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This is the fourth and last column on A.F. Gonzalez’ memoir of his 1893 journey, with three others (William G. Rew, L. C. Stewart and Joe Henley), across the wilderness of South Florida from Fort Myers to Palm Beach. They’d expected the trip to take four days. It took 15.
“We never saw a bird of any kind, no deer, no turkeys, no sign of life at all from the day we left (Lake) Okeechobee until we reached Alapatta Flat near Jupiter Florida,” he wrote.
The 19-year-0ld Gonzalez got work on a dredge, splicing rope, from Oct. 1 to April 1, at $40 a month.
(Debi Murray, archivist at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, said that would have been the project to straighten “Lake Worth Creek,” a waterway at the north end of the Lake Worth lagoon.)
Later, Gonzalez, miffed when the captain hadn’t paid him, went to the sheriff, who “told the captain not to lift the dipper out of the water till you pay this boy.” The captain said he’d been waiting on his paymaster but agreed to square with Gonzalez out of his own pocket.
Gonzalez took a steamer up the Indian River to Titusville, then a train to Lakeland and another to Punta Gorda, where he got a boat ride to Fort Myers, and home.
“This,” he wrote decades later as an old man, “ended a trip I never want to make again.”
Note: As we’ve been recounting A.F. Gonzalez’ adventure over the past four weeks, we’ve been making use of some drawings provided by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
The illustrations were done by George W. Potter, a surveyor, illustrator, and original homesteader. Potter came to Florida in 1873 from Cincinnati and settled in Palm Beach in 1881. An original partner in Lain-hart & Potter Building Supplies, he served a year as mayor in 1909. He died in 1924.
In 2009, his great-grandson, David Willson, donated the entire Potter art collection to the historical society.
The illustration shown with today’s column, Debi Murray says, was improperly called Boat in Empty Canal. It actually is the cut-through workers created to cross from the Lake Worth lagoon into the Lake Worth Creek at the north end of the lagoon. “Gonzalez,” she wrote, “would have been working the dredge that was working to create a straight line of the Lake Worth Creek.”
A.F. Gonzalez, who walked across the Florida Everglades with three others in 1893 (Photo courtesy of the Gonzalez family)
A.F. Gonzalez (back row, right) and his siblings (Photo courtesy of the Gonzalez family)
George W. Potter came to Florida in 1873 from Cincinnati and settled in Palm Beach in 1881. An original partner in Lainhart & Potter Building Supplies, he served a year as mayor in 1909. (George W. Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Potter’s sketchbooks feature a study of the cut-through to Lake Worth lagoon. (George W. Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Tags: historical society, photos, pioneers
This is the third column on A.F. Gonzalez’ memoir of his 1893 journey, with three others — William G. Rew, L. C. Stewart and Joe Henley — across wilderness South Florida from Fort Myers to Palm Beach.
The four had spent nearly two weeks canoeing, then slogging through sometimes waist-deep swamp, and had run out of food days earlier and resorted to eating palmetto cabbage.
Finally, the four came across two men chopping railroad ties. They’d stumbled back into civilization, as much as it was. And soon discovered they were ever so near their destination.
“As we ran to them,” Gonzalez wrote, “they started running from us. So we followed them, and the two men went straight to the commissary, which was our life saver.”
The manager of the railroad commissary grilled them on their adventure but told them he’d give them only milk and crackers in their delicate gastronomic conditions, “which we were glad to get.”
The four crawled into nets at 11 a.m. and “never moved until 10 a.m. the next day.”
That would have been a 14th night since they’d left Fort Myers.
They got soap and luxuriated in bathing and washing their clothes. The manager would not take their money. He directed them to the shortest route to Palm Beach.
Soon they were in Juno — not current Juno Beach, but instead nearby Juno, the seat of Dade County from 1888 until the town burned in 1894. There, they spent their 15th night.
“The next day we got a boatman to sail us over the lake to Palm Beach.” Gonzalez said. He described fewer than a dozen houses as well as a store.
“The Flagler Company,” Gonzales wrote, was then beginning work on the big hotel there” — the Royal Poinciana, which would open in April 1894.
An aside: Debi Murray, archivist for the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, notes the region already was far more along and that Gonzalez “under-represents what was here in 1893.”
The four men bought some clothing at a store, where the clerk also questioned them about their journey, then said, “you fellows had some nerve to come through the Glades.”
Then he showed them a clipping from a Jacksonville newspaper. It said the four had not been heard from since they’d left Fort Myers “and they are believed to have perished in the Glades.”
Gonzalez, in a moment similar to that of another young adventurer, Tom Sawyer, enjoyed the luxury of reading his own obituary.
Next week: Home
George W. Potter, a surveyor, illustrator, and original homesteader, came to Florida in 1873 from Cincinnati and settled in Palm Beach in 1881. This sketch of C.J. Cragin’s place is one of many in the George W. Potter Collection at Historical Society of Palm Beach County
Potter’s portfolios and sketchbooks contain hundreds of small pencil and wash studies that are detailed journalistic drawings of life in pioneer Palm Beach. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Last week we began A.F. Gonzalez’s memoir of his 1893 trip, as a 19-year-old, across the wilderness of southern Florida, from Fort Myers to Palm Beach.
Gonzalez and three others — William G. Rew, L. C. Stewart, Joe Henley — had departed Fort Myers Sept. 1, and by their fifth night were on the east side of Lake Okeechobee, where they left their canoes and started walking through the Everglades to the east coast, a distance of only 40 miles.
But that leg of the journey would take 10 of the 15 days it took them to cross the peninsula.
After slogging through water, they finally reached high ground, and were eating when they spotted a group of wild hogs and shot one. After their sixth night since leaving Fort Myers they started again early and soon were back in knee-deep water.
“By nightfall it was raining hard and we failed to find a dry spot to make camp,” Gonzalez wrote. Instead, the four spent their seventh night sleeping in sitting positions, partially in water.
Noon the next day found them under sunny skies and again on dry land, where they dried out their belongings and, with food running low, gathered “palmetto cabbage” — likely hearts of palm, the insides of palm tree stalks — to eat before spending their eighth night.
The next morning their packed food ran out.
As the four walked, they realized Rew’s pipe had been left behind somewhere. Henley set off for it and was lost for hours.
After spending their ninth night, the four scavenged more palmetto cabbage. The next day again was a slog through mostly knee-deep water. As they slept on that 10th night, the campfire, which they hadn’t completely extinguished, was caught by a gust and shot up a tree, burning Henley’s net and some of his clothes.
The next day’s walk ended around 4 p.m., where “we built a fire, cut cabbage and ate all we wanted, but nothing tasted good anymore, for we (had) had no salt for days.”
Their pant legs were “torn to strings” and, even with a compass, they feared they were lost in the Everglades.
After an 11th night, the four walked all day before stopping at a dry spot. Rew, said, “Boys, I can’t take this much longer, and if we don’t get out of here soon, I will use one of these bullets on myself.”
The morning after the 12th night, Rew’s concerned compatriots threw away his cartridges. Rew later came across an owl, grabbed it, and began “eating it alive.”
The four spent a 13th night and walked from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. They then saw something amazing.
Next week: Not dead yet
George W. Potter, a surveyor, illustrator and original homesteader, came to Florida in 1873 from Cincinnati and settled in Palm Beach in 1881. An original partner in Lainhart & Potter Building Supplies, he served a year as mayor in 1909. He died in 1924. Potter’s portfolios and sketchbooks contain hundreds of small pencil and wash studies that are detailed journalistic drawings of life in pioneer Palm Beach. In 2009, his great-grandson, David Willson, donated the entire Potter art collection to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. (George W. Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Early Palm Beach pioneers included George Potter, who took this photograph, and his brother, Richard, seated second from left along the shores of Lake Worth.
(Courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Early Palm Beach County pioneers, from left: Hiram F. Hammon, George W. Lainhart, George W. Potter, Martha Lainhart, William M. Lanehart, Dr. Richard B. Potter, Grace Lainhart, Ellen E. Potter, circa 1880s. (Courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
While much of southern Florida’s interior remains uninhabited swamp and scrub, most of us enjoy the luxuries of 21st century living, including traversing paved roads in air-conditioned vehicles. Not that long ago, all of Florida was unspoiled wilderness, and travel was more of an adventure.
Earlier this year, reader Harrison Hine of Tequesta forwarded to us a written account of four friends traveling by foot and canoe across the southern peninsula, from Fort Myers to Palm Beach.
The year: 1893. West Palm Beach would incorporate a year later, Palm Beach County not until 1909. This area still was part of Dade County, which stretched from the upper Keys to the Stuart area and sported all of about 1,000 residents.
The first-person account, typed on a manual typewriter in all caps, is by A.F. Gonzalez, who was at that point “85 years young.”
That late summer day in another century, he’d been only 19. And made a fateful split-second decision to join the sojourn.
The economy in tiny Fort Myers was dead and the four hoped to find work in Palm Beach, where Henry Flagler was building what would open in April 1894 as the Royal Poinciana Hotel, transforming Palm Beach from a wilderness outpost to “the American Riviera.”
At the last minute, one of the four men planning the trip changed his mind, and Gonzalez got permission from his mother to go. The four expected the trip to take four days. It took more than 15 and nearly killed them.
The four left Fort Myers on Sept. 1, 1893. They made four miles the first afternoon and by the second night were at Fort Denaud, near present-day LaBelle. They canoed through several lakes and spent a third night. They caught and ate a deer and a wild turkey the next morning. They spent a fourth night near the south shore of Lake Okeechobee, then raised sails on their canoes and sped to a spot they identified as Pelican Island, where they stayed their fifth night.
They then left their canoes and started walking east through the Everglades. They worked through water that at times was waist-deep and saw grass that Gonzalez said rose as much as 7 feet above their heads. They forded a stream that was “miles long with about 2 feet of water in it and about 50 yards across.” It was teeming with small fish who were being pursued by water moccasin.
“I tell you,” Gonzalez wrote, “I wished more times than one that I was back in Fort Myers.”
Next week: Rescue
For farming and other reasons, pioneers built their homes along what is now the Intracoastal Waterway. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
This Florida map, likely produced between 1889 and 1893, shows how southern Florida’s peninsula looked when A.F. Gonzalez, 19, and three others trekked from Fort Myers to Palm Beach.
Tags: maps, pioneers
Last week we told you about early settler Joseph Lark Priest and the memoir his family has self-published. Here’s the rest:
By 1908, Priest, who’d lived at times in the Treasure and Space coasts and the Daytona Beach and St. Augustine areas, had moved from Fort Lauderdale to what’s now Delray Beach. The settlement, then just “Delray,” would not incorporate until 1912. (It’s marking its centennial this year.)
“Delray at the time had just a school, two churches, three grocery stores, one lumber yard, one large canning factory, a post office, a Masonic Lodge and Odd Fellow’s Lodge. Here we found the best people on earth,” Priest wrote in A Florida Pioneer, the Autobiography of Joseph Lark Priest.
Priest wrote that “the train ran regular,” but there was just one sand road, leading north and south, and traveling options were by foot or mule team.
He said mules then cost from $250 to $300 each, at a time when “money was very scarce, common labor one dollar and a quarter per day, carpenters two dollars and a half per day and not many jobs.”
But, he wrote, “It would be impossible for a man to be so lazy that he would starve in Florida. If he will work he can raise anything he wants to eat. If he won’t work he can catch fish, he can get oysters and clams, he can kill rabbits, he can catch coons and opossums, he can cut palmetto cabbage.”
The nearest source of “fire water” was West Palm Beach, an 18-mile trip costing 60 cents on the train. Once, Priest said, he and pioneer John Shaw Sundy went to West Palm Beach by mule; the trip took five hours each way.
Writing his memoir late in life, and with the Depression settled in, Lark said, “Florida has many knockers, mostly by northern papers, but Florida will come. It will take a little time but it is coming. The boom come and went but Florida is coming to stay.”
Priest worked a while as tender of the Atlantic Avenue bridge. He and his wife are buried at the old section of the Delray Beach cemetery. Florida, of course, did come to stay, and it now sports more than 18 million people. “Delray,” now 100, holds about 64,000. Joseph wouldn’t recognize the place.
Tags: Delray Beach, pioneers