Fact- More than eight centuries ago, Native Americans inhabited the area around Lake Jackson, just north of Tallahassee. Lake Jackson is intermittently drained by sink holes into the porous limestone that underlays the lake.
This is similar to Payne’s Prairie/ Alachua Lake- also a site with Native American history. As these sinkholes collapse or fill with debris, the lake level rises or falls over time.
The remains of important tribal members have been found at the site, with a rich array of burial objects including elaborate items such as copper breast plates, shell beaded necklaces, bracelets, anklets and cloaks still in place. These exotic artifacts indicate religious and trading ties with other large, pre-historic Indian ceremonial centers in the southeastern United States. There is evidence that the Lake Jackson Indians participated in a southeastern socio-religious complex known to archaeologists as the 'Southern Cult”.
Lore- The Indians believed that a great serpent lived in the lake, and when it yawned, it swallowed the waters, draining the lake. They were so afraid of the monster that they built a temple to it on a great mound near its shore. They sang and danced to keep the monster at rest. When the lake drained, they would sacrifice an Indian Maiden, and the Lake would slowly come back.
Also drained by a sink, Payne’s Prairie has flooded to become a lake at least once in recorded history.
Waves of diverse people settled the area for over 12,000 years, each wave eager to utilize the lush land to fill their needs. A rich prehistory of Paleo, Cades Pond and Alachua people were followed by the historic Potano Indians, Spanish adventurers, Seminole Indians and finally Americans pushing down from the north.
The wilderness, now called Payne’s Prairie, has always proved an irresistible lure to the explorer and the adventurer. Hunter/gatherers were followed by hunter/farmers both Native American and European. They were followed by cotton farmers, citrus farmers and then cattlemen.
When the sink became plugged, Heavy rains began to flood the prairie basin in 1871 and by 1873 the marsh was referred to as Alachua Lake. Steam-powered boats transported cotton, oranges, produce, lumber and passengers across the lake. A propeller from one of these boats is on display in the visitor center, next to a death mask of the Seminole Chief Osceola.
Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park is located 10 miles south of Gainesville, in Micanopy, on the east side of US 441. Take exit 374, the Micanopy exit, and turn east at the end of the exit ramp. You will then be traveling east on CR 234. Stay on this road 1.4 miles until it intersects with US 441. Turn left onto 441 and go about 0.6 miles to Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park (on the right).