A colorful tale preserved in its original form and surrounded by the glamour and charm of an old legend centers about the origin of the name,“Sarasota” -The story was written by George F. Chapline, of Charendon, Ark., and is based on a legend of the Florida aborigines. Mr. Chapline wrote it after spending a winter here around the year 1900. The story follows:
Chichi-Okobee, the fleet and strong, heir by blood and physical prowess to the thousand tepees and stalwart warriors of Black Heron’s Seminoles, stood motionless in the morning sun before the camp of the great white chief, De Soto. Two guardsmen, with burnished helmets and shields, and with naked blades drew nigh this prince of the Seminoles.
A harsh word of command broke the stillness of the sun-bathed morning. With broad brown palm uplifted – the sign of peace – and with steadfast gaze, Chichi-Okobee bade the guardsmen of De Soto draw nigh: “Peace, I surrender to the warriors of the great white chief.” These were the words of Chichi-Okobee. Bound, he was taken to De Soto. “Hold him hostage for our passage safe”, said Hernando. Deep into the Everglades, skirting lakes and lagoons, parching upon blistering beaches, Chichi-Okobee was borne by the Spaniard. No murmur, no word of complaint escaped the captive’s stoical yet princely lips. He had beheld Sara, the lovely daughter of the white chieftain; Sara, lovelier than all the princess maidens of the Seminole camp. He had surrendered himself a willing captive that he might suffer the thongs of captivity, the humiliation of bonds that he might occasionally feast his own lustrous eyes upon the orbs of this princess of the house of De Soto.
But Chichi fell ill. The confinement, the lack of the food of his fathers, the want of his body for the long stride of the chase the absence of the medicine man, and most of all the unsatisfied heart-yearning, had done their work, and Chichi lay helpless, wasting, parching, dying of the fever of the Everglades.
Their efforts in vain, the physicians of the Spanish camp gave up. The Seminole prince must die. Sara De Soto begged permission to minster in the dying hour of Chichi-Okobee.” Her ministrations wrought a marvel and Chichi mended. Love’s potion more powerful than the medicaments of the medicine man brought back the steady gaze to the eye, brought back health and strength to Chichi. Now was the daughter of De Soto taken ill, The physicians of the camp hung over her tapestried couch with the tender solicitude of fathers, yet all-in vain; the malady that had stricken her seemed all the stronger for their care. Chichi begged of De Soto that he might go to his father’s camp and fetch the great medicine man, Ahti – the medicine man who knew the secrets of the, bad spirits of the Everglades. Though a man might be dead, yet it had been known that Ahti’s skill had brought back the throb of the heart.
Chichi-Okobee had tired the small-deer of the forest, and his long, lithe limbs had won him many trophies in the sports of his tribe, yet never sped he so fast; never had the tropic trees beheld such speed as this bronze young prince plunged by them. One moon and yet another and Chichi-Okobee, with Ahti the medicine man stood before the tent of Sara De Soto. Strange incantations were uttered, mysterious herbs were offered in more mysterious smoke, that the spirit of the swamp might be appeased. Long vigils did Ahti keep by the side of the dying girl. Chichi stood mute without the camp, with his eyes fixed upon the idly flapping doorway of the sick girl’s tent, rending his deerskin cape. Chichi read the message-Sara was dead. The Great Spirit had called her. Ahti’s powers had been matched with one greater than his.
Chichi sought the presence of De Soto, and there poured forth to the Spaniard the love he bore for the dead girl. He begged that he might select the place of her burial and take part in the ceremony. De Sota, struck with the earnestness of the young Seminole, and melting under the caressing melody of his rich voice and savage eloquence, gave consent.
Okobee told of a land-locked, peaceful bay, the loveliest spot along the gulf-kissed shores of Florida, as the spot where he wished to bury the matchless Sara. He begged for and received permission to go to his camp and secure a body of his fellow warriors to make up a guard of honor to attend upon the last rites of his dead sweetheart.
On the morning following his departure, there appeared, drawing nigh De Soto’s camp, winding in silent, single file, a body of 100 Seminole braves, at whose head came Chichi-Okobee. All were bedecked in full war paint, all bore the solemn minion of their young chieftain; every quiver bristled with its complement of scion-dipped arrows; every bow was strung. Chichi-Okobee’s war bonnet swept the earth; as he walked, his jasper-tipped spear flashed in the sunbeams, and like his followers, his quiver was filled with the arrows of warfare.
Three large canoes, bedecked with dark mosses of the forest, swept up the beach, propelled by the swift, strong strokes of six solemn Indians. In the first and largest of these the body of Sara De Soto was tenderly laid. De Soto and one guardsman were the sole passengers aboard this death craft, save Chichi-Okobee and six stalwart Seminoles who propelled the canoe. Silently the hundred braves took their places in the two remaining canoes. Silently, the leading canoe swept out and up the bay, followed by the other two. At midday, Chichi-Okobee bade the funeral fleet come to a stand. In the middle ground of the most peaceful, the most beautiful body of water that the Spaniard had ever beheld, Okobee would bury his love. With the white bay flowers in her blue-black-hair, and the feather from the wing of the black heron in her hand, the remains of Sara De Soto wore lowered into the deep. Chichi-Okobee was rowed to the leading canoe of his followers, where he mounted the prow, leaving Hernando, his guardsman and oarsmen in the funeral barge. Behold! a wonderful thing transpired. At a signal from the young chief every warrior sprang to his foot, tomahawk in hand. In strange, weird unison the war chant of these hundred warriors lifted and swelled across the bosom of the bay.
As its mystery-laden echo died away in the deep of the forest along the shore line, the blades of 100 tomahawks crashed into the frail bodies of the two war canoes. A moment of ripple, a moment of bubbles, and all was still. De Soto and his companions, in silent astonishment, gazed upon the grave of Chichi-Okobee and his hundred companions-at-arms-they had gone to guard the resting place of their young chieftain’s love.
The bay — “Sarasota Bay,” as it has since been known — like a mirror of steel, reflects the doings of the stars and whispers to the caressing winds the story of the love of Chichi-Okobee and the beautiful Spaniard.
The elders of the Seminoles repeat the legend of the children, and say that the spirits of Chichi-Okcobee, and his warriors are in eternal combat with the spirits of evil and the children of the storm god, holding the pass to the gulf and protecting the resting place of Sara De Soto.
It is said that the sullen roar of the gulf, as it breaks upon the beaches, is but the noise, of conflict, and that the whitecaps which chase each other and break and tumble across the pass are but the wraths of the warriors of Okobee and the children of the sea, tossing their spirit arms, and meeting in never ending contest for the possession of the bay.
This, the legend of Sara De Soto and Chichi, the fleet and strong — the legend of Sarasota Bay.
It is peaceful, it is beautiful.
Courtesy of The Sarasota County History Center