Florida’s Own Billy the Kid

Many people may not be aware but at the turn of the century, Florida had its very own Billy the Kid. And while he wasn’t a rustler or robber, he was a train-hopping rogue active in the Fort McCoy area who garnered attention for his activities on the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad between Ocala and Palatka in Marion County.

Map of the Oklawaha Valley Railroad from Palatka to Ocala.

Map of the Oklawaha Valley Railroad from Palatka to Ocala.

He was best known by another name: Billy, the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad Goat. The goat belonged to Lucy Calhoun, daughter of the engineer of Old No. 101 for Rodman Lumber between 1914 and 1922.  According to the tale, as a kid, Lucy’s goat got free and caught a train on the fly. Fortunately for the young rail rider, he wasn’t ditched from the shortline and was returned to Fort McCoy. From then until the rail’s decline, Billy could be found tramping on a hobo’s ticket.

Engine No. 101 with Lucy and Bertie Calhoun

Old No. 101 Engine on the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad. With Lucy Calhoun and her chief engineer father Bertie “Bud” Calhoun.

It has been suggested that Billy was among Florida’s first railway enthusiasts, but is almost certainly its first ungulate tramp. By the early 1920s, The Ocklawaha Valley railroad was abandoned and the story of Billy, the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad Goat ends there. All we can do is hope that Billy made his way to the hobo heaven of the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Billy, the Oklawaha Valley Railroad Goat on Main St. in Fort McCoy, Florida.

Billy, the Oklawaha Valley Railroad Goat on Main Street in Fort McCoy, Florida.

 

For more information about Billy see:

Bray, Sybil Browne. Marion County Remembers: Salty Crackers; Volume 3,  (1984).

Turner, Gregg. A Short History of Florida Railroads (2003).

Cook, David. “Ocklawaha Valley RR struggles to Survive”. Ocala Star-Banner. September 18th 1994.

Harriet Beecher Stowe in Florida

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), famed author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and noted abolitionist, is remembered for her New England roots and Northern perspectives. However, Stowe both influenced and was influenced by Florida.

Photograph of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

After the Civil War, in 1867, Stowe and her family wintered in Mandarin, FL on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Mandarin, FL Home Harriet Beecher Stowe and family

Mandarin, FL Home Harriet Beecher Stowe and family, between 1869 and 1878

During her Florida winters, Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves, published in 1873, a travel memoir of her years in Mandarin. Palmetto Leaves’ literary sketches include: “A Flowery January in Florida,” “Swamps and Orange-Trees,” “The Laborers of the South,” and “Buying Land in Florida” among others.

HBS cover

Cover of the 1st Edition of Stowe’s Palmetto Leaves (1873)

Until its destruction in 1964 by Hurricane Dora, the Church of Our Saviour in Mandarin, FL housed the Stowe Memorial Stained Glass Window created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Harriet Beecher Stowe memorial window created by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Chruch of Our Saviour in Mandarin, Florida

Harriet Beecher Stowe memorial window created by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Church of Our Saviour in Mandarin, FL

 

Group f/64 and the West Coast Photographic Movement

Although the photographs on Florida Memory are often discussed for their historic value, all exhibit some level of artistic direction and formal design elements.

A group of San Francisco-based photographers known as Group f/64 were renowned for their extreme focus and depth of field. Beginning in the late 1920s, Group f/64 formed as a sub-group of the West Coast Photographic Movement, a straight photography movement that worked against the prevailing pictorialist movement which attempted to mimic gestures of Romantic and Impressionist painting. The group included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston.

Marjorie De Hartog, Close-up view of water hyacinth in the Everglades, c.1950s. Compare with photographs of the desert flora by Imogen Cunningham.

Group f/64’s name was derived from the extremely small aperture used in their large-format photography in photographing landscapes and close-up objects. The result is a severe, almost unnatural depth and crispness unattainable by the human eye or previous photography.

Scenic view of Lake Eola Park

Scenic view of Lake Eola Park – Orlando, Florida, n.d. Compare with Ansel Adams’ sober, high-contrast landscapes.

Their impact on photography became widespread by the 1930s and can be seen in many of the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection. While the landscapes and objects have changed, the principles remain unchanged.

W.F. Jacobs, Detail of bark of black birch O'Leno State Park, Columbia County, Florida. 1940.

W.F. Jacobs, Detail of bark of black birch O’Leno State Park, Columbia County, Florida. 1940. Compare with the almost unrecognizable, uncomfortably close-up Edward Weston photographs.

While the images shown here were not necessarily inspired directly by this group, they are suggestive of the f/64 aesthetic. These formalist, aesthetic, and stylistic approaches foster new and different ways to engage with the images.

Close-up view of Jupiter Inlet Light Station - Palm Beach County, Florida

Close-up view of Jupiter Inlet Light Station – Palm Beach County, Florida Compare with the crisp architectural photographs of Willard van Dyck or John Paul Edwards.

 

Detail of whole-shell tabby concrete at the Kingsley Plantation State Historical Site - Fort George Island, Florida, 1981.

Detail of whole-shell tabby concrete at the Kingsley Plantation State Historical Site – Fort George Island, Florida, 1981. Compare with the disorienting and sometimes misleading details of Sonya Noskowiak.

Visit the Florida Photographic Collection and search for photos from your area.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was the first Floridian to receive the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel (later named the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction).  She won the award in 1939 for her book The Yearling.

Photograph of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings with typewriter

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953)

In 1928, Rawlings purchased an orange grove in Alachua County near Hawthorne, FL. Located between Lochloosa Lake and Orange Lake, the site was called Cross Creek. The surrounding area served as a setting, provided the characters, and influenced the stories of most of her novels and short stories. Themes of rural Florida, the Big Scrub area, and Florida Cracker culture are prevalent in her works.

Photograph of oaks with moss over water from Cross Creek, FL

Cross Creek, FL

The plots of her novels revolved around her observations in this area: farming, hunting, the interaction with the environment and its inhabitants, moonshining, and poverty. Rawling’s depictions were so direct from her experience, people she met were named in her novels and descriptions were recognized by the locals resulting in threats and at least one law suit for invasion of privacy.

MGM set for the film adaptation of The Yearling, 1940 with Gregory Peck & Jane Wyman

MGM set for the film adaptation of The Yearling, 1940 with Gregory Peck & Jane Wyman

Her works garnered several awards including an O. Henry Award in 1932 (for “Gal Young Un”)  and the Newberry Honor in 1956 (for The Secret River). Several of her works have been adapted for stage and screen. The story rights to The Yearling were purchased by MGM and an Academy Award winning film adaptation was released in 1946, increasing her fame.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home - Cross Creek, Florida

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Cross Creek, FL

Rawlings’ Cross Creek home, where she once hosted Zora Neale Hurston, is now preserved as the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.