The Tallahassee Sentinel
April 19, 1867
 

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Observations in Tropical Florida

(from a report made in the Spring of 1866 to Col. T.W. Osborn, by Col. Geo. F. Thompson, and never published before)

Pursuant to your order of the 29th of November last, I have visited the counties of Hillsboro, Manatee, Monroe, Dade, Brevard, Polk, Orange and Volusia, in the State, and respectfully submit the following

Report:

I left Tallahassee in company with Wm. H. Gleason, Esq., appointed by you as special Agent, to accompany me on the 6th day of December, two days after the reception of this order.  We proceeded by rail to Gainesville, in Alachua county.  On account of the inefficiency or want of a spirit of accommodation on the part of the officers of the roads, we obtained transportation for our horses only as far as Baldwin; and this, only after having them detained at Lake City for twenty-four hours.  On their arrival there, I was unable to get them taken over the Fernandina and Cedar Keys road to Gainesville, without being detained at least forty-eight hours.  The whole detention seemed to me under the circumstances to arise almost entirely from a want of the disposition to accommodate the public.  I therefore gave the orderly directions to drive our horses over the nearest road to Gainesville, and proceeded myself with Mr. Gleason to that point in the train.  Our horses arrived on the evening of the 10th and the next morning we started on our way to Tampa via Brooksville.

We selected Tampa as our objective point because at that place we believed we should obtain such information, both in regard to the state of affairs in Hillsboro county and the best method of procedure for the examination of Manatee, Monroe, and Dade counties.  In this we were not disappointed for here we found several men who were familiar with the country, from Tampa across the east coast, along Indian river and from thence down to the Miami river.  From their representations of the state of the water in the creeks and rivers we were satisfied that to attempt to go across the Peninsula and down to Miami in the then state of high water would be very hazardous if not entirely impracticable.  After getting all the information we could from those best acquainted with the country, we determined to charter a sail boat, and proceed to different points on the rivers of the west or Gulf coast, and penetrate the interior on foot, as far as was necessary to obtain a satisfactory knowledge of the country and its condition.  We effected an arrangement with a Mr. Louis Bell, a native of that section of the State, and perfectly familiar with the whole west coast, having during the Seminole war, in 1857, been the mail carrier from Tampa to Fort Myers on the Caloosahachee river.

We started on our expedition from Tampa on the 20th of December and visited several points on the Manatee river, from thence went down into Charlotte Harbor, visiting several of the islands therein, up Pease Creek about ten miles, and there found a detachment of the 99th U.S.C.T. under command of Lieut. J.C. Shaw.

Lieut. Shaw had been there but a day of two, on our arrival, and, consequently, could give us no information touching the objects of our visit.  We however found a party of herders with Mr. Jacob Summerlin (reported to be the largest stock raiser in the country) with a drove of beeves, loading them upon a steamer for the Havana market.  By the kindness of Lieut. Shaw, we took his horses and went back from the river several miles to verify the descriptions which parties had given us of the country.  To proceed further into the interior at this point we considered unnecessary as the major part of the men living within a radius of fifty miles were here employed by Mr. Summerlin in loading his cattle.  After spending two or three days here we proceeded down the river and made for Fort Myers stopping at several of the Keys or Islands in Charlotte Harbor, where were congregated several parties engaged in taking fish.

We arrived at Fort Myers in the evening of the fifth of January.  Here we found one family residing in an old dilapidated building or hut, which had been used or abused by its former occupants to such an extent that windows and doors were quite superfluous.  Mr McClenathan and family really appeared as though they had been the victims not only of the rebellion but of most very other misfortune which could afflict a family in this charming and healthy climate.  From Mr. McClenathan we obtained horses and with him as our guide went to Ostero Bay stopping on our way at the famous "Billy Bowlegs' Spring," situated about one mile east of Fort Myers, and one-half mile south of the river.  This spring was a favorite resort of the chieftain whose name it bear, and his braves.  The water is warm and impregnated with sulphur but not so strongly as to be disagreeable to the taste.  I have heard that its water have been pronounced by physicians to contain properties particularly adapted to cases of a scrofulous character.

The country bordering on the river is low and level, and has a sandy soil resting upon a base of solid lime rock.  Immediately upon the river the soil has a depth of two or three feet, but lessens in depth as you go south, until at Ostero Bay the rock protrudes upon the surface.  The growth of pine also diminishes in the same ratio, and the trees, which are from twelve to fifteen inches in diameter at the river, at the Bay are scarcely more than three or four.

Immediately on my arrival at Tampa, I sought an interview with Capt. O.B. Ireland, 99th U.S.C.T., then in command of the post, and solicited from him such information as he might possess  in relation to the several topics embraced in my order.  So far as the negroes were concerned, he represented them as doing well, even better than the whites; there was no suffering among them for want of food or clothing, and they found plenty of labor at fair prices.  None are dependent upon the Government, for either full or partial support.  The people generally, he represented as exceedingly disloyal, and disposed in every way to oppress and annoy those of Union sentiments.  This he believed to be the case not only with residents of Tampa, but of the country around for miles.  Although there were some few who entertained a feeling of loyalty to the Government, yet they were silenced and kept in entire subjection by the arrogant and tyrannical power of those whose course had been identified with the rebellion.  This ostracism and enmity was so intense that the loyal inhabitants were not only shut out from all society, but some of them were pursued with murderous intent, representing that there was no safety for a Union man to walk the streets or be found alone in the highway by these men.  To corroborate his views of the state of feeling among the people towards the Government and its supporters, he introduced a Mr. Jenks, who was represented as Deputy U.S. Marshal of the District, and perfectly familiar with the people in this whole section of the State.

Mr Jenks' representations differed with Capt. Ireland's only in regard to the intensity of the feelings and intentions of these people.  Mr. Jenks spoke of them as actuated by the most malignant intention and instanced his own case as an illustration of their murderous designs.  He said that he was hunted by that class of men day and night, and upon more than one occasion had barely escaped the assassin's bullet.  These representations were too highly colored to gain entire credence without some proof, consequently while we were sitting in our room busily writing with the door open upon the street, and in full view to passers by, about ten o'clock in the evening of Dec. 19th, we heard the reports of three pistol shots, but a short distance from our hotel.  Immediately after Capt. Ireland and Mr. Jenks entered our room apparently much excited, and inquired of us if we heard those reports, and informed us that an attempt was made upon the life of Mr. Jenks, when they returned shots with the unknown hidden assassin, and instead of ferreting out the would be murderer, hurried to inform us of the alarming state of affairs.  This trick was too patent to impose upon our credulity, an we contented ourselves by obtaining form them the names of the men whom they believed to be the most unrelenting rebels, and who would have few scruples to murder an active Union man for his devotion to the Government.  I have no criticism to make upon such conduct, believing that it will suggest its own, to every intelligent mind.
 

(To be continued in our Next)
 
 


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