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Little River, Big History

Only 16 miles long, the St. Sebastian has endured wars, poachers, an earthquake and even a shootout with gangsters

In 1870, Civil War veteran William Henry Jackson chartered the steamboat Cleo to explore the St. Sebastian River. This famous photograph now hangs on the walls of the Sebastian Historical Museum.

In 1870, Civil War veteran William Henry Jackson chartered the steamboat Cleo to explore the St. Sebastian River. This famous photograph now hangs on the walls of the Sebastian Historical Museum.

In honor of our 20-year anniversary, we’ve pulled 12 favorite stories from our archives to share with you each month. This one is excerpted from an article about the St. Sebastian River, which appeared in the January 2007 issue.

“He just keeps rollin’ along”— that’s what the St. Sebastian River does year after year, like the Mississippi in “Ol’ Man River,” the unforgettable theme song from “Show Boat.”

Like its mighty brother, the St. Sebastian “don’t say nothin,” shrugging off slights and blunders at the careless hands of man and an occasional curveball from the fates. The river has endured numerous name changes, demotion to creek status, an earthquake, Indian wars, the Civil War, pollution, muck, mud and a bloody visit from the notorious Ashley Gang.

Blue and sparkling, the river rolls right into the Indian River Lagoon on its way to the Atlantic. It is lined on both sides with the fine riverside homes of people who value its beauty, and the biggest town on the river honors it by bearing its name: Sebastian.

The first Europeans to reach the river were Spaniards. The journal of soldier Alvero Mexia contains the first known record of the river, which the Spanish subsequently named the San Sebastian in honor of the patron saint of soldiers, martyred in A.D. 288.