… I hope that ere next April we will have what is wished for a thousand times every moment. That is peace…
These words were penned October 12, 1864 by Albert Symington Chalker, a young private from Clay County stationed near present-day Baldwin during the Civil War. He was writing to Martha Ann Bardin, his sweetheart and future wife. The full letter reflects Chalker’s realization of the hardships of war, in terms of both what the young soldier observed around him, and what he was feeling within. Written “voices” like Chalker’s are invaluable for understanding historical phenomena like the Civil War, which is why the State Archives of Florida is eager to collect and preserve letters, diaries, and other documents from everyday citizens in addition to government records. Read more »
Florida Memory extends its congratulations to the city of Wauchula, which was recently named Florida’s Main Street program of the month for September 2014. The town, which now serves as the seat of Hardee County, dates back at least to the 1880s when the railroad first pushed through southwestern Florida. The name Wauchula itself appears to be a little older, as many authorities agree it derives from the Creek word watula, meaning “sand hill crane.”
Map from the 1890s showing the location of Wauchula between Fort Meade and Arcadia on the Florida Southern Railway. U.S. Highway 17 follows roughly the same route as this railroad once did (State Library of Florida).
The town was still part of DeSoto County when the first post office named Wauchula opened in 1888. The settlement had been known as “English” for at least a few years beforehand, likely named for Eli English, who operated a small store about a mile south of the present downtown area. According to records from DeSoto County, Wauchula was originally incorporated on June 9, 1888, although the act was not validated by the state until 1903. In 1921, when DeSoto County was divided up into several parts, Wauchula became the seat of the newly formed Hardee County.
Hardee County Courthouse, not long after its original construction (photo circa 1920s).
Since its establishment, Wauchula has been a regional center of commercial activity, especially agriculture. In honor of Wauchula’s achievement as this month’s featured Main Street program, we have selected a few images from the Florida Photographic Collection depicting some of the city’s earliest Main Street scenes.
A street scene from downtown Wauchula, taken from the 1974 location of the Masonic Hall (photo circa 1905).
A Memorial Day parade heading down Main Street in Wauchula. According to a note accompanying the original image, this was the last parade in Wauchula to be held on dirt roads in the town (1915).
Beeson Brothers’ Drug Store on Main Street in Wauchula. This firm was established in 1905 when W.B. and Dr. J. Mooring Beeson, the latter a graduate of the Medical College of Alabama, set up shop with a stock of no more than $50 worth of drugs (photo circa 1905).
Interior of the Carlton and Carlton Bank in Wauchula. The bank was originally established in 1904 in a corner of the Wauchula Hardware Store. The bank moved into a building of its own in 1909, and in 1915 it was incorporated as the Carlton National Bank. Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton was part of the Carlton family who established the bank (photo 1904).
The curious story of Jim Williams begins with an early, botched operation of ”Old Sparky,” Florida’s electric chair, and ends on the lips of a folk singer, with plenty of misinterpretation, heroics, and history in between.
On April 10, 1926, Jim Williams, a 25 year-old African-American man living in Palatka in Putnam County, Florida, was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to death by electrocution. His execution was scheduled for June 1, 1926 the Florida State Prison at Raiford.
Old Sparky at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, FL. c.1936. Photograph by Jack Spottswood.
On the day of the execution, Williams was strapped into what would become known as Old Sparky. As Williams awaited his fate, an argument erupted over who should throw the switch that would end his life. After many minutes and no resolution, prison superintendent James Simeon Blitch contacted Governor John Martin for an answer.
James Simeon Blitch, superintendent of Florida State Prison at Raiford, FL in 1926. Photograph by Jack Spottswood.
The problem derived from unclear language in the death warrant regarding who was to carry out the execution. The official document, signed by Governor Martin and addressed to both Superintendent Blitch and Putnam County Sheriff R.J. Hancock, gave these instructions:
“You, the said Superintendent of our State Prison, or some deputy by you to be designated, and you, the said sheriff of our said County of Putnam, unless you be prevented by sickness or other disability, shall be present at such execution. Such execution shall be carried out by you and such deputies, electricians and assistants as you may require to be present to assist…”
The warrant clearly required the presence of both men, but it did not specify which would serve as the executioner. Newspapers reported that the sheriff of the county in which the crime was committed was the official obliged to end the life of the condemned. In Williams’ case it would be Putnam County Sheriff R.J. Hancock. However, Hancock added to the confusion by sending two deputies, Walter Minton and L. Shannon in his place, and both men refused to carry out the execution. Superintendent Blitch was also unwilling to throw the switch. Given the uncertainty and confusion, Governor Martin instructed Blitch to return Jim Williams to his cell. Ultimately, despite two additional death warrants, Williams’ sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but his story does not stop there.
Death Warrant of Jim Williams signed by Governor Martin
Florida State Prison at Raiford, Florida, 1920s.
As officials deliberated over who would serve as executioner, Williams’ sat in the chair terrified. His brush with death had a profound effect, as one would imagine. Attorney General (and later Florida Supreme Court Justice) Fred. H. Davis, said after visiting Raiford in 1927, “They can’t get him to sit in a barber’s chair because it looks a bit like the electric chair. He steadfastly refuses to undergo any tonsorial operations and I shouldn’t be surprised if it would not take the whole prison population to make him do it.”.
According to newspapers, in 1934, Williams jumped from a moving convict truck to save a woman and her child from a mad bull. He was granted a conditional pardon for his heroism and was released December 23, 1934. Although the details of his heroism are uncertain, the pardon issued by Governor Fred Cone is well-documented.
Text of the conditional pardon issued by Governor Cone from the minutes of the the Florida Board of Pardons.
After his release, he was never heard from again. Oddities promoter Robert Ripley, creator of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, offered a $500 reward for information about the whereabouts of Jim Williams calling him “the only person ever known to have been strapped in the electric chair and escape execution.”
Florida’s “Black Hat Troubadour”, Will McLean wrote a ballad telling the story of Jim Williams. While the story is that of Williams, McLean names him incorrectly as Abraham Washington, another death row escapee. The first verse refers to Washington’s story, while the rest is that of Williams. Abraham Washington was, as McLean sings, sentenced to death by hanging shortly before a new law requiring the use of the electric chair. The death warrant was declared void by the Duval County court because it specified that Washington was to hang, not be electrocuted, and hanging had been outlawed. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By that time, Washington’s sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment.
Well there was a man named Washington, his first name Abraham
The judge said he would ride the rope into the Promised Land
Before he met his fateful doom, the hanging law was dead
They took him down to Raiford-town to the electric chair instead
They strapped him in the electric chair and so while he was waitin’
The warden and the county sheriff were talkin’ and debatin’
Which one of us must throw the switch and send this man to Hell?
But no decision could be reached; in prison he would dwell
They took him from the electric chair, his sweat had turned to blood
They told him that his life was spared and from his eyes did flood
the salty tears of gratefulness; it happens to all men
Down on his knees he made this vow to never sit again
One day a prison gang did ride by pastures that were green
A mother with her baby strolled so happy and serene
Suddenly a vicious bull did charge this freighted wife
And Abraham, he jumped the fence and saved this woman’s life
A pardon full to Washington, his first name Abraham
Who took a vow to never sit again while on this land
The last account of Washington, the day was cold and wet,
was Abraham, have you kept your vow? And he said “I ain’t sat yet.”
Today, we are highlighting one of the State Archives’ exciting endeavors: audio digitization.
Since 2003 the State Archives has digitized thousands of audio recordings in the Florida Folklife Collection. The goal of this effort is to preserve Florida’s folk culture and make it accessible to educators, researchers, and Florida folk enthusiasts around the world. The Collection includes interviews, field recordings and performances gathered by folklorists from the Florida Folklife Program and recordings from the Florida Folk Festival dating back to 1954.
Reel-to-reel tapes from the Florida Folklife Collection. Content includes interviews and field recordings by the Florida Folklife Program and performances from the Florida Folk Festival.
Audio recording formats in the Folklife Collection consist of reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, digital audio tapes (DATS), compact discs (CDs), and digital audio files. They are kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment in the Archives’ stacks to minimize deterioration.
A reel-to-reel tape, cassette tape, digital audio tape (DAT), and compact disc (CD) from the Florida Folklife Collection.
Although it may resemble Don Draper from AMC’s hit show Mad Men, this is a Thoro Test reel-to-reel box holding a recording from the 1959 Florida Folk Festival.
A box of cassette tapes from the Florida Folklife Collection representing the diverse cultures of Florida.
To bring you these recordings, the original source materials must be transferred from their analog medium to a digital file. This process requires legacy audio equipment, like reel-to-reel tape machines and cassette decks, to play the audio recordings, and new digital technology, such as analog-to-digital converters, high quality sound cards, and audio computer software to capture the sound digitally.
The Ampex ATR-102 is used to playback reel-to-reel tapes for digitization.
The Tascam 112MK II (top) is used to play cassette tapes and the Tascam DA-20MK II (bottom) is used to play digital audio tape for digitization.
The resulting digital audio file is an uncompressed 96 khz 24 bit WAV file. This file specification is a national archival standard, chosen for its ability to capture all frequencies in the human hearing range.
The Apogee Rosetta 200 converts analog audio (e.g. reel-to-reel tapes) to digital audio.
The Lynx AES16 sound card allows for a high quality digital audio transfer from the Apogee Rosetta 200.
These high quality files are called “preservation masters” and are stored without undergoing any editing whatsoever. The idea is to preserve all sonic qualities (good and bad) of the original recording. Some recordings undergo minor editing for listenability when making access copies (e.g. CDs) for users, and mp3 versions for the Florida Memory website and Florida Memory Radio.
If you’ve ever suffered from a clogged liver, blood in need of purifying, or an undernourished brain, this is the blog for you. Modern medical professionals have made incredible advances in clinical practice and new lifesaving drugs. It’s doubtful, however, that they are any more enthusiastic or confident about their abilities than their predecessors and one-time competitors, the manufacturers of patent medicines. With products named Orangeine, Curolene, Electric Liniment, Angel’s Oil, Reliable Worm Syrup, and White Star Secret Liquor Cure, these purveyors of health and vitality descended upon the American public in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, promising to calm every cough, move every bowel, shrink every tumor, and destroy every bunion in the entire nation. That is, provided the consumer would kindly ask for their product at their local druggist or send an order in by mail.
Patent medicines such as “Father John’s Medicine,” “Retonga Tonic,” and “Swamp Root” on the shelf at Hicks Drug Store in Tallahassee (1961).
Patent medicines, sometimes called “nostrums,” have been around for a very long time. In ancient days, Latin speakers referred to such medicines as “nostra remedia,” or “our remedies.” In all cultures, people have experimented with various ways of healing illnesses of all sorts, from pain to itching to cosmetic issues to respiratory distress and sexual impotence. Often, the impetus for this experimentation has been a very noble desire to alleviate the pain or discomfort of loved ones or humanity in general. Producing remedies can also, however, be a very lucrative business.
Advertisement for Hires’ Improved Root Beer, including claims that it “purifies the blood.” Notice the ad calls this a “temperance beverage,” a nod to the fact that in some parts of the state a movement was afoot to prohibit the sale and manufacturing of alcohol (circa 1900).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, advancements in packaging and advertisement made it possible for makers of patent medicines to promote their products far and wide and capture the interest of a broad audience. With mainstream medicine still lacking full understanding of even some basic diseases and conditions, suffering patients were often open to trying patent medicines they found in the drug store or the newspaper. It was almost impossible to know whether a product had truly been tested for effectiveness (or toxicity) or even endorsed by anyone with any medical training at all. With virtually no laws governing the manufacture and sale of pills, elixirs, and other remedies, advertisers could essentially make up whatever they wanted about the product. After all, they frequently said, they were more than happy to refund the purchase price if the product didn’t work.
Broadside for Tydings’ “Turpentine Man’s” Remedy (1939).
And that’s the kicker. Patent medicines often did work, although usually not by doing what they were advertised to do. They often contained high doses of alcohol, cocaine, morphine, or opium, all of which were generally legal to possess and mix into medicines at this time. It’s hard to say whether a patient’s heart palpitations, fever, or unpleasant digestive problems were really solved by the elixir they swallowed, but then again how could they tell? After a healthy dose of this or that miracle potion, they were probably in too pleasant a fog to stand up, let alone contemplate pain.
A page from the diary of Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, containing recipes for various mixtures he used for patients. Click on the image to view more of the diary and a transcript.
In earlier days, physicians were little help in combating the problem. They themselves were unsure in many cases how to bring their patients relief, and they frequently turned to some of the same intoxicating ingredients used in patent medicines. As medical knowledge increased and practitioners began organizing themselves and standardizing their practices, they began criticizing the patent medicine manufacturers. Doctors argued that while patent medicines did not cure illnesses, they did discourage patients from seeking legitimate medical care, and in some cases caused them to descend into dependency on alcohol and other addictive drugs.
The potion makers did not go quietly. As pressure mounted, they enlisted the support of the newspaper industry, which received a hefty amount of revenue from patent medicine advertisements. Over time, however, lawmakers opted to err on the side of safety. State laws began requiring products claiming medicinal properties to disclose their ingredients. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, granting the government authority to place tighter regulations on food and drug labeling and advertising.
Margaret B. Barry and her son Bill at the family drug store, Suwannee Drug Company, in Newberry (photo circa 1908).
Today, in Florida and across the nation, strict laws and procedures tightly control the availability of many of the ingredients that once made patent medicines so potentially dangerous. Various “cures” and homeopathic remedies still exist, and many swear by them, but compared to the “liver salts, “stomach bitters,” and other elixirs of yesteryear, they are much safer to use.
What’s the craziest sounding cure-all you’ve ever seen? Tell us about it by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to share our post with your friends on Facebook!
Today Florida joins the rest of the United States in celebrating Women’s Equality Day, an officially designated day observing two anniversaries in the history of women’s rights. Today is the 94th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th amendment, which struck down the limitation of suffrage on the basis of sex. It is also the 44th anniversary of the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality, organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its president at that time, Betty Friedan.
The fight for gender equality in Florida has a long history, with many bumps in the road. Today we pay homage to the women and men who stood up for equality before the ballot box, even when they faced indifference, outright opposition, or ridicule.
Ivy Stranahan, an early advocate of women’s suffrage in Florida (photo circa 1890s).
May Mann Jennings, Florida’s First Lady during the administration of her husband, Governor William S. Jennings (1901-1905). Mrs. Jennings was a co-founder of the Florida League of Women Voters (photo circa 1900s).
The movement to secure the vote for women was relatively unorganized in Florida until just before the turn of the twentieth century. Ella C. Chamberlain, who hailed from Tampa, attended a suffrage convention in Des Moines, Iowa in 1892, and returned to the Sunshine State eager to get something going. She sought out space in a local newspaper, only to be directed to write a column on issues of interest to women and children. Legend had it she exclaimed that the world was “not suffering for another cake recipe and the children seemed to be getting along better than the women.” She resolved instead to write about women’s rights, and to deploy the knowledge she had picked up in Des Moines.
Chamberlain was considerably far ahead of public opinion in the Tampa area of the 1890s, but she carried on her work with enthusiasm. In 1893, she established the Florida Women’s Suffrage Association, which associated itself with the broader National American Women Suffrage Association and attempted to inject women’s rights issues into the local political landscape. Susan B. Anthony herself came to know Chamberlain and her efforts on behalf of the women of the Sunshine State. For a number of years, Chamberlain sent Anthony a big box of Florida oranges during the winter as a gesture of appreciation. It was also a ploy to expose the inequality of agricultural wages in Florida between the sexes. Women typically made less than their husbands in this industry, even if they did the same work.
Susan B. Anthony, co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage association, at Rochester, New York (1897).
When Ella Chamberlain left Florida in 1897, the Florida Women’s Suffrage Association lagged and faded out, but the fight for equality continued in smaller organizations around the state. In June of 1912, a group of thirty Jacksonville women founded the Florida Equal Franchise League. Their goals were to improve the legal, educational, and industrial rights of women, as well as to promote the study of civics and civic improvements. The Orlando Suffrage League emerged in 1913, aiming specifically to get women to attempt to vote in a sewerage bond election. When the women were refused, they walked away with a clear example of taxation without representation to use in future debates.
As similar groups began popping up and communicating with one another, the need for a statewide organization became clear. In 1913, the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (FESA) was born at an organizational meeting in Orlando, with the Rev. Mary A. Safford as president and women from across the state serving as officers.
Caroline Mays Brevard, granddaughter of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call, noted Florida historian, and a founding member of the Florida Equal Suffrage Association (photo circa 1900s).
FESA and its associates around the state met with mixed success. In Pensacola, for example, where the local newspaper and a number of elected officials were amenable to women’s suffrage, organizers were able to hold meetings and gain a great deal of traction. In Tampa, however, these conditions did not exist and suffrage activists found the road much tougher, at least at first.
As voting rights became a more hotly debated topic across the state and nation, demonstrations on both sides of the issue became more explicit, and admittedly quite creative. The Koreshan Unity, a religious group based in Estero, Florida, put their pro-suffrage stance in the form of a play entitled “Women, Women, Women, Suffragettes, Yes.” The Florida Photographic Collection includes images of both men and women dressing up as the opposite sex, at times to support the idea of equal voting rights and at other times to ridicule it. While humorous, the images are a reminder that for many the suffrage question was often at odds with the longstanding belief that men and women occupied distinct and separate places in society.
Students at the Andrew D. Gwynne Institute in Fort Myers stage an “international meeting of suffragettes” (photo 1913).
Visitors at Orange Lake, possibly involved in the debate on voting rights for women (photo 1914).
Reception by “DeLeonites” and “DeSoters” at De Leon Springs. Which side of the voting rights debate they are on is not entirely clear (photo 1917).
Photo poking fun at suffragettes by depicting women smoking and driving an automobile (1914).
The 19th Amendment became law on August 26th, 1920, granting women the right to vote. Florida was not one of the states ratifying the amendment, and in fact it did not do so until 1969. Floridian women were undeterred by whatever ambivalence might have caused the delay, however, and women began running for the legislature the very next year. No uproar accompanied the change; the most divisive question was apparently whether women would be charged a poll tax for one or two years, given they had been unable to register the previous year. In time, women began occupying positions of responsibility in all areas of Florida government, although true gender equality was still (and yet remains) an ongoing project.
Women’s Equality Day is an opportunity both to reflect on the past, to celebrate the advances made thus far, and to renew our vigilance in the interest of equal rights regardless of gender. The State Library and Archives of Florida are particularly well-equipped to help you with the bit about reflecting on the past. Check out our recently updated Guide to Women’s History Collections to learn more about the materials we have for researching the history of women in Florida.
On March 3, 1845, the U.S. admitted Florida as the 27th state in the Union. A proclamation was issued for a statewide election to be held on May 26, 1845, in which citizens would elect a Governor, a member of the United States Congress, seventeen state senators, and forty-one state representatives.
Florida’s first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.
Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida’s first state governor (circa 1845-49).
David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Note that U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures at this time, not chosen directly by the people. Photo circa 1850s-60s.
Florida’s Legislative Council passed an act “to Facilitate the Organization of the State of Florida” on March 11, 1845, part of which laid out the criteria a citizen had to meet in order to participate in the election. Voting was restricted to free white males who were citizens of the U.S. at the time of the election and had lived in Florida for at least two years. A voter could only cast a ballot in the county where he had lived for at least six months and was enrolled as a member of the local militia.
J.H. Colton’s map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.
Each of Florida’s twenty-five counties was divided into precincts. Clerks of the county courts appointed inspectors for each precinct to ensure an accurate and orderly voting process. Each clerk and inspector kept poll books listing the voters. Attached to these poll books were certificates of election on which the inspectors and clerk, after having counted the votes, wrote down the results for each candidate. Sometimes a voter’s qualifications were challenged by an inspector. In these cases, the inspector reviewed the available evidence and either had the voter swear an oath affirming his eligibility or rejected his claim outright. Either outcome was then noted on the certificate.
An example of a record showing the results of a voter’s attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison’s right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.
In this example, John L. Call’s credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirming his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.
Today, 169 years after the 1845 election that marked the beginning of Florida’s statehood, voting technology has changed a great deal, as have the requirements for becoming eligible to cast a ballot.
In 1845, a qualified voter could simply walk up to a precinct on Election Day and vote, barring any challenges from the inspector in charge. Today voters must register, and meet the following requirements:
Be a Citizen of the United States of America (a lawful permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen)
Be a Florida resident
Be 18 years old
Not have been judged mentally incapacitated by a court order
Not have been convicted of a felony without the citizen’s civil rights having been restored
Provide current and valid Florida driver’s license number or Florida identification card number. If a citizen does not have a Florida driver’s license number or a Florida identification card number then he or she must provide the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. If the citizen does not have any of these items, he or she must write “none” in the box or field where type of available ID is indicated.
In 1845, the only way to vote was in person. Today, Florida counties offer several methods for casting a legal ballot:
Go to designated poll site and vote in person
Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida’s 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).
Florida’s state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).
Are you a qualified Florida voter? If so, election season is here, and you have the opportunity to help shape the future of your community and state. Make a note of the dates below, and exercise your right to cast a ballot on Election Day. For more information about voting in Florida, visit the Florida Department of State – Division of Elections website.
Deadline to Register: July 28, 2014
Election Day: August 26, 2014
Deadline to Register: October 6, 2014
Election Day: November 4, 2014
Polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
Florida Memory is currently digitizing the returns from the 1845 statehood election, so everyone will be able to easily access them for genealogical and historical research. Expect to see them online and ready to search in a few weeks!
Lots of people associate the idea of a rodeo with the American West – Texas, Oklahoma, someplace dusty, hot, and dotted with cacti. And while rodeo is most certainly a big hit out west, it has deep roots here in the Sunshine State as well. Florida, after all, has been home to a thriving cattle industry for centuries. Native Americans and the Spanish were raising cows as early as the 1500s, long before organized ranching arrived in what would become known as the American West. As new settlers arrived and the era of Spanish ownership came to an end, the herds remained, changed hands many times, and continued to serve as a valuable source of food and trade.
Drawing of the “cow ford” that eventually became the site of Jacksonville. This particular section of the St. Johns River was used for the purpose of fording cattle as far back as the late 18th century (drawing circa 1800s).
Rodeo developed partly out of the practical needs of a farm or cattle ranch, and partly because the tasks involved naturally lend themselves to competition and spectacle. Roping, herding, and branding cattle, breaking wild horses, and overall dexterity in the saddle were all basic needs of even the earliest cattle ranch hands. The events of modern rodeos are closely related to these traditional skills.
A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).
A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).
Aside from serving as a demonstration of skill, rodeos have a strong social element that brings together communities like few other traditions can do. In cities and towns where the surrounding region is highly involved in the cattle industry, rodeos are held frequently, and are designed for the entire family to enjoy. Floridians as far south as Homestead and as far north as Bonifay have special annual rodeos with a lengthy past. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, for example, originated in 1928 when the local American Legion post was looking for a fundraiser for a new building. Post officials invited all the local families, including the Seminoles located nearby, to attend a rodeo and parade to raise money for their cause. A band from Wauchula provided music, and even Governor Doyle Carlton rode in the procession. The first rodeo was a smashing success, and even with the arrival of the Great Depression, the people of Arcadia kept up the tradition of holding rodeo events each year. It still continues today.
Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).
Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).
One of rodeo’s most admirable aspects is its inclusiveness. While the crowd may roar at the spectacle of an adult rider using every ounce of strength to stay atop a bucking bull, there’s just as much enthusiasm for the large number of events held especially for the kids. From rodeo’s earliest days, children have been earnest competitors, demonstrating their horsemanship, roping skills, and overall athleticism in a variety of ways. Older kids with a little more size and experience may compete in junior versions of the same events as adults, while a few events are just for the small fry. At Arcadia, for example, youngsters can participate in the “calf scramble” and “mutton bustin’” challenges. In the calf scramble, an entire army of kids are unleashed on the arena where calves adorned with bandannas have been placed. Those participants who successfully chase down a calf and remove its bandanna are declared the winners. In the mutton scramble, young riders hold onto the backs of sheep as they scurry about the arena. Whoever stays on the longest wins.
Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).
A young man participates in a “calf scramble” at a rodeo in Lakeland. This version of the calf scramble had an interesting twist. If a participant could catch the calf and get him over the finish line, he got to keep it (1947).
These are just a few of the hundreds of images in the Florida Photographic Collection pertaining to the rodeo. Is there a rodeo event near your community? Tell us about your favorite rodeo experiences by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!
Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).
It’s a cool Sunday morning in the sandy scrub of North Florida, with dew still on the ground and the sun just getting up over the trees. It’s 1847. Church is about to start, but it’s nothing like what most of us would think of when we think of church today. There is no church building; there’s only an arbor to shield the worshipers from the sun, a few crude benches, and a space at the front for the preacher. Moreover, the preacher arrives on his horse just before the service is to begin, because he does not live in the same community as his congregants. In fact, this is only one of half a dozen settlements he will visit in the course of a month.
Portrait of Rev. James Holland of Leon County, a circuit riding minister (circa 1880s).
This was the experience of worshipers who were ministered to by circuit riders, preachers who traveled from place to place offering religious services to settlers in far-flung corners of the Florida frontier. Sometimes called “saddlebag preachers,” these ministers typically traveled on horseback or sometimes in a wagon if the roads permitted. The communities they served comprised a “circuit,” sometimes with a permanent church headquarters in one of the larger towns. In the territorial and early statehood periods, with transportation difficult and communities spread far apart, circuit ministries were an efficient way of reaching the population. Circuit riding is particularly associated with the Methodist faith, although other denominations have used similar methods to reach their followers at various times.
Rev. Dwight F. Cameron, Jr. with his horse and buggy. Cameron was a circuit riding minister in Volusia County in the early twentieth century (1916).
The services at each station on the circuit might take place in a private home, a public building like the local courthouse, or under a “brush arbor,” a humble and temporary shelter that could be erected and expanded quickly. Later, as many communities expanded and their families became more prosperous, permanent church buildings began replacing the temporary brush arbors of earlier years. Better roads also made it easier for families living far away from established churches to come into town to worship. Over time, the circuit rider began to disappear as ministers were appointed for individual churches.
The United Methodist Church of Middleburg in Clay County, with congregants outside. The church was originally built in 1845. The photo dates to the 1880s.
The concept of open-air “camp meetings” and other religious services is still an attractive one for many, however, and modern versions still appear today. As a nod to the significance of this old Floridian tradition, several reenactments of a typical brush arbor church service have been performed at the annual Florida Folk Festival over the years.
Reenactment of a brush arbor church service at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs (circa 1960s).
What’s the oldest church in your county? Did you know that Florida Memory has digitized the records of a WPA survey of more than 5,500 of the state’s churches? Visit the WPA Church Records collection, and search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have pictures of any of the churches in your community!
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.
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.
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 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.
Florida Memory is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services.