Expedition Team: Dave Miller, Rosie Miller
Expedition Date: 2016
While in Florida, local newspapers received reports from boaters and fishermen at night over several months of strange lights and dark figures at night near the Chief Tomokie Historic Statue at the old Indian village ruins at the state park. The park was closed at dusk so vehicle access to this remote location by the river was not possible. Albeit lengthy, here’s the fascinating Indian history.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Chief Tomokie was slain by Oleeta in defense of the Golden Cup. The land was the site of Nocuroco, a Timucua Indian Village. Discovered in a 1605 expedition by Alvaro Mexla, it was the first Indian village south of St. Augustine. The village and nearby farm plantation remained until the 1835-42 Seminole Wars.
THE LEGEND OF TOMOKIE: The Timucua Indians regarded a nearby spring as mystical. They believed that a messenger from the Great Spirit was sent every evening at dusk to drink of this Water of Life and that dew falling from the Spirit’s wings gave the water curative and restorative qualities. Tomokie, giant chief of his warriors, did not share this belief. He seized the sacred cup, drank from the spring, defiling it. The other Indians were offended and declared war. During battle, every arrow aimed at the Chief failed to hurt him. Oleeta, a beautiful enemy maiden sprang forward, faced Tomokie and pieced his heart with an arrow. She grabbed the sacred cup and was then killed by a poisoned arrow. Her tribe did not rest until Tomokie’s entire tribe was killed.
INVESTIGATION: The story intrigued us but since we couldn’t access the area at night we did a daytime investigation. We boarded kayaks on the east side of the Halifax River and paddled 1 mile north past many islands across the intercoastal waterway to the Tomoka River. From our kayaks we could see the arm and head of the Chief Tomokie statue from behind through the trees, but no natural landing dock was available to disembark. This debunked the theory that people from boats stopped and came ashore with flashlights to create the “ghost lights” as docking was difficult and the “jungle” to the statue was impenetrable. We kayaked past the site and upriver. As we turned into a side channel two fishermen told us a manatee had just ascended in front of our kayaks. Cranes and ibises accompanied us down the river.
After the three mile kayak trip, we had delicious fish sandwiches at Crabby Chris’s then drove around to the State Park entrance and down the sandy, heavily forested road to the Chief statue site where the nocturnal light claims were alleged. It was 84 degrees and very humid. Rosie led us down a tight hiking path overgrown on both sides with American Holly, Sparkleberry, Hammock and Pine Trees and Saw Palmetto Plants. It was eerie and silent as the trail winded through the former Nocuroco Village site.
A small area of land opened up and a tombstone loomed ahead. The old, badly eroded engraving on the marker stated that this was the grave of one of the earliest settlers, John Addison, who died on his plantation here on June 29, 1825, at age 61. After obtaining a Spanish land grant of 1,414 acres on the river west bank (beside the Indian Village site), 67 Indian slaves using axe and hoe only, cleared forest and planted cotton and later sugarcane in the rich soil. The plantation was destroyed in the Second Seminole War.
Leaving the grave, the one mile trail led us to a small opening at the river where I found dozens of shells each containing a small fiddler crab or snails. A large snake slithered across the overgrown trail that finally led us to Chief Tomokie’s Historic Statue where the great chief was killed. The large statue towered menacingly above us. It showed some signs of age but was still colorfully painted and majestic (the stature was built in the 1950’s, the last artwork of Fred Marsh). Reports stated that native Americans still secretly worshipped the site. Could it be them or just trespassers whose lights are reported at night. Or was it the spirits of Chief Tomokie & his tribe?