Dec 01, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Florida's Tate's Hell State Forest Has Signs of Swamp Apes and Fairy Traps

An interesting video popped up on a Bigfoot TikTok page this week – it was interesting for a variety of reasons beyond its primary focus. The video showed a tree growing in a “peculiar circle” shape in a Florida forest – a shape the uploader speculated could have been made by a Skunk Ape. The location of the tree was said to be in Tate’s Hell Swamp in Tate’s Hell State Forest – an area with a legendary tale to explain its unusual name … not to mention a history of Skunk Ape sightings. The web stie that reported on the video pointed out that this circular tree branch could also be a “fairy trap” – another unusual phenomenon. Let’s take a look at all of these and see if we can determine what made the unusual circular tree branch in Tate’s Hell Swamp.

A time when a skunk ape would be nice to have around?

“Strange Tree Structure in Tate’s Hell Swamp. Skunk ape?”

That is the headline to attract you to click on a TikTok video (watch it here) posted by Bigfoot Anon (a.k.a. bigfootana or @BigfootAnon on YouTube) – whose real name is Connor Flynn. The author of “Erie Swamps: Road Trip to Eden,” Flynn describes himself as “Explorer, investigative journalist and actor in Zillafoot and The Void Cat. Looking for sasquatch, mothman and dogman.” That indicates he may know something about the Skunk Ape he claims made the unusual shape in Tate’s Hell Swamp. Unfortunately, that headline seems to be all he has to say about the video. The web site Exemplore.com found it and added a description of Skunk Apes for those not familiar with Bigfoot’s southern ape-like counterpart and speculated on whether one could have made the tree circle.

“They are more noted for ripping trees out in displays of immense brute strength but as many believe they are highly intelligent creatures it seems likely they would develop some form of art and aesthetic preference.”

Tales of the Skunk Ape (Swamp Ape, Florida Bigfoot) go back to the first Europeans to visit the area – descriptions of the cryptid mostly agree that it is a bipedal ape-like creature, about 5 to t feet) tall, covered in reddish-brown hair, and surrounded by a foul odor similar to a skunk. While the reports across the state are many, the photos are few. Floridians love their Skunk Apes – a bill was presented to the state government in 1977 to protect it (it failed) and many groups have adopted it as a mascot … even though wildlife experts suspect most sightings are hoaxes, shadows or mistaken identity of creatures like an American black bear with mange.

However, skunk ape fans will point out that Tate’s Hell Swamp is known for its numerous Skunk Ape sightings as well as its unusual name. The swamp and the forest trace their name back to the mid 1800s to Jebediah Tate and his son, Cebe. According to the local legend, Tate was a superstitious farmer in Sumatra in Florida’s Gulf Panhandle region. Cebe was born just before the Civil War, which Jebediah fought in, leaving his half Cherokee Indian wife to care for Cebe. After the war, times were tough and Cebe’s mother died. As the tale goes, Cebe's superstitious and desperate widowed father made a pact with a local Native American medicine man - as long as they stayed out of the tiny cypress forest and gave him one pig a year, they would have good fortune. That happened for three years … until 1874 when they stiffed the medicine man on his annual pig. The angry medicine man cursed them to hard times that would feel like they were in hell. Sure enough, Jebediah died from malaria, the pine trees dried up, the sugar cane didn’t grow, and the cows disappeared. Mysteriously, the pigs were the only things that did well.

If this were a movie, this is the point where a woman would enter the picture. Sure enough, Cebe marries a mail-order bride from New York City who is Jewish. With only pigs on the farm, Cebe had to find kosher food for his new wife, so he ventures into the cypress forest in search of wild cows. Sure enough, he gets lost for seven days and nights among the medicine man’s trees. He was bitten by a venomous snake and ran deliriously through the swamp, emerging near the town of Carrabelle, where he collapsed and died … but not before uttering the words that would make him and the swamp famous:

"My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came through Hell!"

Tate’s Hell Swamp is now part of the beautiful Tate's Hell State Forest -- 202,000 acres of forest and swamplands which is an important hydrologic area and home to many endangered animals, including the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. And, if you believe Exemplore.com – fairies.

“Cryptozoologists will be keen to point out that this screams “fairy trap” and isn’t typically bigfoot phenomena, however there is room for debate due to the location and history of sasquatch cryptids doing strange things with trees.”

For believers in fairies, fairy traps are a way to capture them for ‘study’ – no trying to catch and hold the Tooth Fairy for ransom. Since it is high in a tree, this circular branch would be for trapping a tree fairy by giving it an intriguing shape to admire and hang out in. That might make sense except for one big problem – this so-called fairy trap seems far too high up in the tree to be human made. Some commenters suggest the branch was shaped when the tree was young – either by a human, an animal or an accident – and grew to be high off the ground.

Not this kind of fairy trap.

Or it was made by a tree-climbing skunk ape. Being apes, they are definitely well-equipped to climb. But … why would a skunk ape be interested in catching a tree fairy? Romance? That’s what got Cebe Tate in trouble in Tate’s Hell Swamp – could a swamp ape have met the same fate trying to find fairy food in an enchanted forest still cursed by an ancient Native American medicine man?

Or was the circle made by something natural? Another tree could have fallen against it long ago and caused damage that twisted a healthy branch into the misshapen circle it is today. That may be the most likely explanation, but it would have not led to you learning about the skunk ape, Tate’s Hell Swamp and fairy traps … would it?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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