Next> | <Prev | ^ToC | End
From Biloxi to Cape San Blas
POINTS ON THE GULF COAST.-- MOBILE BAY.-- THE HERMIT OF DAUPHINE ISLAND.-- BON SECOURS BAY.-- A CRACKER'S DAUGHTER.-- THE PORTAGE TO THE PERDIDO.-- THE PORTAGE FROM THE PERDIDO TO BIG LAGOON.-- PENSACOLA BAY.-- SANTA ROSA ISLAND.-- A NEW LONDON FISHERMAN.-- CATCHING THE POMPANO.-- A NEGRO PREACHER AND WHITE SINNERS.-- A DAY AND A NIGHT WITH A MURDERER.-- ST. ANDREW'S SOUND.-- ARRIVAL AT CAPE SAN BLAS.
ON the morning of February 8 we left Biloxi, and launching our boats, proceeded on our voyage to the eastward, skirting shores which were at times marshy, and again firm and sandy. At Oak Point, and Belle Fontaine Point, green magnolia trees, magnificent oaks, and large pines grew nearly to the water's edge. Beyond Belle Fontaine the waters of Graveline Bayou flow through a marshy flat to the sea, and offer an attractive territory to sportsmen in search of wild-fowl. Beyond the bayou, between West and East Pascagoula, we found a delta of marshy islands, and an area of mud flats, upon which had been erected enclosures of brush, within the cover of which the sportsman could secrete
himself and boat while he watched for the wild ducks constantly attracted to his neighborhood by the submarine grasses upon which they fed.
At sunset we ran into the mouth of a creek near the village of East Pascagoula, and there slept in our boats, which were securely tied to stakes driven into the salt marsh. At eight o'clock the next morning, the tide being low, we waded out of the stream, towing our boats with lines into deeper water, and rowed past East Pascagoula, which, like the other watering-places of the Gulf, seemed deserted in the winter. The coast was now a wilderness, with few habitations in the dense forests, which formed a massive dark green background to the wide and inhospitable marshes. As we proceeded upon our voyage wildfowl and fish became more and more abundant, but few fishermen's boats or coasting vessels were seen upon the smooth waters of the Gulf. About dusk we ascended a creek, marked upon our chart as Bayou Caden, and passing through marshes, over which swarmed myriads of mosquitoes, we landed upon the pebbly beach of a little hammock, and there pitched our tent.
This portable shelter, which we had made at Biloxi, proved indeed a luxury. It was only six feet square at its base, weighing but a few pounds, and when compactly folded occupying little space; but after the first night's peaceful sleep under its sheltering care it occupied a large place in our
hearts; for, having driven out the mosquitoes and closely fastened the entrance, we bade defiance to our tormentors, and realized by comparison, as we never did before, the misery of voyaging without a tent.
Moving out of the Bayou Caden the next day, a lot of fine oysters was collected in shoal water, and by a lucky shot, a fat duck was added to the menu.
We were now on the coast of Alabama, so named by an aboriginal chief when he arrived at the river, from which he thought no white man would ever drive him, and turning to his followers, exclaimed, Alabama!--"Here we rest." Alas for chief and followers, who to-day have no spot of ground where they can stand and cry, "Alabama!"
There were several bays to be crossed before we reached a point in the marshes which extended several miles to the south, and was called Berrin Point. To the east of this was a wide bay, bounded by Cedar Point, which formed one side of the entrance to Mobile Bay. Miles across the water to the south lay Dauphine Island, which it was necessary to reach before we could cross the inlet to Mobile Bay. The wind rose from the south, giving us a head sea, but we pulled across the shallow bay, through which ran a channel called "Grant's Pass," it having been dredged out to enable vessels to pass from Mississippi
Sound to Mobile Bay. This tedious pull ended by our safe arrival at Dauphine Island, upon the eastern point of which we found, close to the beach, a group of wooden government buildings, once occupied by some of the members of the United States Army Engineer Corps.
Here lived, as keeper of the property, a genial recluse, Mr. Robinson Cruse, who for eight years had led an almost solitary life, his nearest neighbor on the island being the sergeant in charge of Fort Gaines, which officer, I was informed, was seldom seen outside of his dismal enclosure. Solitude, however, did not seem to have had the usual effect upon Mr. Cruse, for he welcomed us most cordially, and cooked us a truly maritime supper of many things he had taken from the sea. When darkness came, and the winds were howling about us, he piled in his open fireplace pieces of the wrecks of unfortunate vessels which had foundered on the coast, and had cast up their frames and plankings on the beach near his door. Grouping ourselves round the crackling fire, our host opened his budget of adventures by sea and by land, entertaining us most delightfully until midnight, when we spread our blankets on the hard floor in front of the fire, and were soon travelling in the realms of dreamland.
The following day the wind stirred up the wide expanse of water about the island to such
a degree of boisterousness that we could not launch our boats. Our position was somewhat peculiar. Between Dauphine Island and the beach of the mainland opposite was an open ocean inlet of three and a half miles in width, through which the tide flowed. Fort Gaines commanded the western side of this inlet, while Fort Morgan menaced the intruder on the opposite shore. North of this Gulf portal was the wide area of water of Mobile Bay, extending thirty miles to Mobile City, while to the south of it spread the Gulf of Mexico, bounded only by the dim horizon of the heavens. To the east, and inside the narrow beach territory of the eastern side of the inlet, was Bon Secours Bay, a sort of estuary of Mobile Bay, of sixteen miles in length. The passage of the exposed inlet could be made in a small boat only during calm weather, otherwise the voyager might be blown out to sea, or be forced, at random, into the great sound inside the inlet. In either case the rough waves would be likely to fill the craft and drown its occupant. In case of accident the best swimmer would have little chance of escape in these semi-tropical waters, as the man-eating shark is always cruising about, waiting, Micawber-like, for something "to turn up."
The windy weather kept us prisoners on Dauphine Island for two days, but early on the morning of February. 13 a calm prevailed, taking
advantage of which, we hurried across the open expanse of water, not daring to linger until our kind host could prepare breakfast. The shoal water of the approaches to the enterprising cotton port of Mobile make it necessary for large vessels to anchor thirty miles below the city, in a most exposed position. We passed through this fleet, which was discharging its cargo by lighters, and gained in safety the beach in Bon Secours Bay, near Fort Morgan.
While preparing our breakfast on the glittering white strand, we received a visit from Mr. B. F. Midyett, the light-keeper of Mobile Point. He was a North Carolinian, but told us that Indian blood flowed in his veins. He was from the neighborhood of the lost colony of Sir Walter Raleigh, a history of which I gave in my "Voyage of the Paper Canoe." Midyett (also spelled Midget) may have been a descendant of that feeble colony of white men which so mysteriously disappeared from history after it had abandoned Roanoke Island, North Carolina, being forced by starvation to take refuge among friendly Indians, when its members, through intermarriage with their protectors, lost their individuality as white men, and founded a race of blue-eyed savages afterwards seen by European explorers in the forests of Albemarle and Pamplico sounds.
The light-keeper begged us to make him a
visit; but it was necessary to hurry to the end of Bon Secours Bay before night, as a north wind would give us a heavy beam sea. Passing "Pilot Town," where the little cottages of oystermen, fishermen, and pilots were clustered along the beach, we pulled past a forest-clad strand until dusk, when we reached the end of Bon Secours Bay, where it was necessary to make a portage across the woods to the next inland watercourse.
The eastern end of Bon Secours Bay terminated at the mouth of Bon Secours River, which we ascended, finding on the low shores a well-stocked country store, and several small houses occupied by oystermen. We slept in our boats by the river's bank, and the next morning turned into a narrow creek, on our right hand, which led to a small tidal pond, called Bayou John, the bottom of which was covered in places with large and delicious oysters. Crossing the lagoon, we landed in a heavy forest of yellow pines. This desolate region was the home of John Childeers, a farmer; and we were informed that he alone, in the entire neighborhood, was the possessor of oxen, and was in fact the only man who could be hired to draw our boats seven miles to Portage Creek, which is a tributary of Perdido River.
Leaving Saddles to watch our boats, I entered the tall pine forest, and after walking a
mile came upon the clearing of the backwoodsman. His two daughters, young women, were working in the field; but the sight of a stranger was so unusual to them, that, heedless of my remonstrances and gentle assurances of goodwill, they took to their heels and ran so fast that it was impossible to overtake them until they arrived at the log cabin of their father. The dogs then made a most unceremonious assault upon me, when the maidens, forgetting their fears, made a sally upon the fierce curs, and clubbed them with such hearty good-will that the discomfited canines hastily took refuge in the woods.
The family listened to my story, and insisted upon my joining them in their mid-day meal, which consisted of pork, sweet-potatoes, and corn-bread. My host agreed to haul the boats the next day to Portage Creek for five dollars, and I returned to Saddles to make preparations for the overland journey. That night we feasted sumptuously upon fat oysters six inches in length, rolled in beaten eggs and cracker-crumbs, and fried a delicate brown. These, with good hot coffee and fresh bread, furnished a supper highly appreciated by two hungry men.
With the morning came our farmer, when about an hour was spent in securely packing our boats in the long wagon. The duck-boat was placed upon the bottom, while the light
skiff of my companion rested upon a scaffolding above, made by lashing cross-bars to the stanchions of the wagon. This peculiar two-storied vehicle swayed from side to side as we travelled over uneven ground, but the boats were securely lashed in their places, and the parts exposed to chafing carefully protected by bundles of coarse grass and our blankets.
We travelled slowly through the heavily grassed savannas and the dense forests of yellow pine towards the east, in a line parallel with, and only three miles from, the coast. The four oxen hauled this light load at a snail's pace, so it was almost noon when we struck Portage Creek near its source, where it was only two feet in width. Following along its bank for a mile, we arrived at the logging-camp of Mr. Childeers. There we found the creek four rods in width, and possessing a depth of fifteen feet of water. The lumbermen haul their pine logs to this point, and float them down the stream to the steam sawmills on Perdido River.
The boats were soon launched upon the dark cypress waters of the creek, the cargo carefully stowed, and the voyage resumed. Though the roundabout course through the woods was fully seven miles, a direct line for a canal to connect the Bon Secours and Portage Creek waters would not exceed four miles. About two miles from the logging-camp the stream entered "Bay
Lalanch," from the grassy banks of which alligators slid into the water as we rowed quietly along.
We now entered a wide expanse of bay and river, with shores clothed with solemn forests of dark green. The wide Perdido River, rising in this region of dismal pines, flows between Bear Point and Inerarity's Point, when, making a sharp turn to the eastward, it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In crossing the river between the two points mentioned, we were only separated from the sea by a narrow strip of low land. The Perdido River is the boundary line between the states of Alabama and Florida. In a bend of the river, nearly three miles east of Inerarity's Point, we landed on a low shore, having passed the log cabins of several settlers scattered along in the woods.
It was now necessary to make a portage across the low country to the next interior watercourse, called "Big Lagoon." It was a shallow tidal sheet of water seven miles in length by one in width, and separated from the sea by a very narrow strip of beach. We camped in our boats for the night, starting off hopefully in the morning for the little settlement, to procure a team to haul our boats three-quarters of a mile to Big Lagoon. The settlers were all absent from their homes, hunting and fishing, so we returned to our camp
depressed in spirits. There was nothing left for us but to attempt to haul our boats over the sandy neck of land; so we at once applied ourselves to the task. The boats were too heavy for us to carry, so we dragged the sneak-box on rollers, cut from a green pine-tree, half-way to the lagoon; and, making many journeys, the provisions, blankets, gun, oars, &c., were transported upon our shoulders to the half-way resting-place.
So laborious was this portage that when night came upon us we had hauled one boat only, with our provisions, tent, and outfit, to the beach of Big Lagoon. The Riddle still rested upon the banks of the Perdido River. The tent was pitched to shelter us from mosquitoes, and partaking of a hearty supper, we rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept. The camp was in a desolate place, our only neighbors being the coons, and they enlivened the solitude by their snarling and fighting, having come down to the beach to fish in apparently no amiable mood.
Before midnight, that unmistakable cry so human in its agonizing tone, warned us of the approach of a panther. Coming closer and closer, the animal prowled round our tent, sounding his childlike wail. It was too dark to get a glimpse of him, though we watched, weapons in hand, for his nearer approach. Saddles had hunted the beast in his Louisiana
lairs, and was eager to make him feel the weight of his lead. We succeeded in driving him off once, but he returned and skulked in the bushes near our camp for half an hour, when his cries grew fainter as he beat a retreat into the forest.
We worked hard until noon the next day in the vain attempt to haul the Riddle from the Perdido, when I launched the duck-boat on Big Lagoon and rowed easterly in search of assistance, leaving Saddles behind to guard our stores. When six miles from camp, I discovered upon the high north shore of the lagoon the clearing and cabin of Rev. Charles Hart, an industrious negro preacher, who labored assiduously, cultivating the thin sandy soil of his little farm, that he might teach his fellow-freedmen spiritual truths on the Lord's day. This humble black promised to go with his scrawny horse to the assistance of Saddles, and at once departed on his mission, happy in the knowledge that he could serve two unfortunate boatmen, and honestly earn two dollars. Going into camp upon the shore, I kept up a bright fire to notify my absent companion of my whereabouts.
At seven o'clock the Rev. Mr. Hart returned and claimed his fee, reporting that he had hauled the Riddle to the lagoon, where he found Saddles pleasantly whiling away the hours of solitude in the useful occupation of washing his
extra shirt and stockings. He assured me the Riddle would soon appear. A little later Saddles reached my camp, and we tented for the night on the beach. At daylight we took to our oars, and rowed out of the end of the lagoon into Pensacola Bay. Skirting the high shores on our left, we approached within a mile of the United States naval station Warrington, where we went into camp upon the white strand, in a small settlement of pilots and fishermen, who kindly welcomed us to Pensacola Bay. We slept in our boats on the sandy beach, beside a little stream of fresh water that flowed out of the bank.
The morning of the 19th of February was calm and beautiful, while the songs of mockingbirds filled the air. Across the inlet of Pensacola Bay was the western end of the low, sandy island of Santa Rosa, which stretches in an easterly direction for forty-eight miles to East Pass and Choctawhatchee Bay, and serves as a barrier to the sea. Behind this narrow beach island flow the waters of Santa Rosa Sound, the northern shores of which are covered with the same desolate forests of yellow pine that characterize the uplands of the Gulf coast. At the west end of Santa Rosa Island the walls of Fort Pickens rose gloomily out of the sands. It was the only structure inhabited by man on the long barren island, with the exception of one small cabin
built on the site of Clapp's steam-mill, four miles beyond the fort, and occupied by a negro.
We crossed the bay to Fort Pickens, and followed the island shore of the sound until five o'clock P. M., when we sought a camp on the beach at the foot of some conspicuous sand hills, the thick "scrub" of which seemed to be the abode of numerous coons. From the top of the principal sand dune there was a fine view of the boundless sea. Our position, however, had its inconveniences, the principal one being a scarcity of water, so we were obliged to break camp at an early hour the next day.
The Santa Rosa Island shore was so desolate and unattractive that we left it, and crossed the narrow sound to the north shore of the mainland, where nature had been more prodigal in her drapery of foliage. Before noon a sail appeared on the horizon, and we gradually approached it. Close to the shore we saw a raft of sawed timbers being to wed by a yacht. The captain hailed us, and we were soon alongside his vessel. The refined features of a gentleman beamed upon us from under an old straw hat, as its owner trod, barefooted, the deck of his craft. He had started, with the raft in tow, from his mill at the head of Choctawhatchee Bay, bound for the great lumber port of Pensacola, but being several times becalmed, was now out of provisions. We gave him and his men all we could spare
from our store, and then inquired whether it would be possible for us to find a team and driver to haul our boats from the end of the watercourse we were then traversing, across the woods to the tributary waters of St. Andrew's Bay. The captain kindly urged us to go to his home, and report ourselves to his wife, remaining as his guests until he should return from Pensacola,--"when," he said, "I myself will take you across."
This plan would, however, have caused a delay of several days, so we could not take advantage of the kind offer of the ex-confederate general.
Having considered a moment, our new friend proposed another arrangement.
"There is," he said, "only one person living at the end of Choctawhatchee Bay, besides myself, who owns a yoke of oxen. He can serve you if he wishes, but remember he is a dangerous man. He came here from the state of Mississippi, after the war, and by exaction, brutality, and even worse means, has got hold of most of the cattle, and everything else of value, in his neighborhood. He can haul your boats to West Bay Creek in less than a day's time. The job is worth three or four dollars, but he will get all he can out of you."
Thanking the captain for the information, and the warning he had given us, we waved a farewell, and rowed along the almost uninhabited coast
until dusk, when we crossed the sound to camp upon Santa Rosa Island, as an old fisherman at Warrington had advised us; "for," said he, "the woods on the mainland are filled with varmints,--cats and painters,--which may bother you at night."
On the morning of the 21st we rowed to the end of the sound, which narrowed as we approached the entrance to the next sheet of water, Choctawhatchee Bay. There were a few shanties along the narrow outlet on the main shore, where some settlers, beguiled to this desolate region by the sentimental idea of pioneer life in a fine climate, known as "FLORIDA FEVER," were starving on a fish diet, which, in the cracker dialect, was "powerful handy," and bravely resisting the attacks of insects, the bane of life in Florida.
Seven miles from the end of Santa Rosa Island the boats emerged from the passage between the sounds, and entered Choctawhatchee Bay. As the wind arose we struggled in rough water, shaping our course down to the inlet called East Pass, through which the tide ebbed and flowed into the bay.
Here we encountered an original character known as "Captain Len Destin." He was a fisherman, from New London, Connecticut, and had a comfortable house on the high bank of the inlet, surrounded by cultivated fields, where he
had lived since 1852. Having married a native of the country, he settled down to the occupation of his fathers; and being a prince among fishermen, he was able to send good supplies of the best fish to the Pensacola markets. His modus operandi was rather peculiar. Having rowed along the beach on the open Gulf, a boat-load of fishermen, with their nets ready to cast, rested quietly upon their oars in the offing, while a sharp-eyed man walked along the coast, peering into the transparent water, searching for the schools of fish which feed near the strand. The fishermen cautiously follow him, until, suddenly catching sight of a lot of pompanos, sheep's-heads, and other fish, he signals to his companions, and they, quietly approaching the unsuspicious fish, drop their long net into the water, and enclose the whole school. Drawing the net upon the beach, the fish were taken out and carried to Captain Len's landing, inside of the inlet, where they were packed in the refrigerator of a fleet-sailing boat, which, upon receiving its cargo, started immediately for Pensacola. In this way the pompano, the most delicious of southern fishes, being repacked at Pensacola in hogsheads of ice, found its way quickly by rail to New York city, where they were justly appreciated.
Captain Len generously supplied our camp with fish; so making a good fire, we broiled them before it, baking bread in our Dutch oven;
and finishing our sumptuous repast with some hot coffee, we turned a deaf ear to the whistling wind that blew steadily from the north-east. A little schooner of four tons was riding out the gale near the landing. She was bound for Apalachicola and St. Marks, Florida. Her passengers were crowded into a cabin, the confined limits of which would have attracted the attention of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, had it contained a freight of quadrupeds instead of human beings. The heads of white and black men and women could be seen above the hatchway at times, as though seeking for a breath of pure air.
The Reverend Mr. B., a colored preacher, crawled out of the hold, and visited my camp. Finding that I sympathized strongly with his unfortunate race, he opened his heart to me, telling of his labors among them. He also gave me an account of his efforts to encourage some observance of the first day of the week among the white inhabitants of Key West; he and other colored Christians having petitioned the mayor of that city to enforce the laws which require a decent respect for the Lord's day. He grieved over the sinful condition of the inhabitants of that ungodly city, and gave me a sketch of his plans for improving the morality of his white brethren. He had been travelling, like St. Paul, upon the sea, to visit and encourage the
weak negro churches in Florida. His address was that of a gentleman, and his heart beat with generous impulses.
I rowed out to the little craft in the offing, and found in the diminutive cabin eight FIRST-CLASS NEGRO passengers, while in the vessel's hold, reclining upon the cargo, were four white men who were voyaging SECOND class. The cordage of the little craft was rotten, and the sails nearly worn out, yet all these people were cheerful, and willing to put to sea as soon as the young skipper would dare to venture out upon the Gulf.
The gale finally exhausted itself. On the 24th we rowed along the southern wooded shore of Choctawhatchee Bay, towards its eastern end. The sound is put down on our charts as Santa Rosa Bay, though the people know it only by its Indian name. It is nearly thirty miles long, and has. an average width of five miles. Its shores are covered by a wilderness, and the settlements are few and far between. As we had not left Captain Len's landing until afternoon, we made only ten miles that night, and camped, supper-less, on "Twelve Mile Point," but making an early start the next morning, we reached at noon the eastern shore of the bay near the log cabin of the man of murderous deeds, to whom we were to look for assistance in the transportation of our boats across the wilderness to the next inland watercourse.
A tall man, with a most sinister countenance, but rather better dressed than the average backwoodsman, soon made his way to our boats. I plainly stated my object in calling upon him, and expressed a wish that he would not be severe in his charges, as in that case I should return to Captain Len's landing, put to sea, and follow the coast instead of the interior waters to the inlet of St. Andrew's Bay. He agreed to make the portage for ten dollars, stating that the distance was about fourteen miles; and we in our turn promised to be ready to attend to the loading of the boats the next morning.
As we walked about the plantation, its owner became quite communicative, even pointing out the spot where his wife's nephew had been shot dead, leaving him heir to five hundred head of cattle. He spoke of his differences with his neighbors, and assured us that nothing but lynch law would "go down" in their wild region, where, he said, no law existed. He had been a physician in his native state of Mississippi, but there were so many widows and orphans who could not pay his fees that he gave up his profession, and came to the Gulf coast of Florida, where he met a widow, who owned, with her nephew, one thousand head of cattle, which roamed through the savanna bottoms of the coast, requiring no care except an occasional salting. Having married the innocent woman,
his first victim, he then, according to the testimony of his neighbors, hired a man to shoot his nephew, and had so become the sole owner of the whole herd of cattle, which roamed over thirty square miles of territory.
Here was, indeed, a cheerful guide for two lone voyagers through the uninhabited wilds! Saddles and I made up our minds, however, to accept the inevitable gracefully, and at nine o'clock the next morning the boats were lashed into the wagon, and the retired physician, with two of his men on horseback, accompanied by Saddles and myself on foot, slowly left the clearing, and defiled along an almost undefined trail through the forest. I noticed that the men were well armed, and all on the alert. Occasionally one of the men would be sent off to the right or left to search for cattle signs, but our guide himself hung close to the wagon, seeming to consider prudence the better part of valor.
Opening the conversation with this quondam physician, I asked his opinion in regard to several well-known remedies, and discovered that he used but three. The best medicine, he said, was CALOMEL, the next QUININE, and what they would not cure, GLAUBER'S SALTS would. In fact, he considered salts the specific for all diseases. Leading gently to the subject, I spoke of his nephew's death, when he assured me the cruel deed had been done by a settler named
Bridekirk, who had squatted upon some land belonging to the young man, and though the intruder never had it conveyed to him by government, he considered it his own. Anxious to protect his nephew's interest, the physician took up the claim, and moved his family to the disputed territory. "Bridekirk," he said, "swore my nephew should never live on what he called HIS claim, and a short time afterwards took his revenge. I had sent the boy for a spur I left at a neighbor's, and when just outside my fence a man who was concealed in a thicket shot the poor fellow. I KNOW it was the devil Bridekirk who did it."
"Did you find his trail?" I asked.
"No," he answered; "we could not pick it up. It was all stamped out. No one could recognize it, but I know Bridekirk was the assassin. lie threatened my life too; but he's dead now."
"Dead!" I exclaimed; "when did he die?"
"Oh, about a week ago. He lived a few miles from here, and one morning SOMEBODY shot him in his doorway."
"Who could have done that?" I inquired.
A savage gleam lit up the physician's eye, as he said, slowly:
"My wife's nephew had some relation in a distant state, and it was reported they would see that Bridekirk got his deserts."
"They came a long way to take their revenge," I remarked.
"Yes, a very long way," he answered; and then added: "This Bridekirk would have been arrested for stealing my cattle if he had lived a week or two longer. Me and a neighbor was out looking up our cattle round here, not long ago, and we saw there were a good many fresh burns in the woods, and as we knew that cattle would go to such places to nibble the fresh grass that starts up after a fire, we set out for a big burnt patch. While we were in the woods, towards sunset, we saw two men on horseback driving an old bell-steer and four or five young cattle, all of which we easily recognized in the distance as part of my herd. We followed the men cautiously, keeping so far in the woods that they could not see us, when they mounted a little hill, and the last rays of the setting sun striking upon them, we saw that it was Bridekirk and a neighbor who were stealing my stock. We hid in the swamp until nine o'clock at night, and then rode to Bridekirk's clearing. There was a stream in a hollow below his house, but his cattle-pen was on the rising ground a little way off. We tied our horses in the woods, and crawled up to the cow-pen. There we found all the cattle the thieves had stolen excepting the bell-steer. There was a fire down in the hollow by the stream, and we could see Bridekirk and the other fellow skinning my bell-steer, which they had just killed. Said I to my friend, Now we
have 'em!' and I took aim at Bridekirk with my gun. My friend was a LAW man, so he said, No, don't shoot; there is some law left, and we have EVIDENCE now. Let's go and indict them. Then if the sheriff won't arrest them, we can find plenty of chances to pull the trigger on them. I go in for law first, and LYNCHING afterwards.' Well, it was a hard thing to lose such a chance when we were boiling over, but I put my gun on my shoulder, and my friend let the bars of the pen down, and we drove the other cattle out as quietly as possible into the woods.
"Next day, Bridekirk's neighbor, who had helped kill the beef, left for parts unknown. Why? because, when he found the bars let down, and the cattle gone, and measured our tracks, he knew WHO had been watching him, and he thought it safest to skedaddle. Bridekirk then kept close in his cabin. He knew who was on his trail THIS TIME. We got the men indicted, and the sheriff had the order of arrest; but he held it for a week, and probably sent word to Bridekirk to keep out of the way. So law, as usual in these parts, fizzled, and it became necessary to try something surer.
"Now I was told that one morning last week, before daybreak, Bridekirk and his hired man heard a noise in the yard that sounded as though some animal was worrying the hens. He suspected it was somebody trying to draw
him out into the yard, so he would not go, but tried to get his man to see what was up. The man was afraid, too, for he had his suspicions. At last the noise outside stopped, and the sun began to rise. As nobody seemed to be about, Bridekirk stuck his head out of the door, and, not seeing anything, slowly stepped outside. Now there were two men hidden behind a fence, with their guns pointed at the door. As soon as that cow-thief got fairly out of his house, we--THESE FELLOWS, I MEAN--pulled trigger and shot him dead. The authorities held a sort of inquest on the case, but all that is known of the matter is that he came to his death by shots from unknown parties."
Little did this cold-blooded man suspect, while relating his story to me, that his own end would be like Bridekirk's, and that he would soon fall under an assassin's hand. I became thoroughly disgusted with my companion, who kept close to my side hour after hour as we trudged through the wilderness. One of his arms was held stiffly to his side, and seemed to be almost useless. He had attempted a piece of imposition on a man who lived near the creek we were approaching, and had received the contents of the settler's shot-gun in his side. Most of the charge had lodged in the shoulder and arm, and the cripple now inveighed against this man, and advised us to keep clear of him when we
rowed down the creek. "I have nothing against Mr. B.," he said; "but he is no GENTLEMAN, and you better not camp near him."
Before sunset we entered a heavily grassed country, where deer were abundant. They sprung from their beds in the tall grass, and bounded away as we advanced. At twilight the oxen finished their long pull on the banks of a little watercourse known as West Bay Creek, so called because it flows into the West Bay of St. Andrew's Sound. Here we camped for the night.
The two hired men left us to visit a friend who lived several miles distant; but the doctor remained with his oxen in our camp all night. When the tent was pitched he was permitted to enjoy its shelter alone, for Saddles and I took to our boats, leaving the murderer to his own uneasy dreams. I settled his bill before retiring, so he decamped at an early hour the next morning, having first found out where I had hidden my cordage, and purloining therefrom my longest and best rope. This was a loss to me, for it was used to secure the boats when they were being hauled from place to place; but I would gladly have parted with any of my belongings to be free from the presence of my unwelcome guest; and how resigned his neighbors must have felt when, a few weeks later, they read in their newspapers that "W. D. Holly was shot
last week in his house, in Washington County, Florida, by some unknown parties"!
We made a hasty Sunday breakfast of cornstarch, and pulled down the creek, anxious to put some distance between ourselves and the doctor. Four miles down the stream, where it debouched into West Bay, we found the homes of two settlers. The one living on the right bank was the man who had given Mr. Holly his stiff arm, the other had built himself a rude but comfortable cabin on the opposite shore. Though there was one delicate-looking woman only in this cabin, without any protector, she hospitably asked us to make our camp at her landing, adding, that when her husband returned from the woods she might be able to give us some meat.
Soon a dog came out of the dense forest, followed by a man who bore upon his shoulders the hind-quarters of a deer which he had killed. He bade us welcome, while he remarked that there were no Sundays in these parts, where one day was just like another; and then presenting us with half his venison, regretted that he had not been aware of our arrival, as he could have killed another deer, his dog having started fifteen during a short ramble in the woods. In the thickets of "ti-ti," which are almost as dense as cane-brakes, the deer, panthers, and bears take refuge; and in this great
wilderness of St. Andrew's Bay expert hunters can find venison almost any day.
On Monday morning we rowed through West Bay, across the southern end of North Bay, and skirted the north coast of the East Bay of St. Andrew's, with its picturesque groves of cabbage-palms, for a few miles, when we turned southward into the inlet through which the tidal waters of the Gulf pass in and out of the sound.
We were now close to the sea, with a few narrow sandy islands only intervening between us and the Gulf of Mexico, and upon these ocean barriers we found breezy camping-grounds. Our course was by the open sea for six or eight miles, when we reached a narrow beach thoroughfare, called Crooked Island Bay, through which we rowed, with Crooked Island on our right hand, until we arrived at the head of the bay, where we expected to find an outlet to the sea. Being overtaken by darkness, we staked our boats on the quiet sheet of water, and at sunrise pushed on to find the opening through the beach. Not a sign of human life had been seen since we had left the western end of the East Bay of St. Andrew's Sound, and we now discovered that no outlet to the sea existed, and that Crooked Island was not an island, but a long strip of beach land which was joined to the main coast by a narrow neck of sandy territory, and that the interior watercourse ended in a creek.
Our portage to the sea now loomed up as a laborious task. We needed at least one man to assist us, and we were fully half a day's row from the nearest cabin to the west of us, while we might look in vain to the eastward, where the uninhabited coast-line stretched away with its shining sands and shimmering waters for thirty miles to Cape San Blas. There, upon a low sand-bar, against which the waves lashed out their fury, rose a tall light-tower, the only friend of the mariner in all this desolate region. We could not look to that distant light for help, however, and were thrown entirely upon our own feeble resources.
Going systematically to work, we surveyed the best route across Crooked Island, which was over the bed of an old inlet; for a hurricane, many years before, washed out a passage through the sand-spit, and for years the tide flowed in and out of the interior bay. Another hurricane afterwards repaired the breach by filling up the new inlet with sand; so Crooked Island enjoyed but a short-lived notoriety, and again became an integral part of the continent.
Our survey of the portage gave encouraging results. The Gulf of Mexico was only four hundred feet from the bay, and the shortest route was the best one; so, starting energetically, we dragged the boats by main force across Crooked Island, and launched them in the surf without
disaster. We then rowed as rapidly as the rough sea would permit along the coast towards the wide opening of St. Joseph's Bay, the wooded beaches of which rose like a cloud in the soft mists of a sunny day. The bay was entered at four o'clock in the afternoon, and, being out of water, we hauled our boats high on to the beach, and searched eagerly for signs of moisture in the soil.
Leaving Saddles to build a fire and prepare our evening meal, I proceeded to investigate our
new domain, and soon discovered the remains of a cabin near a station, or signal-staff, of the United States Coast Survey. Men do not camp for a number of days at a time in places destitute of water; and the fact of the cabin having been built on this spot proved conclusively to me that water must be found in the vicinity. After a careful and patient search, I discovered a depression in the high sandy coast, and although the sand was perfectly dry, I thought it possible that a supply of water had been obtained here for the use of the United States Coast Survey party--the same party which had erected the cabin and planted the signal near it.
Going quickly to the beach, I found the shell of an immense clam, with which I returned, and using it as a scoop, or shovel, removed two or three bushels of sand, when a moist stratum was reached, and my clam-shovel struck the chime of a flour-barrel. In my joy I called to Saddles, for I knew our parched throats would soon be relieved. It did not take long to empty the barrel of its contents, which task being finished, we had the pleasure of seeing the water slowly rise and fill the cistern so lately occupied by the sand. In half an hour the water became limpid, and we sat beside our well, drinking, from time to time, like topers, of the sweet water. Our water-cans were filled, and no stint in the culinary department was allowed that evening.
The flames from our camp-fire shot into the soft atmosphere, while the fishes, attracted by its glare, leaped by scores, in a state of bewilderment, from the now quiet water. St. Joseph's Bay has an ample depth of water for sea-going vessels, while its many species of shells make it one of the best points on the northern Gulf coast for the conchologist.
Although sorry to leave our limpid spring, we launched the boats at seven o'clock the next morning, following the north side of the bay until we arrived at the deserted site of the city of St. Joseph. It seemed impossible to realize that on this desolate spot there had been, only thirty or forty years before, a prosperous city, with a large population and a busy cotton-port, accessible to the largest vessels, and threatening a steady rivalry with Apalachicola. Railroads were the enemies of these southern cities as they diverted the cotton, grown in the interior, from its natural channels by river to the Gulf of Mexico.
The system of "time-freights," on railroads to the eastern Atlantic ports of Charleston and Savannah, had reduced the once promising city of St. Joseph to one shanty and a rotten pier. Apalachicola also felt the iron hand of competition, and her line of steamboats lost the carriage upon her noble river of the cotton from the distant interior. Railroads were rapidly
constructed running east and west, and the rivers flowing to the south were robbed of their commerce.
Beyond St. Joseph city the scenery became almost tropical in its character, and palmettos grew in rank luxuriance on the low savannas. The long narrow coast on the south side of the bay trended suddenly to the south, and terminated in Cape San Blas, while the sound was ended abruptly by a strip of land which connected the long cape to the main. The system of interior watercourses here came to a natural end; and pulling our boats upon the strand, we landed by a large turtle-pen, near which was a deserted grass hut, evidently the home of the turtle-hunter during the "turtle season." Leaving the boats on the salt marsh, we entered the woods and ascended the sand-hills of the Gulf coast, when a boundless view of the sea broke upon us. The shining strand stretched in regular lines four miles to the south, where the light-tower on the point of the cape rose above the intervening forest. Greeting it as the face of a friend, we rejoiced to see it so near; and standing entranced with the beauty of the vision before us,--the boundless sea, the most ennobling sight in all nature,--we congratulated ourselves that we had arrived safely at Cape San Blas.