Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chokoloskee Island – Florida

Mystery, Mayhem, Murder....
As with most of the Islands that boarder along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida there is an air of mystery, a dash of outlaws and a few ghost stories woven in to send a chill down your spine. Chokoloskee Island that is part of the 10,000 islands in the Everglades National Park is certainly no exception. 

Chokoloskee is one of the smallest Islands, at a mere 0.23 square miles (0.6 km2), that we have ventured onto with our motorcycles. As we rode the causeway that connects Chokoloskee Island to the mainland via Everglade City I realized just how close it was to sea level when the Mangroves periodically parted like curtains creating an imaginary window frame that allowed me to catch a glimpse of Chokoloskee Bay lapping at the land. Elevation at its highest point is 10 ft. / 3 m, although I never came across a spot that was even close to that high while we were there.

Suffice to say, the Island caters to Canoe or Kayak enthusiasts and of course, fishermen. It boasts an RV park, marina and a motel along with guided tours of the Everglades. It is also home to about 300 residents.

Smallwood Store & Museum
The oldest and I suppose the most famous attraction (only attraction) to see on the tiny Island besides nature is the Smallwood Store & Museum. It was established in 1904 by Ted Smallwood and was the only source for goods and mail for the isolated homesteaders. Because of the remote location, the store became a popular hub of socialization for the families who had settled in the area to eke out their meager living by farming, fishing and trapping.

For over 70 years it remained an active trading post / store and in 1974 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places, only to close eight years later in 1982. A lot of the original goods were left behind,  many of which dated back to the early 1900’s when Ted was the first “white man” in the area to trade with the Seminole Indians. The store was re-opened by Lynn Smallwood McMillin, Ted’s granddaughter, in 1990 as a way to preserve and showcase Florida’s pioneer history. Among the many hidden gems to be found in the museum are spittoons and pelts from the fur trading days.  To round out the collection of some of the turn of the century’s curiosities; "Matanzas Sugar Estates” burlap bags from when Ted traded with Cuba and Nehi Soda bottles (A flavored soft drink that originated in the United States and was introduced by Chero-Cola/Union Bottle Works in 1924.).

Who Was Edgar J. Watson?

Watson's Place
The pure remoteness and isolation of the Everglades vast network of wetlands and Mangrove forests has historically been an excellent place to provide cover for seedy characters, more so of the notorious variety, who wanted to elude the law. So, it wasn’t surprising that the legendary Edgar J. Watson who had a murderous reputation in the early 1900's eventually made his way down to the swamp to set up roots in the area. Another surprising twist to Edgar’s story is that despite his deadly temperament and murderous past he was also a successful plantation owner who made a very good living in selling sugarcane syrup. (Whether he was an 'honest' business man is a question unanswered)

Like most of the areas towns folk, he frequented the Smallwood Store for supplies but always kept to himself. Watson became an accepted member of the community or maybe he was just politely tolerated until his murderous deeds started to actually affect them. It was well known that he was an outlaw and it was believed that he had an affiliation to the Jesse James gang in Arkansas, where he was also suspected of killing the “Bandit Queen”, Belle Starr. When he fled from prosecution to Florida, his murderous ways followed. 

Quinn Bass from Arcadia was allegedly stabbed to death by Edgar but was never proven. He even managed to get acquitted from Sam Toland’s murder while visiting relatives in Lake City. He then was suspected of killing a man named Tucker along with his nephew who was squatting on his land. There were even rumors that he would kill the workers on his plantation rather than pay them. 

Over the years the body count piled up around Edgar yet strangely there never seemed to be enough evidence to convict him with a crime, let alone murder. The closest he ever came to being punished for a crime was when he tried to cut the throat of Adolphus Santini of Key West while attending an auction. Watson had gotten into an argument with the man and if not for bystanders pulling him off, Santini would have been another horrific addition to this serial killer’s reign. Consequently, he managed to elude the attempted murder charge by paying Santini a small fortune at the time of $900.

It wasn’t until a young boy who witnessed the murder of Hannah Smith at the hands of Edgar Watson that the towns people took it upon themselves to confront the prolific killer.  Edgar finally met his own gruesome demise in 1910 at none other than the Smallwood Store. A dozen or so of the towns people ambushed him and proceeded to blast him with 33 bullets. It is said that the wife of Ted Smallwood sold Watson ammunition that was tampered with and when he stepped off his boat and tried to get a shot off at the mob that was waiting for him, his gun misfired and it was game over for the notorious outlaw. After a hurricane unearthed 50 skeletons that had been buried on Edgar Watson's property his guilt had finally been confirmed and all the suspicion that surrounded Florida’s mass killer was laid to rest.

There is supposedly a blood stain on the wall of the Smallwood Store where Watson was gunned down and to this day whispers of his ghost circulate telling tales that he continues to haunt the store along with his victims. 

Everglade City

After leaving Chokoloskee Island and its torrid past we stopped at Ernest Hamilton  Observation Tower in Everglade City to lighten the mood. 

We took a walk down the boardwalk to a canal that filters out to Chokoloskee Bay. 

This little excursion lent an opportunity for a photo op of a group of Pelicans hanging out on the dock posts. I opted not to climb the tower, (age could be a factor) but I could imagine the view would be spectacular.

Observation Tower location
As we left Everglade City the Souvenir & Gift Shop caught my eye, well actually the Giant Gator statue out front did and naturally I just had to get a picture with my bike.

Ride em Gator...

Motorcycle Route: Chokoloskee Island

Miami Herald 
Tampa Bay 
Naples Daily News 
Ernest Hamilton 
Smallwood Store 
Bloody Edgar Watson 
Find A Grave 
Edgar Watson 
Everglades National Park 10,000 Islands 

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying the Ride...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Solo Ride In The Sunshine State

Honestly, I am happy
even though I don't look it
This year the BF left on a “All Boys” vacation to Nicaragua. Yes, I was a tad bit jealous, especially seeing he was also going to explore it on a motorcycle. I wouldn’t have been so forgiving to let him take off for a week if I were stuck back home in Ontario Canada under a mountain of snow. But seeing I am here in Florida and best of all with my motorcycle, I was actually going to enjoy having some ‘alone’ time.

Today’s ride was my three-hour sabbatical of sorts, and it certainly emptied the cobwebs out of my head.  It was like achieving a ‘Zen’ moment, only I felt at one with my bike, body and mind. 

“I can see clearly now…”  (song lyrics that just popped in my head, it happens)

One thing that became apparent after eight years of riding, today was the first “longish” ride I have actually taken alone. Sure, I have puttered around but never strayed too far and never for very long. The more adventurous rides have always been with my BF. This little birdie has finally begun to “spread her wings”. Not to say I don’t like riding with my BF, we just have different riding styles. For instance, I like to stop and snap a picture when something interesting catches my eye, he on the other hand never seems to notice and zooms by. Motorcycling and pictures just naturally go together (obviously from a bloggers point of view) and I was thinking when I started out today that I would end up with dozens of pictures of interesting things along the way. Funny thing happened though, I never did. (Hence the lack of pictures.) I only stopped once, okay that is wrong, twice. The first stop was to top off the tank, so that really doesn’t count. 

Now on with The Ride…
Motorcycle Route: Treeline Ave. – Three Oaks Parkway – Immokalee Rd. 

The actual route time will vary depending on where you are coming from

I took Treeline Ave. which is a two-lane road and has a moderate amount of traffic in spots. It is also one of the few roads around here that has some decent sweeping curves, which are hard to find in Southwest Florida. This is also a very popular route for motorcyclists because of that, and judging by the number of bikes I seen today, quite a few had the same idea as me.

When I got to Alico Rd. I made a right so that I could connect at the start of Three Oaks Parkway. It is just a short ride past the on ramp of 1-75 and you can only turn left onto it. However, it looks like one day this road might eventually go to the right. Three Oaks has even less traffic and is a pleasant ride through gated communities with manicured lawns and park like settings. Somewhere along the line the road morphs into Imperial Parkway. (If I had to pinpoint it I would say once you cross Coconut Rd.) Then it does another metamorphous and becomes Livingston Rd. I think this road just can’t make up its mind on what to call itself. Anyway, the entire way is nice, but there are a few traffic lights that might bog down the ride. I hit a few, but it wasn’t as irritating as riding on 41 through Fort Myers.

When I got to Immokalee Rd. I turned left.  The shops and housing developments soon give way to Orange groves. Once it opens up be prepared for it to get a bit windy. I pulled off for a small break, mainly to chug down some water and to finally take a picture. I noticed that I had stopped at the ‘Corkscrew Island Neighborhood’ sign, a place that is basically in the middle of nowhere and landlocked as far as I could tell. So what I really wanted to know is why is this area called an Island? ahem, moving on... this road will take you by the Immokalee Casino, if you are so inclined to make a stop. I then made a left on Main Street in Immokalee and headed towards home. 

By the way, besides the liberating feeling of independence I had on this ride it also made me realize just how much I need (not want) I really need, to get another motorcycle when I get back to Canada, purely for therapeutic purposes of course. Hmm, wonder if OHIP covers that.  

(I know, soon you all will be telling me to shut up and just get another bike already)

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride