PEACE RIVER OFF PAYNES CREEK
888 Lake Branch Rd
Bowling Green, FL 33834-4078
Admission Fee: At the time of this posting, $3.00 per vehicle, $2.00 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Please use the honor box to pay fees. Correct change is required. Limit 8 people per vehicle.
Put-in: Paynes Creek Historic State Park (DEP)/ SR 664A Bridge
Directions to put-in: Take US 17 to the town of Bowling Green. At the traffic light, turn east onto Main Street, following the brown park signs, then turn south onto Lake Branch Rd (SR 644A), and follow one mile to the park where there is a canoe/kayak launch. There is also access at the SR 664A Bridge ~100 yards beyond the park entrance (vehicles should be left at the park).
THE STATE PARK
Paynes Creek and the adjoining Peace River provide opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. A museum at the visitor center depicts the lives of Florida's Seminole Indians and pioneers during the 19th century.
The Paynes Creek experience will include countless opportunities to experience native birds, secretive reptiles, deer and bobcats, and many butterfly species while immersed in the tranquility of the park’s natural beauty.
The historic sites include the Fort Chokonikla site, Kennedy-Darling Trading Post site that can be viewed from the overlook on Payne Creek, and the Monument site erected in honor of Captain George S. Payne, for whom the park was named, and Dempsey Whiddon, a store clerk.
The Visitor Center will provide a lasting interpretive experience of the park’s historical events and their significance. Artifacts collected from archaeological investigations are now on display in the Visitor Center, which is open 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily.
Located just southeast of Bowling Green, Florida, it is believed that Indians inhabited the area since about 5,000 B.C..
After the Second Seminole War
When the Second Seminole War ended in 1842, the federal Armed Occupation Act was passed. It let Seminole War veterans apply for a 160-acre homestead in Florida.
At the same time, a reservation was created for the Seminoles in southwest Florida. Their ability to trade was limited by the government, so as to prevent them from obtaining weapons to cause further conflict. To compensate, white-run trading stores were permitted on the reservation's outskirts to the north and west, letting the Indians obtain supplies and luxuries unavailable within the reservation.
Many of the trading posts were built by Kennedy and Darling, two army sutlers (a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army in the field, in camp or in quarters) from Fort Brooke who had started their own trading company. One such was constructed in the late 1840s along the Charlo-popka-hatchee-chee (Little Trout-Eating Creek in Seminole), west of Peas Creek (later known as the Peace River), near present-day Bowling Green. The proprietor was Capt. George Payne and his store clerk was Dempsey Whidden.
Ignoring the terms of the treaty with the Seminoles, settlers moved southward, encroaching on the reservation. Though Billy Bowlegs - one of the Seminole leaders - was reconciled to the state of affairs, others of his people were not so compliant.
On July 17, 1849, Payne and Whidden were killed by five renegade Seminoles, following which the store and everything in it was burned.
Fort Chokonikla (site of the old fort)
This caused many of the settlers to flee to the nearest fort, then ask for military forces to be sent so they could return to their homes in safety. This led to the establishment of Fort Chokonikla near the site of the former trading post only three months later, on October 26. The fort's name is believed to derive from the Seminole Chocka-nickler, for burnt store (it was also variously spelled at the time as Chokkonickla or Chokhonikla).
Footpath In Park
Following the fort's completion, the nearby creek became known as Paynes Creek. Due to its location near a swamp, however, many of those stationed at the fort contracted and died of malaria. This became such a problem that the fort's doctor recommended the fort's closure. The army quickly agreed, and the fort was vacated on July 18, 1850, after less than nine months of occupancy, and a year and a day after Payne and Whidden's deaths.
Today, nature enthusiasts and hikers can enjoy walking along trails through the park's natural areas.
© April L. Gustetter