The Wakulla Volcano Archive

Letter from W. T. Cash to Herman Gunter

(November 1, 1934)

                         November 1. 1934.
Mr. Herman Gunter
State Geologist
Tallahassee, Florida
Dear Mr. Gunter:
The so-called "volcano," which is evidently referred to in
the enclosed sheet you left with me was somewhere in the
Wacissa Swamp, said to be one of almost impenetrable in
parts.  This "volcona" seems to have appeared after the
Civil War for I have heard no accounts of it prior to that
time.  Its activity probably continued over a period of
fifteen years, say from 1867 to 1883.  These dates are not
given as 100 per cent accurate, but from all the stories
I have heard, my judgment is that they approximate accuracy.
My mother as a young woman often saw the smoke and even
blaze of the "volcano" from where her parents were living,
near Waukeenah, during the years 1869 or 1870 and two or
three thereafterr I have heard W. P. Strickland, member of
the House from Taylor county, 1899, say he has seen it from
a fish camp in Taylor county.
There is no question about the smoke and the flame.  The
real question is "what was it?" Different persons searched
for it and, I am told, one or more newspapers sought to
find out what it was.  It was claimed by some that their
compasses wouldn't work in parts of the Wacissa swamp, which
I believe is all bosh.  Others said that quagmires, floating
tussocks, etc., were so thich they couldn't go any farther in
the swamp.  Judge J. J. Willie of Lloyd, Jefferson county, an
old man of 91 or 92 still living (or was recently) is said to
have been on of those who sought the secret.
The "volcano," I believe, was caused by a hillock of burning
peat, which, as you are aware, is a mineral constituent of
more than one Florida swamp and is particularly plentiful in
the Everglades.  This billock of peat caught fire during one
of those burnoffs which have often taken place in our swamps
in extremely dry weather.  When the swamp fire had exhasuted
itself the slow-burning peat continued to burn and the fire
having eaten far into and even under the hillock continued
until the hillock was consumed.  Floods probably often
quenched all parts of the fire that had not eaten under the
hillock, or swamp knoll.  To support this theory Everglades
fires have more than once burned deep holes in the peat soil
of that region.
Old-timers have expressed the idea to me that the Charleston
Earthquake of 1886 put a stop to the Wacissa "volcano," but
I do not think it had been seen for as much as three years
before the Earthquake.  I give from memory what Mother said
in my hearing about the phenomenon, but I think I heard her
talking about it in 1884 when I was a six year old boy, and
I am pretty sure it was longer seen at that time.
I think the burning peat theory is the reasonable one, but
the swamp ought to be explored to see if signs of such a fire
can be found there.
                              Very sincerely yours,
                               W. T. Cash,
                               State Librarian

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