish fry. In later years, it became a local swimming hole.

However, this creek is more than a pretty face as it provides a major drainage area for water run off when flood conditions prevail. We do know that sometimes, no amount of drainage, can keep Newton from flooding. When the Flint River becomes bloated with water, she goes on a rampage. This is when the rising waters invade Coolawahee Creek which then overflows the excess waters into a winding, low lying, flat area that runs through the center of the town of Newton. Consequently, this is the area that always floods first. Sometimes, even during some minor flooding that has occurred, this particular portion of town is the only part which actually floods. In recent years, to solve this problem, the town has been relocated.

There is a legend attached to the Coolawahee Creek. It is said that the limestone rock of the creek bed is so soft that the Indian ponies made tracks in it when they crossed over and at very low water, they are still visible.

There are two other creeks that deserve to be mentioned, Big Cypress and Little Cypress Creeks. They both have their origins in a huge, picturesque cypress swamp in eastern Early County. Even though they both have the same origins, they do separate and follow different paths. Big Cypress Creek goes through the small farm towns of Mimsville, which is several miles south of Newton, and Phillipsburg. Little Cypress goes on a straight path and is more northerly.

Both creeks continue on these different courses until they converge in the southwest corner of Baker County, a little south of the small town of Bethany. From there, they mingle together until they empty into the Flint River.

Both streams are called wet weather streams because they only flow during the times when rainfall is plentiful. This is usually in late winter and spring.

Another small creek in Baker County is Caney Creek. It was the main supply of fresh water for the now ghost town of Fish Trap.  Usually, there is a very small volume of water. However, in periods of no rain, it often becomes dry. Just a short distance below Fish Trap, Caney Creek empties into the larger Ichauway Nochaway Creek.

Lastly, there is Belmont Creek. Finding its origin is very difficult because it has a tendency to hide. Most of the time, this elusive ribbon of water is dry.  However, when there is a lot of rain, it comes back to life again. It flows south towards the Flint River but it is believed that it becomes dry before it gets there.