The Wild East
Shootouts in Florida
By Geoff Dobson
There was another shoot-out in Jacksonville the other week. A bandit robbed a small mercantile establishment. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office trailed the bandit to some woods with a modern day posse, complete with a helicopter, police cars and a police dog. In the shootout, the police dog, named Sergeant, and the bandit were each killed.
Thanks to the classic western novel “The Virginian” written by Owen Wister and western movies we tend to associate shootouts with the Wild West. In the Virginian, the hero engages in a shootout with the villain Trampas in front of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming. The basic scene has been repeated in endless western movies. Wister, in writing his novel, used many actual events and certainly the shootout scene was most likely based on an actual event in Buffalo with, however, artistic license by Wister. In the actual 1893 gunfight between “Red” Angus and Arapaho “Rap” Brown, neither was a very good shot. Doc Will Frackleton, a circuit riding dentist, was in town and witnessed the fight from the doorway of the hotel. Bullets flew into the barroom while the customers ducked for cover. When the fight was over, Doc commented to Angus as to the .45’s that Angus and Araphoe were firing, “Well I don’t see what in hell you carry those things for. You fellows can’t hit anything with them.” The comment struck Angus and Arapaho funny and relieved the tension. All three went into the bar and ordered drinks.
The above is not to say that there were no shootouts in the West. Other than the shootout at the OK Corral, one of the more famous shootout was one in Cheyenne in March 1877, when two gamblers, C. H. “Charley” Harrison got into an exchange at Shingle & Locke’s Saloon. Harrison had insulted Levy by telling Levy that he, Harrison, hated Irishmen. Levy, being Irish, took offense. [Writer’s note: Levy was in fact Irish, albeit of Jewish descent. Some writers have referred to him as the “Jewish gunfighter.”] The argument continued in front of the Senate Saloon and ended in front of Frenchy’s on Eddy Street when the two exchanged shots. Levy, referred to by the Cheyenne Leader as a “pistoliferous gambler,” got the better of the exchange. In spite of a favorable prognosis, Harrison expired more than a week later in his room at Dyer’s Hotel.
But if we think the Wild West was dangerous, it can’t hold a candle to Florida which has had more than its share of shootouts. One neighborhood in Jacksonville has been designated as the fourth most dangerous neighborhood in the United States. Jacksonville is now boasting that it only had 99 homicides last year. Compare that to Cheyenne when at the height of its Wild West reputation, an English novelist, William Black, in his 1877 “Green Pastures and Piccadilly” expressed disappointment that Cheyenne did not live up to its reputation:
“Certainly, the Cheyenne we saw was far from being an exciting place; there was not a single corpse lying at any of the saloon doors, nor any duel being fought in the street.”
Neighborhoods in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami have all made the “Top Twenty-Five” most dangerous neighborhoods. Florida is famous for its Wild East outlaws both fictional and real. John Wesley Harden, who allegedly once killed a man for snoring too loud, was at the time of his and his gang’s capture near Pensacola a Floridian. He later became a lawyer. Tree Hooker, the hero of Rick Tonyan’s “Cracker western,” “Guns of the Palmetto Plains,” avoids both outlaws and Yankees in his quest to deliver cattle to the Confederate Army. The most famous of the shootouts in Florida was one at Lake Weir near Ocklawaha between the FBI and Midwest outlaws Ma and Freddie Barker.
The most famous of the Florida cattle feuds was the Mizell-Barber feud involving Bone Mizell, noted for his deftness with a branding iron on other persons’ cowflesh. One of Bone Mizell’s brothers was the first sheriff of Orange County, David W. Mizell. The Barbers were unreconstructed Confederates. Although the Mizells had supported the Cause during the war, they were regarded by the Barbers as Scalawags; that is, southerners who sold their soul to the new Yankee government for political gain and fortune. Another of Bone’s brothers was a judge. In 1869, Moses Barber was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for polygamy. When he got out, he discovered that a number of his beeves had disappeared and mysteriously reappeared in Mizell herds. A heifer belonging to 14-year old Deed Barber was found with an altered brand in Bone Mizell’s herd. When Deed attempted to reclaim his animal, Sheriff Mizell forced Deed to kill and butcher the heifer. Shortly, thereafter Sheriff Mizell was killed when he was bushwhacked.
The war ended when Judge Mizell organized a posse which rounded up the Barber herds along with some seven Barber men. One of the Barbers was tied to a tree, and the contents of multiple shotguns were emptied into his body. Other Barber men were killed when they allegedly “attempted to escape.” Another “accidentally” drowned when he was unable to swim with multiple plowshares tied to him when he was thrown into Lake Conway.
Many years ago, one native of Cedar Key described to the writer a scene on 2nd Street when on a good Saturday night there were five fights going on at the same time in the one block between the hotel and the bank. The next day, the High Sheriff came down from Bronson, but was told there had been no problem. The sheriff got in his car and drove the 38 miles back to Bronson with all due assurance that nothing went on but good fun. Cedar Key had, at the time a reputation of being a bit rough. It will be recalled that in January 1923, vigilantes from Cedar Key burned down the turpentine camp of Rosewood killing about eight of its inhabitants. Nine years later in 1932, three Greek sponge divers from Tarpon Spring had the temerity to visit Miss Nadine’s “house” in Kiss-Me-Quick on the northern entrance to Cedar Key. They were arrested and put into the Town Jail. That night, the jail “accidently” burned down with the sponge divers inside. The fire was assisted by gasoline provided by the Town Marshal and the Town Judge.
In St. Johns County, four law enforcement officers and one ad-hoc deputy sheriff have been killed in shootouts. The first two were Guy White and a citizen that he had deputized, Abraham Schnieder, an Espanola clothing merchant. They were killed on March 5, 1911, in a shootout in the Espanola Jail by three turpentine workers Dan, Marion, and Bascom Carlton. [Writer’s note: Espanola, now in Flagler County, was at the time in St. Johns County.] The three were ultimately caught near Pellicier Creek by a posse organized by Sheriff C. J. Perry. All three were later pardoned. After he was pardoned, Dan Carlton was again involved in a shootout in Sampson City, Florida, in Bradford County.
Deputies Lamar L. Knight and Frank Quigley were killed in a shootout on the Mill Creek Road on May 7, 1933. St. Augustine Beach Deputy Marshal Ron Parker was killed in 1975, by a wanted automobile thief, Thomas DeSherlia. DeSherlia was subsequently captured after being wounded in a shootout with St. Johns County Deputy Sheriff Wayne Tanner.
Ron Parker Park is named in honor of Parker. Awards for valor given by the Sheriff’s office have been named in honor of Deputy White and Abraham Schnieder. Deputy White was originally buried in an unmarked grave. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s office subsequently provided a grave maker. Schnieder is interred at the Sons of Israel cemetery in St. Augustine.
Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer and was former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at email@example.com