"A Land Remembered" by Patrick D. Smith, Book Review
Florida, in modern times, is filled with luxury hotels, beach-front resorts, tourists, orange groves and a collection of residents that usually come from other places. Few realize the raw nature of its existence before the railroad brought commerce to the area.
Rampant with alligators, snakes, marshy swamps, and mosquitoes, this land in its original state was home to the Seminole Indians. With razor sharp saw-grass to be traversed, devastating hurricanes and treacherous flooding coupled with sudden crop-killing freezes, settlers had a full-time job trying to stay alive.
Author, Patrick D. Smith, during his research for the novel, ran a trading post to gain insight into the lives of the native people of Florida. He describes the evolution of the state from its roots as a swamp and prairie to its explosive growth in population and major industry in a fictional story that captures the true spirit of early settlers.
The Florida Everglades
Most people have little idea of what it was like scratching out an existence living on roots, berries and raccoon stew. In his novel, A Land Remembered, Smith gives the reader plenty to think about.
Hardships after the Civil War included a serious shortage of even the most basic supplies. Groceries like flour, sugar, fabric for clothing, shoes, ammunition for hunting and cookware needed to prepare meals were hard to come by.
He tells of the "Cow Cavalry," a group commissioned by the state's governor to round up stray cattle. Their job was to drive the cows to Georgia to feed the remaining Federal troops. Along the way, they also collected and conscripted male settlers to run the cattle, whether willing or not, to travel through the harsh land with its collection of predators and diseases like malaria and dysentery. Federal troops were known to raid villages, taking "everything they could get their hands on" leaving settlers without their horses, mules and cows with no recourse. Buzzards would collect those who objected.
Confederate deserters, hiding out in the swamps to evade arrest, preyed on the families of isolated settlers, killing and devouring even their work animals.
Native Seminole Indians, that were also hunted and pursued, moved deeper into the swamps of the Everglades to avoid those who wished them harm.
Schooners traveled down the rivers carrying supplies for the local trading posts where settlers would bring animal furs to trade for their basic needs. There, they could occasionally get items they couldn't make or grow like coffee and flour.
Currency and Trade
Legal tender following the war was limited to Spanish gold doubloons carted around in wagons pulled by oxen. With the peril of extreme storms like hurricanes came the ever-present swamp creatures hungry and waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting.
As early cowhands pushed their herds towards the nearest marketplace, they crossed treacherous prairies and uncleared land filled with quick sand and hordes of mosquitoes. Often those dangers were enhanced by cutthroat cattle rustlers ready to kill for a profit and personal gain.
Quick's Store, Candler, Florida 1800s
For what this one island is worth today my pappa could have bought the whole . . . state back in 1883 when I was born. Folks has gone as crazy as betsybugs."— Solomon MacIvey, 1968
South Florida - Modern Times
The story opens with a narrative by the elder Sol MacIvey who is at the end of his life. He has decided to defy his doctor's orders and return to his old home on the prairie of Southern Florida.
His earliest memories come flooding back as he reconnects with his Native American friend, Toby Cypress, who formed a lifetime bond with Sol's father through mutual need and respect. Sol's ancestors struggle to grow crops on their homestead while trying to keep their work oxen safe from deadly creatures that lurk in nearby woods.
They flourished despite the odds by capturing, branding and driving herds of cattle across the state to market.
The text weaves its way past a series of events through three generations of MacIvey's trying to establish a homestead. The author introduces their hired hand, Frog, whose dedication and respect for the family convinces him to stick around for a lifetime. Others join the small establishment in the scrubs to become an integral part of the family and its endeavors.
A mixture of "Bonanza" with its Ponderosa, and an impoverished post-Civil War “Gone With the Wind” existence, this tale keeps the reader engaged as they grow to care for and understand the characters portrayed.
The story provides insight into the erosion of the hard work ethic that prompted patriarch Tobias MacIvey to leave his roots and seek out a new existence in the developing south as life becomes easier with the passage of time.
Cattle Drive, 1913
Coming out of Georgia in 1858, with a horse-drawn wagon, his wife and their small baby, they crossed into Florida with "a sack of corn and a sack of sweet potatoes," and the tools necessary to clear the land and build a house.
His forty-acre farm in Georgia's red clay soil had failed. Seeking more nourishing soil and a new start, he sold the land for the goods he'd been able to stock into the wagon: "a few packets of seeds, a shotgun and a few shells, a frying pan and a cast-iron pot" which would have to serve the family for years to come.
He traded the wagon horses for a pair of oxen they named Tuck and Buck. As part of the trade, they got a guinea cow, a strangely diminutive animal which would provide milk for all of them.
Their journey through the wilderness, finding and establishing their first isolated homestead, losing it to disaster, then moving farther south to again, seek out richer soil leads them into a whole new world of experiences and eventual enrichment as their family grows and adds members.
With each generation, existence grows easier with successful crops, acres of producing orange groves and ready-made housing for the offspring that come along. When they found a way to earn bushels of money, they finally had it made.
Horse Drawn Wagon
This story has all the appeal of a grandfather's tale, mixing pioneer adventure with a slice of history told by a seasoned storyteller.
This is a saga that will stay in your mind as a keen reminder of what the frontier held for our ancestors. It tells of hard work, sacrifice and reward that comes, but not without its share of loss and grief.
Pioneer Homesteaders on the Frontier
Hog of the Forsaken
Patrick D. Smith Talks about the Book
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Peg Cole