Along a tributary of the Peace River, Paynes Creek Historic State Park encompasses a landscape where an important turn of American history occurred in the 1840s.
In response to an attack at the trading post on Paynes Creek, Fort Chokonikla was the first of a string of U.S. Army forts built across South Central Florida.
Constructed in 1849, Fort Chokonikla anchored a line of forts towards Fort Pierce for the U.S. Army to contain the Seminole people along a newly modified boundary of Seminole lands.
Paynes Creek flows into the Peace River. A network of four miles of trails interprets both habitats and history, with a swinging footbridge connecting key locations.
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Length: 4 mile trail network
Address: 888 Lake Branch Rd, Bowling Green
Fees: $3 per vehicle
Restroom: At the visitor center and picnic area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. The trail from the parking area to the museum is accessible.
Follow US 17 south from Barstow to Bowling Green. In Bowling Green, turn left onto Main St and follow it east a quarter mile to Lake Branch Rd. Turn right and drive 1.1 miles. The park entrance is on the right. Make the first right along the entrance road to park in front of the visitor center.
About the Park
Flowing into the Peace River, the creek called Hatse Lotka by the Seminoles marked the boundary of an uneasy truce.
When the seven-year Second Seminole War ended in 1842, they were pushed out of more productive lands to the southern part of the Florida peninsula.
That same year, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act to provide 160 acres of free land and a year’s rations to settlers willing to cultivate and defend it for five years.
The idea was to drive the Indians out. Over the next seven years the influx of settlers led to more conflicts and increased militarization in Florida by the U.S. Army.
In Tampa, a military supplier to Fort Brooke, Thomas Kennedy, was named as the government-appointed Indian trader.
In 1845, Kennedy hired George Payne to run his new trading post on Charlotte Harbor.
A few years later, Kennedy teamed up with John Darling, a Tampa man who owned a sloop, to transport supplies.
In the spring of 1849, store manager George Payne emptied out the trading post and moved the goods seventy miles up the Peace River to this new location.
The new Kennedy-Darling Store sat on the bluff above Hatse Lotka on reservation land.
That July, a rogue band of warriors attacked and destroyed the store, killing George Payne and his employee Dempsey Whidden.
The Seminoles attemped to appease the Federal goverment after this unexpected event, but more ominous repercussions followed the loss of the trading post.
Within a few months, the U.S. Army began constructing Fort Chokonikla on high ground above the north bank of what they now called Paynes Creek.
It was the first of a string of forts built across Florida to contain the Seminole. Fort Chokonikla was never attacked, but many soldiers died due to yellow fever and malaria.
Abandoned in the summer of 1850, Fort Chokonikla faded into the landscape. Ignoring the treaty boundary, settlers pushed south into Seminole lands.
The Federal government did not intervene on the Seminoles’ behalf. In December 1855, Army troops destroyed a large Seminole plantation. The Seminoles retaliated with raids.
In a series of skirmishes and raids ending in 1858, the Third Seminole War saw the U.S. Army actively target crops to starve tribal members off their lands.
Most agreed to relocate in the “Indian Removal” to Oklahoma. Others, led by leaders refusing to sign another worthless treaty, moved onto the tree islands of the Everglades.
Exploring the Park
Inside the park museum are a handful of artifacts uncovered during archaeological digs within this 410 acre park, along with details on the Seminole Wars.
Two interpretive trails, the accessible Fort Chokonikla Trail and the longer Historic Trail, lead to those sites as well as a memorial erected to Payne and Demspey.
Two short upland loops near the fort site, the Flatwoods and Mary Jane Trails, tally 1.1 miles of habitat immersion.
Starting near the picnic area, the Peace River Trail makes a 1.1 mile loop along the north shore of Paynes Creek to the river.
It provides the best scenic views and wildlife watching within the park.
See our photos of Paynes Creek Historic State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.