Letter from Florida, February 7, 1876

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Letters from Florida

Woodland, Fla., Feb. 7, 1876.

To the Editor of the Caledonian:

Dear Sir: — Last Thursday we made a trip to Georgetown, Fla., to see Hier’s groves. Palmer was down there digging sour orange stumps, and we decided to go down and stay over night with him, and just as we arrived at that conclusion, Calvin (a mulatto who works for Mr. Smith) came along with a team on his way to get the stumps that Palmer was digging. The distance was ten miles, and a chance to ride was not to be lost, so we packed up some blankets, a pail of grub, locked up the house and jumped on board. We went across the country for a mile, regardless of roads, and the struck the trail that led directly south to our destination, which place we reached about 5 o’clock, P.M. Just before arriving there we had to put our team into a run in order to pass a point on the road before the fire reached it. It was coming quite fast, being driven by a furious wind.

Mr. Hier had evidently been imbibing some of the fluid that invigorates and also intoxicates.

Going down to the grove, which is situated at the north end of Big Lake George, the first person we met was Mr. Hier who introduced himself as “The proprietor of this yer ranch.” And invited us to try some of the oranges, which invitation of course we accepted. Directly opposite us, and distant half a mile, was the north end of Drayton Island, on which was situated the plantation once owned by John C. Calhoun, of nullification fame, but it is now going to ruin. Mr. Hier had evidently been imbibing some of the fluid that invigorates, and also intoxicates, but he felt well, and was not at all belligerent. He said that he was four years in the war, and “reckoned” that he had killed some of our “Yanks” at any rate he had tried to. He belonged to Dickison’s company of Partisan Rangers, (the Moseby of Florida,) and Dickinson was always sending him out scouting because he was a great shot. He offered to bet his orange grove against a dollar, that he could take his rifle, stoop down, shout between his legs, and hit a squirrel 30 yards distant. He found none of us willing to take the bet. The he wanted us to go down towards the lake and see a “little sprout of a gum tree,” 15 feet in circumference, which he had cut down and left on the ground to decay.

We found Palmer in the wild grove hard at work, having dug with the help of one man, about 30 trees that afternoon. In the first place he sawed off the tree two or three feet from the ground, then chopped all around with an axe, and then dug under it till he could see the tap root, which was severed, and then generally the stump could be pried out with a lever. It is very hard work, and will use up about one suit of clothes a day, as not only are the orange trees covered with thorns, but there are innumerable vines with little sharp thorns, and all sorts of trees that grow in a semi-tropical jungle. The orange trees are of all sizes, from a pipe stem to six inches in diameter, and 30 feet high. The large trees all hung full of the golden fruit, which also strewed the ground, and was trodden under foot, not being considered of any particular value. Live oak and magnolia trees abounded, and the prickly ash, which is not a nice thing to run against. Mr. Hier invited us to stay in his house, but we declined with thanks, as we intended to camp out. So he showed us a place to make our fire, and close by a place to sleep under a large sweet orange tree, loaded with oranges. We made some coffee, ate our supper, and then gathering some Spanish moss for a foundation, spread our blankets, and thus had a very comfortable bed. Palmer went to bed first, and I shook some oranges down on him to make him believe it was dangerous sleeping there, but he was not so easily disturbed, and we all turned in. It was quite a cold night, but we slept warm, having plenty of blankets, and Calvin kept a fire all night.

The soil here is composed almost entirely of periwinkle shells, with a little earth mixed in, making what is called a shell hammock. Most of the wild groves are found on such soil, and some persons think that sweet oranges can but be raised on any other, but the largest grove I ever saw which was Ginns’, at Mellanville, was on pine land, and when I was there four years ago, I saw a number of pine stumps that had not decayed.

Mr. Hier staid with us till late in the evening, and came down again in the morning, and wanted to sell us a piece of land of nine acres, with eleven large bearing orange trees on it, and any quantity of sour ones, for which he asked $2,000. His bearing sweet trees were on two sides of the lot, the space between being filled on with small trees he had transplanted. It was formerly covered with sour trees, which have been cut down and the land planted to corn. This had been such a hard job that he said that at the time he prayed there might never be another orange tree in the world, since then he has changed his mind and is now independent, simply from his grove. He was one of the people called Crackers – that is a native, poor, white; but rather of the better class. As a set, the Crackers are the most ignorant, stubborn, meanest class of people on the face of the earth. Some of them keep cattle, and most of them hogs, all running wild in the woods. The hogs are lean, long-nosed, land-sharks; have a great faculty for finding a hole in a fence, and three of them will destroy an acre of sweet potatoes in one night. I found one in my field one day, and we made up our minds that that hog would not come in there any more. First we stopped up all the holes, and then armed with clubs entered the field intending to kill him. We knew that in a fair race he would outrun a horse, but we expected he would go for the hole he came in at, and finding it closed we should have him at our mercy. But we reckoned without our host. When we approached him, he gave a grunt away he went, and we after him, straight for the trap we had laid. The fence was ten rails high, and when he reached it, instead of stopping, he gave a jump, turned up sideways, (his smallest way,) slid through the two top rails, and away into the woods out of sight in a twinkle. Dexter would have been nowhere in a race with him.

The other day a Cracker family came along, and camped near here. The man was small, with light hair and a beard, pointed nose; complexion like that of a candle, dressed in the southern butternut, and did not look as if he had muscle enough in him to make one limb of a common Englishman. The woman had on an old, dirty calico dress, open in front; shoes, but no stockings, smoked a pipe, and could beat any Yankee expectorating at a mark. They had a little horse and cart, and a few kettles, etc. Something like the following conversation ensued:

“Good morning sir,”

“Good evening gentlemen.” (It is always evening after noon here.)

“Come far to-day?”

“Yes, sir, right smart distance, I reckon.”

“Do you live near here?”

“No, sir, been living up in Volusia.” (county)

“You don’t seem to be going in that direction now.”

“No, we was raised in Georgia.”

“Going back for good? I though Volusia was a pretty good country to live in.”

“Yes, the soil am right good up there, but we didn’t like the society.”

From what I see and hear, the number of new settlers coming in from the North is greater than ever, and number of invalids full as large. Although there are persons that claim that the climate of Florida or any warm country, is not especially beneficial to persons afflicted with lung complaints, the fact cannot be gainsaid that there are twice as many days here, during the year, in which a person out of health can be out of doors and breathe the pure air of heaven instead of the heated atmosphere of a close room; and this one fact is enough, if no more can be said. But I believe it is generally admitted the exhalation from the pine woods is healing to diseased lungs.

Respectfully, Horace K. Ide

Originally published in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, February 25, 1876.

Letters from Florida

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