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Tate’s Hell State Forest Name Origin

How Tate’s Hell State Forest Got its Name

Tate’s Hell State Forest is named after Cebe Tate, a 45 year old local farmer plagued by a panther that kept attacking his livestock. The year was 1875, a time when Florida was experiencing a population boom as homesteaders moved in on land formerly controlled by Native Americans. Although most Seminoles escaped the Trail of Tears by disappearing deep into the swamp that makes up most of Tate’s Hell State Forest, many Native Americans were rounded up for relocation in Oklahoma.

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The homesteaders didn’t have an easy time of it and rogue panthers were unwelcome pests. Cebe Tate decided to do something about his problem and headed into the forest with his shotgun and hunting dogs.

It didn’t go well. After just a few hours, he became separated from his dogs. Lost in the swamp, he lost his shotgun. When he sat down at a tree stump to rest, he was bitten by a snake.

Lost and disoriented for seven days and seven nights, he suffered greatly. Water was scarce, the mosquitoes were relentless, and the heat was stifling. Cebe was forced to drink the muddy swamp water. Finally breaking through the underbrush to a clearing near the town of Carrabelle, nearly 25 miles from his home, and barely able to speak, he walked up to two men. “My name is Cebe Tate,” he said, “And I’ve been through hell.” With that, he collapsed at their feet and died.

What to Expect During a Visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest

Tate’s Hell State Forest is typical Florida terrain, made up of woodland and swamp. Today’s visitors to Tate’s Hell State Forest have well marked paths, including a boardwalk that winds through a dwarf cypress forest of ancient trees.

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There is a dirt (mostly sand) road through the forest, but a four wheel drive is strongly suggested, and, since many areas flood during rainy periods, hiking may be your only option. It is well worth your effort. Once commercially forested, Tate’s Hell is now a wildlife management area and abuts the Apalachicola National Forest.

 

Tate’s Hell State Forest is a popular place for hunters and campers alike.

The Gator That Almost Got Me

This is the story of the gator that almost got me. As we drove through the swamp, I spotted a blue heron stalking fish in a ditch by the side of the road:

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But every time I got close, the bird would slowly walk away from me:

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You can’t blame them. Hunted to near extinction around the turn of the last century, their blue feathers were highly prized for ladies’ fashionable hats.

But I’m not much of a hunter. I broke the sacred rule of the swamp: know where you’re walking. In other words, be aware of your surroundings. But I wasn’t. I saw that heron and yelled for my husband to stop the car.

Maybe I lose track of my surroundings because I was looking through a lens and it distanced my brain from its immediate surroundings. Maybe I was just lazy. Regardless, I was so engrossed in stalking the heron that I was completely unprepared for what happened next. As I concentrated on zeroing in on the heron, I heard a huge splash a few feet from my left shoulder.

Turning to see what was causing such a commotion, I first heard a thunderous crack of jaws slamming shut a split second before I saw the alligator as it rose up out of the water, easily swallowing the fish in its maw. Suddenly I was looking UP at the underside of an airborne alligator. For a few suspended seconds, gator and I were within a foot of each other. It could have easily lunged for me and you would never have known this story.

An Alligator's Maw

Instead, it retreated backward, never taking its eyes off me.

Every hair on my body standing at attention, I scrambled to get back in the car, closing the door as a shiver ran up my back. My husband started to drive away, but I ordered him to back up because I wasn’t about to leave without getting a picture of the gator that almost got me. He started laughing. Laughing!

He said I am the only person he knows who would insist on taking a picture of an animal that came close to eating me. I still don’t see what’s so funny and you’d think he’d be a tad more concerned, but once he knew I was in the car, he just thought it was funny that I was so scared.

Well, YOU try being calm, cool, and collected after seeing inside the jaws of death and see if you don’t jump.

Of COURSE I wanted a picture! My hands were shaking, so I had to rest the camera on the open window of the car door, but the camera still shook a little. I don’t know that I would have been able to get a good shot even if I had been able to coax him out of the shadows, but if you look closely, you will see his head poking out from the edge of the grass.

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As he returned to his hiding spot, with just his big old nose sticking out, he kept his eye on me.

I stayed in my car. One close encounter a day is enough! The moral of the story?

When you’re walking in the swamp, watch your step.