Remembering ‘Okefenokee Joe’ who taught thousands about the swamp, nature and Native American culture

One of America’s most famous naturalists, “Okefenokee Joe” (also known as international country music performer Dick Flood), died Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center in downtown Augusta, Ga.

His death was confirmed by family members and close friends, according to a news release from his son, Dave Flood.

Richard “Dick” Flood had turned 90 on Nov. 13 at his home near Salley, S.C., and had been a patient at the Augusta VA centers since the Monday before Thanksgiving suffering from severe back pain.

Memorial services are being planned.

The native of Philadelphia, Pa., and veteran of the Korean War in the 1950s and 1960s wrote hit songs for artists such as Roy Orbison and The Wilburn Brothers, performed with Patsy Cline and had his own recordings released by Nashville-based Monument Records division of CBS.

Many of those recordings still are being used as background music in movies and television shows as recently as Clint Eastwood’s film “The Mule.”

His producer, Fred Foster, also produced recordings of Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Ray Price.

Flood in the early 1970s left behind his decades as a country music star with hit songs for a mostly solitary life living in south Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.

That led to his second career becoming an internationally recognized expert on swamps, nature and Native American culture. He was filmed in the Okefenokee Swamp in 2012 by a Japanese television crew for a documentary on swamp life.

Thousands of school children and adults came to regard Okefenokee Joe as a folk legend – sometimes called “an evangelist for Mother Earth” − through his countless numbers of talks to schools, civic clubs and festivals especially related to outdoor life and Native American culture such as Augusta’s Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival.

Two of his television specials made for the Georgia Public Broadcasting’s nine stations (Emmy Award-winning “Swampwise” and also “The Joy of Snakes”) became among the network’s highest rated shows.

He was the author of four books – “Swampwise,” “Snake Hunter/Snake Talk,” “My Walk Among the Stars” and “Swampwise: Secrets, Songs & Stories From The Land of The Tremblin’ Earth!”  – with the latter being made into an audio book.

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In his final months he had been working on a new album that would include a song called “Movin’ On” which he believed to be among his best ever composed.  Visit www.okefenokeejoe.com for a detailed look at his amazing life.

What made Joe really different from most other naturalists is that he also was a great singer, guitarist and songwriter who successfully combined his handling of poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes with his songs about protecting nature.

“Music and snakes may seem like an unlikely combination,” Joe said, “but it works for me.”

From his many years of working with snakes and giving demonstrations at schools, fairs, nature preserves and other places, Joe considered it disrespectful to call a sneaky or deceitful person a snake.

“Snakes I can trust,” he said. “They are more predictable than people. People are scared of snakes and yet only 12 or less people in the U.S. die of snake bites each year.”


Dick Flood’s musical career took off in the 1950s when he and Billy Graves were a country duo called The Country Lads singing on a network television show Jimmy Dean hosted in the Washington, D.C., area.

Fred Foster, who co-founded Monument Records in 1958 and named the label after the Washington Monument, signed both Flood and Graves to record separately for the label. Billy Grammar’s “Gotta Travel On” recording became the label’s first hit single with the B-side (back side) being a song that Flood wrote called “Chasing A Dream.”

Monument Records superstar Roy Orbison in 1960 had a smash single with his self-penned “Only The Lonely” with Flood writing “Here Comes That Song Again” on the B side.

Flood had three singles released on the label including his 1959 version of “The Three Bells” (also known to listeners as the “Little Jimmy Brown” song).  His version was upstaged by a trio called The Browns (featuring Opry star Jim Ed Brown) who recorded the same song about the same time.

Flood’s version went to No. 1 on Cashbox music magazine’s records chart but The Browns’ version became better known overall.

In spite of not having a super hit single, Flood found himself being a guest artist on the Grand Ole Opry almost every Saturday night for more than a year. 

He toured with his band called The Pathfinders from 1956 to 1973 including entertaining American soldiers in Vietnam and other countries of the Far East.

Flood recorded for other Nashville labels and wrote several hit songs like “Trouble’s Back in Town” used by The Wilburn Brothers as the theme for their nationally syndicated TV show.

By 1973, Flood was stressed out with the music business and his second marriage was falling apart. He wanted some peace and serenity to pull his life back together and ended up camping four months in the Florida Everglades.

He had come to know Jimmy Walker, manager of the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia, and Walker offered him a $60-a-week job as the swamp’s animal curator.

For eight years, Flood lived in a shack on Cowhouse Island in the swamp with no electricity or running water. That’s when he began developing his second life as Okefenokee Joe.

That led him to start giving talks about nature in schools and other places and to writing and recording songs about what he really loved more than anything.

“Living in the swamp, loving every minute, just being free,” he sang in one original composition. “Okefenokee, Georgia, population three: Swampy the dog, Skeeter the cat and me.”

Various circumstances led Joe to move to the Augusta area as a result of his friendship with North Augusta residents Bill and Linda Macky.

He never took lightly the love and respect from so many people who have come to know him over the years.

“It’s humbling and rewarding and I’m grateful and honored,” he said. “I was in a Walmart one Christmas season selling my albums, and more kids wanted to sit in my lap than in Santa Claus’ lap. The limelight I had in Nashville was great, but I like the woods better.”

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One response to “Remembering ‘Okefenokee Joe’ who taught thousands about the swamp, nature and Native American culture”

  1. Wanda Long says:

    One of my dearest friends, Dick will be remembered forever in my lifetime. I am the one who is truly blessed and feel honored to have know him , work with him in a video and have him as a friend to my Creek family! God Speed Joe,, I know Swampy and Skeeter where happy to see you come home! Until then, thank you for everything.