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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Cyrus Q. Stewart
INTERVIEWER: Jan Brown, Michael Jansinger
DATE: 22 April 1977
H: April 22, 1977, in Fort Myers, Florida. This is a recording for the Oral
History Project for filing in the archives, and we will be talking with Mr.
Cyrus Q. Stewart, who is the oldest practicing attorney in Lee County, and
also the oldest University of Florida graduate...the oldest0bull gator"
around. The interviewers are Mrs. Jan Brown and Michael Hansinger.
Mr. Cy, all we want to do is just chat with you this morning.
S: I see. I'll be glad to help you.
H: We are in the offices of Stewart, Stewart and Jackson, at 1534 Hendry Street,
in downtown Fort Myers. The first Stewart in that name is Mr. Cyrus Q.
Stewart, who is at his desk in his office now. Mr. Stewart comes to work
every morning during the week, as he has since he was first admitted to the
Bar. Mr. Stewart, good morning, sir, and what is your birthdate?
S: March 4, 1883.
H: When did you graduate from law school at the University of Florida?
S: In 1911.
H: Have you been practicing in Fort Myers ever since?
H: Yes. I was out during the First World War, about eighteen months.
H: Think back, Mr. Stewart, to when you were a boy growing up in North Carolina.
When did your family first began thinking about moving to Florida?
S: My grandfather and grandmother came to Florida in 1856 or '57; I don't know
which. My grandfather had tuberculosis, and the doctors told him he better
get to a warm climate. So they came down here in 1856 or '57, and my father
[who] was a young man, came with them. He was born in 18...I don't know when
he was born; it's in that book there.
H: All right, sir.
S: He joined the Indian army while he was down here, young fellow, and served
for a year or two as a federal soldier.
H: That was fighting against the Seminoles, so...
S: Yes, and his father and mother settled up here at a little old house near
Silver Springs, out in the country there somewhere. And they lived there,
and my grandfather died there. My father, I said, was in the federal army,
and when he died they went back to North Carolina. In 1858, I think.
H: When did your father decide to come back to Florida and carry you all with him?
S: He always wanted to come back down here and get an orange grove. He finally
got his children all educated, he raised nine of them to maturity, and he got
them educated, except me. In 1899 he decided to come back down to Florida.
He and my mother decided to drive down here.
H: How many of you made the trip? There was your father and your mother, your-
S: That's all.
H: Were you the youngest child?
S: I was the baby. I was sixteen years old then.
H: That's marvelous, Mr. Stewart. Now, would you please tell us what you remember
about the trip, starting from when you left North Carolina.
S: Well, I remember the first day, it was in October, I think. It was Monday, the
twenty-second, or third of October. We had a big storm, it rained that night,
and we got down there on the edge of South Carolina, close to Lancaster, and put
up our camp. That night we had the storm, and the wind blowed us down, and we
all got all wet and everything. Got straightened out the next day and we went
on, 'till we got down here and finished up at Arcadia [De Soto County seat];on
December 23, 1899. Just two days before Christmas.
H: Well, that's a wonderful event.
S: We got there, and Saturday all the cowboys came in and they had a celebration.
They were running their horse races, and popping their whips, and shooting their
pistols all up and down the streets of Arcadia. It was a celebration riot; that
was Christmas Eve day.
H: The wild west?
S: The wild west, right.
H: So the Arcadia cowboys in those days carried their pistols?
S: Oh, yes. They had their pistols and their whips, riding their horses.
H: What kind of clothes did they wear, Mr. Stewart?
S: Oh, I don't remember that. Most of them had boots on, I think. That's all I
remember about it.
H: Did they wear the western hats?
S: I don't remember whether they were wearing them or not.
H: Well, they needed some kind of big hats against the sun and rain, no doubt.
Mr. Stewart, let's think back on that wagon now. Tell us how big that wagon
S: Oh, it was just a small, one horse wagon, and a great big mule to pull it.
H: Just one mule?
S: One mule.
H: And what did you carry in the wagon?
S: We just carried a tent, and our clothes, and cooking utensils, and feed for the
mule, and whatever we had to have. We'd stop and get our groceries and things
along the way. We didn't carry any load much. I think we shipped a couple
of trunks, or a bunch of stuff. My oldest brother was living down there.
He was teaching school down there close to Ocala, I think it's a little place
called Fellowship. Isn't there a place called Fellowship up there? I think
that's the name of it. He shipped his stuff down there, so we didn't bring
any load much with us.
H: What kind of road did you find all that way?
S: Just old dirt roads. No paved streets then, no paved roads. Very rarely.
I think a main town we came through...we came from Monroe down to...
H: That's Monroe, North Carolina?
S: Yes. To Columbia, South Carolina. Then from Columbia we came down to.... I
forget that town right across the river from Georgia.
H: Was it Augusta, maybe?
S: Augusta, Georgia. We came down there from, I'm trying to think of that town.
Not Camden, no, it was...Aiken, South Carolina. Right across the river from
H: How did you cross the river, did they have a bridge?
S: They had a big bridge there, a very big bridge across the river.
H: This is marvelous, Mr. Stewart.
S: I remember they had a great big bridge. It was all covered over, it was frame,
and long--it was more than a mile, I guess.
H: A great big bridge over the Savannah River at Augusta.
S: Savannah River, that's right.
H: After you crossed over into Georgia, what other towns did you go through?
S: I don't remember now. We came down from there to Waycross. Then from Waycross
we came down to...
H: Maybe Lake City?
S: Yes,we came to Lake City, but we came to a Georgia town first.
H: Maybe you went to Valdosta.
S: Valdosta, that's right. We cut across from Waycross to Valdosta, and from
Valdosta, we hit Lake City. From Lake City, we came on down to Ocala. I don't
believe we came to Ocala, we came to that little Fellowship. I forget what
little towns we came through there.
S: Suwannee River, where there's a tunnel under there; where it goes under there.
H: Tell us about the tunnel, Mr. Stewart, I've never heard of it before.
S: It ran under the ground there somewhere. I don't know where it was.
H: Did the river run under the ground?
H: So it was kind of a natural bridge?
S: Natural bridge, yes, something like that. I know we came pretty close to
that place and looked at it.
H: There's a natural bridge at the Santa Fe River. Now, this was your first
trip to Florida and you were sixteen years old?
S: That's right.
H: Tell us how Florida looked to you then. How did it appear? What were your
impressions when you first began driving in the state?
S: It was dry. It was so dry. We never had a rain after that storm. We never
had any rain to amount to--oh, we may have had just a little sprinkle or shower,
but we never had rain anytime 'till we got to Arcadia. It was the driest you
ever saw. When I got there, all the lakes up in the central part of Florida
were dried up; big bunch of them dried up. And I remember around Ocala I saw
a bunch of colored people out there. They'd been to one of the lakes there,
and they just had big batches of fish they had caught there. And all of them
were dried up and the buzzards were eating them. All kinds of buzzards. It
was the driest spring I think they'd had down here in years.
H: Well, that was bad news for the farmers, but for people who were traveling and
camping out, missing all that rain was a piece of luck, wasn't it?
S: Boy, it sure was. It certainly was.
H: What did your family do in Arcadia when they arrived?
S: We camped, out there where old Simmons Hospital was. There's a little old
cypress head there, and we camped there. Stayed there for a while, I guess
about a month, maybe more. We stayed there in our camp 'till my father finally
bought an old run-down orange grove. It had been frozen during this big freeze
in 1894 and '95; that big freeze. It froze down, and a bunch of sprouts were
growing up around them. He bought that old Thompson grove, down there between
Nocatee and Fort Ogden.
H: That's mighty interesting. Tell us about it.
S: That was in the spring of 1900. Then we moved from that tent down there to
that Thompson place. I don't remember whether we rented the house before. I
believe we did rent some house there in Arcadia before that, and stayed there
a few months. I don't remember for certain about that.
H: Well, it was a long time ago. Tell us what your dad did with this old grove
with the sprouts growing up out of these frozen trunks.
S: He made a grove out of it. He stayed there a year and a half, then he and
my mother came back to North Carolina. My oldest brother married, that's
just before he left there, and then he moved down there and took care of
the grove. He lived there 'till he died there in the grove.
H: And when did you all come back to Florida then, the second time?
S: Never came back anymore.
H: Your dad never came back?
S: He came back. He came back in 1901, the next year, and died up there at--
I forget where.
H: Was this the place near Ocala?
S: No, it was up there close to the lake section. Sanford. He came down there
and spent the winter at Sanford. He just rented a place there, my mother didn't
come, he just came down to spend the winter. He came looking--he was very
anxious to find his father's grave. When we came down there the first time,
he spent a week out there hunting around Silver Springs trying to find that
little old place where they lived, and where his father was buried. And it
changed. The house was gone and everything. He never could locate it. He
never could find his father's grave anywhere. It was such a wild country down
there then, and things had changed so much. He came down in 1901,why, he
couldn't find a thing there.
H: Well, that's an unhappy business, but it is mighty interesting about the
country being so wild and changing. Now, let's come back to yourself. You
were sixteen, and your mom and dad went back up to North Carolina. Did you
stay at Arcadia, or did you go back with them?
S: No, I had kind of a wild experience there in January. We got in there and,
about a week after the new year, a fellow by the name of R. A. Mills got ahold
of my daddy and asked him if he would get me to take his mule team and haul a
load of oranges. That's what my father thought he wanted. He told him yes
he could. So my father came home and asked me if I wanted to go and bring in
that load of oranges, and I said, yes, I'll go. I went out there and got on
the wagon. When I got on the wagon, there's a fellow, Wood, come down here
from the north, and he and his brother owned an orange grove out there, about
six or eight miles from Arcadia. This was about three o'clock, I reckon, in
the afternoon, and I thought I was just going out there to get a load of
oranges. I got in there with that team, and old man Mills told me that this
man, Wood, would tell me all about what to do. I got in there and old man
Wood told me I was to take the team and go way up to Horse Creek, up there
across from Wauchula [Hardee County Seat], and haul oranges from old man Bob
Robert's grove. He had a big grove way out there. Walk and Hinks were brokers,
and they'd bought his crop of fruit and were packing it up and shipping it.
They hired this man and wagon to go up there and haul after they'd packed it
up in the packing house. So I was to take a load of it to Wauchula, and then
come back the next day and get another load. That was the thing.
It was about twenty-five miles from Arcadia up to that grove, and I started it.
Wood kept me there and gave me my supper, and put me on that road and it was dark.
I started out in the dark, going on and on. It's an old woods road, out
all the way up there, for twenty-five miles up through the woods. There
was only one dwelling house between where I left them and went all the
way up to old man Bob Roberts's.
H: That is so interesting, Mr. Stewart. That's the kind of pioneer tale that
we are so interested to hear.
S: It was nothing but an old sandy woods track, it wasn't no road. It was just
an old country road, no pavement, nothing, crooked all along there, and....
H: Well, twenty-five miles is about a full days drive. Did you drive all night?
S: I drove all night, and about four o'clock in the morning, why, I stopped there
at that one house. They had a big fire. It was cold, the coldest day in the
winter; just as cold as blazes. I liked to froze, I didn't have any clothes
on, and I was in a dickens of a shape. I stopped there and got warm and asked
them about the way.. "Well, you're still on the road, all right." They told
me about the old straight woods road, right on. That was about eleven o'clock.
So I went, and drove on and drove on. And way through the woods, I just could
barely see a light. Every once in a while I'd see a light in there where some-
body...These people there--wasn't in their house, they had a great big fire
outdoors. They didn't have any chimney or anything to their house, and when I
stopped, they were all sitting around that big fire out there in the yard.
H: It was cold, so they build a big fire to keep warm.
S: Oh, yes, it was cold. They built a big fire to get warm.
H: Well, this is a piece of old Florida history that I have never run across
before in reading or talking.
S: Well, I saw that light. Finally, about four o'clock, I reckon, somewhere
between four and five, I saw that light. Just once in a while I could get
a glimmer of that light through there, and I said, "I guess that's the place.
I'm going on." I bet I was about to freeze, and I had to whip the mules. I
was trotting along that road, and standing up there dancing, trying to keep my
legs and feet warm.
H: In the middle of the night?
S: Yes. And there was a dead pine tree right beside the road there, and there
was a big root that went right across that track; and the root stood up that
way. When the mules going, trotting along, that front wheel hit that root,
pitched me out right between the mules, there. By George, right between them.
How I ever got out without getting my head broke or getting kicked or anything
I'll never know. But somehow or other I got out of there. And the mules, when
I fell out and got in there, they turned around, and I was not there to guide
them or anything, they turned around and started through the palmettos to go
back to Arcadia. They hadn't gone but a little piece 'till they broke the
coupling tongue, and then they lost the hind wheels, but they was dragging
the front wheels and the body of the thing with them. So I finally got up
and got kind of over my daze, and I ran as far as I could and heading them off
and stopped them. And I unhitched them, walked on down to that light.
There was all that crowd around the big fire there. The head man, the fellow
that grew the fruit, old man Roberts,had got a bunch of old, rich pine wood,
and just had it pulled along through his grove. He'd been through '94 and '95
freezes, and he was prepared for this one, and it looked like it was going to
freeze. The commissioners, the people that bought his fruit, were afraid his
fruit would freeze, and he was saving it for his trees. And they were out
there arguing. They wanted to set that wood afire, and old man Roberts wouldn't
let them set it afire. Finally it didn't freeze, and they never lost their
fruit or anything, but it was one of them cold nights.
When I got there, according to old man Wood, I was supposed to stay there at
the grove, and haul from there to Wauchula and make one trip a day. I got
thereand I asked them about boarding, and they said, oh, no, they had more than
they could, they couldn't take me. So I had to go to Wauchula and get me a
place to stay.
H: What did Wauchula look like in those days?
S: Oh, just a little bit of a country village town. I don't remember what my board
cost me. I don't think it cost me more than thirty cents a day, something like"
H: Where did you stay at night?
S: I stayed at a boarding house there, where they had room and board. I don't
think they charged me more than thirty cents a day. I'll tell you why. I never
made any agreement, or neither did my daddy, about what the man was paying me
for my services. When I got there, I had sense enough to ask people around
there. There was another team hauling fruit there, it was rented from a livery
stable man in Arcadia. He had a colored man on there driving his wagon, loading
and unloading it. So, I asked him how much they paid him, and he said, "They
pay me a dollar a day." And I said, "You have to pay your own board?" "Oh,
yeah, I have to furnish my own meals." So when I went home, this man wouldn't
pay me but sixty cents, and out of that I had to pay for my board. I made
about ten or fifteen, twenty cents, I guess. I don't know how much I made.
That's the early history. That's the first job I had, the first experience I
had working in Florida.
H: Well, you're laughing about it now, but it must have seemed mighty difficult then.
S: No, it didn't bother me. I was young and tough, as far as the work was concerned,
it didn't bother me. It was a big, heavy job though. We had to load those boxes
in the car and unload them. We'd take twenty at a load, twenty boxes of packed
oranges per load.
H: Were they loaded on board a train?
S: No, they had a car there, a car on the siding, a boxcar, and we filled up the
H: At Wauchula?
H: Tell us what other jobs you've had, and what other schooling you've had,
Mr. Stewart, after that.
S: Well, I went back there, and he wanted me to haul more oranges. I wouldn't
do it. I told him no. I wouldn't work for him for nothing. So I went and
got me a job picking oranges. That paid five cents a box. They didn't
pay you by the day, they paid you five cents a box.
H: Five cents a box!
S: To pick oranges, yes. I went out and picked oranges, and I made something
between two and three dollars a day. I had a big ladder, you'd carry a big
ladder from one tree to another, and you had to pick the tree clean. They
bought the crop and they wanted all the oranges off of it. You had to carry
your ladder from one to another, and if it wasn't great big and hard trees,
why, you cold make big money.
H: How many boxes could you pick in a day?
S: Oh, it depends on the grove. These great big old seedling trees, just full
of oranges, you could pick anywhere from fifty to seventy boxes a day. You
had a big bag on your shoulder, a shoulder bag you'd put them in, and you'd
take clippers and clip them in there, and then put them in a box down on the
H: What did you do forschooling. after that?
S: I didn't. I picked that winter until the crop was over, and then I got me a
job at the phosphate plant. I went over to the phosphate plant called Harrell
out there, on that narrow-grade railroad down to Boca Grande. I got a job at
that phosphate plant, and the only job I could get was foiling a wheelbarrow
with a bunch of colored men. They were just starting to working in there, and
they were cleaning it up, grubbing it, and putting ditches and all in it, and
I got a job of that. I worked there for about two months, and then I got a job
doing what they called "feeding the roaster." They paid me a dollar a day for
that. Of course, I lived close to home, and I usually stayed at home and come
over every morning and worked there for the day. And then after that, in the
H: Excuse me, Mr. Cy. What is "feeding the roaster?"
S: They get this phosphate stuff out of the river, and they'd run it through a
great big trough. It's heated, just as hot as you please, and get all that
mud and water out of it. When they filled it up, they'd dump it in up there.
And when it come down to go into that place, I'd have to stay there with a
big long iron hook to keep it from blocking up, keep that thing in there.
That's what they called feeding the roaster, they had to go through the roaster
to clear it out; and I stayed there. They thought those belts, when they put
that through there, that it wouldn't clog.
H: Well, that's covering an interesting span of country, now. We have you driving
this wagon through the woods at night, through this cold freeze. And finally
finding these people about four in the morning, and they had a big fire, and
they might be going to fire their grove. Then you went to work hauling, picking
fruit, and now you're in the phosphate industry. Please take it from there....
And you're still sixteen years old, are you not?
S: No, I was seventeen.
H: Seventeen by now, and living at home, in Arcadia.
S: March 4, 1900, I was seventeen. That was in 1900, you see. As soon as the
crop got right, in November, they started picking again. So I quit the phos-
phate then, and went to picking, and I picked fruit from the first of November
to the last of December, Christmas holidays. Then, after the holidays, I went
back to North Carolina and went to school. I'd saved up about $500.00. My
father let me keep all the money I made, and I kept it all. He'd taught me as
a kid to be very frugal. I didn't waste any money, I kept it, and so I took that
back and went to school.
H: That's marvelous. What school, Mr. Cy?
S: Well, my brother, he had graduated in 1900, and he just started as a principal
of a high school up there beyond Charlotte; Seversville they called it. I went
up there and boarded at the same place he was. He wasn't married, and he and
I boarded there. I went to school with him for the rest of the year. We had
commencement in June, and then I worked that summer. I went back the next year,
and went another year for him in high school. Then he quit there and he went to
Yale. He was a minister, he studied ministry, finished up that Ph.D. there. And
I went to Trinity Park School and finished up my high school; one year up there.
That was the high school that belonged to the college there, Trinity College,
which later became Duke [University].
H: Oh, I see.
S: I graduated from the high school, and then I went there to the college. I went
in .there in 1902 and '03 to high school, and in the fall of 1903, why, I went
into the college. In '03 and '04, '04 and '05, '05 and '06, '06 and '07, that's
right, and I graduated in 1907.
H: What had you studied?
S: Oh, I studied just the regular courses they had there.
H: All right, sir, that brings us up to 1907. Please take it from there, Mr. Cy.
S: Well, my mother got sick, and I stayed there and taught school in North Carolina
from 1907 to 1910, when she died. I taught school, and then when I wasn't
teaching school, I went there and studied law, in the law office in Monroe.
I had a cousin practicing law over there, and I studied law, read law in his
office during those summer months. And then, when my mother died, we closed out
everything there. She died of cancer July 20, 1910, and we closed up our office.
My other sister and all were working and married off, and so I stayed there and
helped take care of her. She was in bad shape; worked herself to death. So when
it concluded, I came back down to Florida where my brother was. He was living on
the grove there; an older brother; It was him and his wife.
H: What is his name, this brother?
S: Ben Stewart. Benjamin Stewart.
H: And this was at the grove at Arcadia?
H: How did you travel this time, in 1910?
S: I came down on a train.
H: So those pioneering wagon days were about closing out. The way to go was on
the train. All right, sir, tell us what happened after you got to Arcadia
then, and joined up with Ben. You had graduated from college....
S: I told him I wanted to be a lawyer. I told him I studied there in
about it. He said, "I'll tell you, you better write to Gainesville, and also
to Stetson, and see if they'll give you a diploma for one year's work; give
you credit for what you already studied and learned for one year and then
graduate you." The statute at that time required a lawyer to have two years
college education. So I wrote to the dean up there, the dean at the University
of Florida, and got a letter from him. And I wrote one over to Stetson, too,
and told them what my experience was, and what I knew about it, and told them
if I went up there in one year and could make the grades would they give me a
diploma? And the dean at the University of Florida didn't answer a word about
what I asked him. He just said, "Come on, be glad to have you." But the
fellow up in Stetson, he wrote back and said, "Yes, sure, if you can pass the
examinations, we can sure give you a diploma."
I wanted to go to Gainesville, I didn't want to go to Stetson, and so I went
and took my trunk with me. I left it down at the station, and I went up to the
dean's office and told him. He said, "Did you bring your trunk with you?" I
said, "It's at the station." He said, "Well, I'll send right down here." I
said, "Wait a minute. We're going too fast here." I said, "You didn't answer
my question about whether I could make the grade in one year or not." "Oh, we
can't do that. The law doesn't allow it. You've got to have two years."
H: Oh, ho!
S: I said, "Is that right?" And he said, "You can't do that." I said, "Well,
I'll think I'll go over to Stetson, and see maybe they'll do it." Well, they
can't do it too. The same law applies to them." I said, "Well, I think I'll
try them." And then he said, "Oh, it won't do you a bit of good, don't go over
there." "Well, I'm going." And then he said, "Have you heard from them?" I
said, "Yes, I got a letter from them." He said, "Let me see that letter." I
said, "No, I won't let you see that letter." "Why?" I said, "That's my letter."
And I said, "I'm going over to try them. They told me if I could make the grade,
they'd give me a diploma. "Well," he stuttered, "Well, if they can do it, I can
too. All right, we'll go get your trunks, and if you can pass the exams, we'll
give you a diploma."
H: Marvelous, Marvelous.
S: And so when the year was ended, why, I passed their grades, and they gave me
H: What was this dean's name, Mr. Cy?
S: Dean Reed.
H: And who were your other law professors.?
S: Oh, [Harry R.] Trusler, and, I forget the other young fellow. He was from
Chicago. He was a young fellow. They just got him in there, maybe this was
his first or second year there. I forget his name. Trusler and the Dean
were the main old timers. The creek name in Lake County was Yellow Fever
Creek. I think that was during 1897 when they had something. I don't know
when it was, but they did have a case of smallpox around here two or three
times somewhere. I was vaccinated. I remember they vaccinated me. It was
the first time I'd ever been vaccinated, and my arm got sore, boy.
H: About how old were you then?
S: That was in 1900.
H: So they came all the way around to Arcadia?
S: I think it was about 1900. I don't know when it was. When was the date of it?
H: Friday, March 30, 1900. Says, "Fair, no mail, but letter from Carry, Tom, and
Annie. Cyrus quit today. Was vaccinated yesterday. Bought alum and
crackers, five cents. Still sick, smallpox discovered at yesterday."
Is this your father's journal?
S: That's my father's diary, yes. He wrote that.
H: Farther on, he says that it was so cold one day it killed your pigs. One nota-
tion in here says, "Cold, so cold it killed our pig." It says, "The pig would
have been 175 or 200 pounds." Do you remember that?
S: Yes, I remember we had a fat hog they had to kill.
H: Oh, the cold didn't kill it, they killed it?
S: They killed it for me, they killed it for me.
H: I thought they meant it was so cold that the pig got sick and died.
S: No, this cold weather. Why, he butchered it when it was cold.
H: Do you remember when the mule hurt the calf?
S: Hurt the calf? No.
H: He has a note in here that says, "The mule hurt the calf today."
S: I don't remember anything about that.
H: Must not have been bad. I read two or three more days, and the calf didn't
die, so I guess he got well. Where did Ben live? It says Ben is in the high
hickory, yellow sand country. Now where was that? Was that in North Carolina,
or was that here?
S: That was down there in Fort Ogden where they had that grove, that's where that
was. Down there in DeSoto County.
H: When you were at the University of Florida at Gainesville, you were in the law
H: Did you ever know a fellow named John Layne?
S: No, I don't remember. When did he graduate, do you know?
H: I don't know when he graduated, but he would have been maybe a little bit
older than you are.
S: Must be, he's before me. There was one lawyer over in Miami that was over 100
years old. I knew of him. I had dealings with his firm. I forget what his
firm's name was, and what his name was, but about five or six years ago, he
was 100 years old. He may still be living, I don't know.
H: Were you in the Spanish-American War?
H: Were you too young?
S: Too young.
H: Okay, my Uncle John was in the Spanish-American War. He went to law school at
the University of Florida, but he would have been ahead of you.
S: I was sixteen in 1899. The Spanish-American War was two years before that, 1897.
Somewhere along there.
H: This is interesting. Things sure cost a lot less then.
S: Yes, it's interesting alright.
H: They talk a lot about lint cotton. Your father has notes all through here about
lint cotton. Now where did the cotton come from?
S: We used to raise cotton up in North Carolina.
H: But you didn't have any here in Florida?
S: No, not in Florida. They came down here for the oranges. They didn't raise
cotton down here. They did up in the upper part of the state, but they didn't
do it down here. There wasn't much cotton raised up there, but there was some.
H: This was mostly groves down here, then?
S: Yes. Orange trees. They didn't raise anything but garden fruits. Then, in
the winter-time, they raised vegetables and sold vegetables; things like that
in .the winter-time. When I came down to Fort Myers, that was a great winter
vegetable country. They raised a lot of winter vegetables there then and
shipped them out in the winter. That was one of the big assets there.
H: A lot the same as now, I guess.
S: Yes. That originally goes back to 1875, he started that first one there.
H: This is mighty interesting. This family diary is very interesting. Let's go
back to your dad, Mr. Cy. When he was in the federal service, you recall those
were the years of 1857 and 1858. What tales did he tell in the family about
when he was soldiering in the Federal Army in Florida?
S: He said he was in the Indian battle there, where the Indians routed them, and
they ran and scattered. And he said his partner, they were about to catch him,
and he dove in the river. I don't know what river it was, the St. Johns',
maybe. I don't know where it was. Anyhow, it was full of these big lilies.
He said he dove in there, and hid under the lilies, and raised a lily up where
he could breathe. Held lilies over his head so the Indians--they went up and
down there, hollering and hooping and yelling but they never did find him.
When he came down here in '99, he contacted that fellow. I don't know who he
was, up in the state somewhere. He died pretty soon after that.
H: Mr. Stewart is commenting on his father's adventures. In looking at a transcript
of his father's diary, his father states that the family left North Carolina in
February of 1852, and reached Silver Springs in March of '52; when Mr. Cyrus
Plummer Stewart was fifteen and a half years old. In 1856, he entered the fed-
eral service in the fall and served twelve months with a Captain Robert Phillips,
and served four months with a Captain John McNeil, and two more months of quarter-
master service in 1858. Mr. Cyrus Plummer Stewart then went back up to North
Carolina, and entered the Confederate service in February of 1862, and states
laconically that he enlisted for the war for the Virginia army, and about the
tenth day of April, 1865, quoting from the diary, reached Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now, Lee surrendered on the thirteenth of April, and Johnson was fighting in
western North Carolina later on in April. The narrative says that he reached
Charlotte on the tenth day of April, and got home about the first day of May, '65.
He doesn't tell us about the trip. What Mr. Cyrus Stewart has been telling us
is his father's direct recollections of the encounters with Seminoles in the
third Seminole War, in '57 and '58. All right, sir, let's thinkabouit some of
his other tales of the war, Mr. Cy.
S: When was he discharged?
H: He left the federal service in Florida in 1857.
S: Now, when did he enter the Civil War. You got that in there?
H: Yes, sir, he entered it in February of 1862.
S: In '62. And when did he get out?
H: At the end of the war, in the last days, about the tenth of April.
S: Was he in prison at that time?
H: He does not say so, no sir. He does not mention prison.
S: I think he was in the federal prison for about six months at the end. When
Lee surrendered, I think that they turned the prisoners all loose. I'm not
sure that happened, but that's my memory.
H: What other tales did he tell you about the Confederate War?
S: He didn't. He wouldn't talk about the Confederate War.
H: Did not talk about it?
S: He wouldn't talk about it.
H: Well, .it-was.so bad that a good many men....
S: He said there were fellows boasting about this and that and the other, said
they were all bluff, that they didn't do any fighting, that the people that
went through that thing didn't talk about it.
H: I understand.
S: He wouldn't talk about it. I've heard people after people asking about it,
and he wouldn't even talk about it. The only thing I remember one time, was
telling about a cold spell that they went through. He said that it was sleeting
and snowing, and said there's no shelter and nothing. And said they had to go
and cut pines and shed them or something. Anyhow, said they got all fixed up
and got ready to go, and just as soon as they got ready, the officer, the
colonel ordered them to move over about a mile further and took over their
places. Said that was about the maddest bunch of men he ever saw in his life.
H: I can understand that, yes.
S: That's about the only thing I remember him talking about that thing.
H: Let's think about the Florida war again, the earlier one, when he was fighting
the Seminoles. There was this business of hiding out from the Seminoles under
the lilies. What else did he say about that first war?
S: Didn't hear him talk about that. That's about the only thing I remember him
H: Well, Mr. Cy, let's think back about those early days in Arcadia then, and the
problems that you people had. Early life in Arcadia. Here you started out
with this job of hauling fruit in a wagon, and ran into all of this trouble.
The mules stumble over this fallen pine log, they pitched you out, you could
have been badly hurt, it often happened that way. The mules ran off, you had
to find them in the night. Here is all this trouble developing out of a simple
job of a boy driving a wagon with mules. Now let's think about some of those
other problems that you had, and what your people did to solve their difficulties.
S: Well, we got by pretty good. We never had much trouble on that trip. Are you
talking about the trip?
H: No, sir, I'm talking about when you got started up in Arcadia and were living
in and running a grove and fixing it up; just day to day life.
S: Well, he'd only owned the grove about six months, and there was an old frame
house there, it wasn't half built, it was just a frame. A lot of the doors
and windows wasn't in when we bought it, and all. This was pretty bad, but
we fixed it up when we lived in it. It was pretty tough. We kept on living
in it and my brother lived.in it when he got married. He came down there in
the summer of 1901, that's when he got married, and he came down there and
took over the grove. My father was already gone back to North Carolina. He
was teaching school up there at Fellowship, and when his school was finished,
he and his wife got married, and they came down there and took over the grove.
I think it was in June, May or June, and they took over the grove, and my father
and mother went back to North Carolina. They'd stayed there about a year and a
half. They got there at.Christmas time, 1899, and they left there in the middle
of the year 1901. I left there the first of 1901. They had bought this old
grove, and they lived in that great big old two story house. The bottom of
it was fixed up to live in, but the other part was almost just a frame up on
H: Let's think now abut when you first started practicing law. When and where
S: That was right here in Fort Myers. That's the toughest period I ever had.
I came out of there, I was broke, I'd spent all my money for getting an
education and getting through. Oh. I had a little money, something like
$100 maybe. I don't know'what.. I had. Anyhow, I came down here-and opened
up a law office in Fort Myers and started practicing law.
I didn't know a soul down there. I found an old fellow who was leaving here,
Don Register. He was one of the attorneys, there were five attorneys there
with him, and his health was bad. He was leaving here, and he arranged with
some fellow over on the east coast to take over his office and place over here.
And so that fellow changed his mind, and decided he'd stay over there to West
Palm Beach, I think it was. When I came down here in June after I got my diploma,
I met the different lawyers, and I met him. He wanted right away to sell me all
his things, and said he'd arranged to sell to this fellow, but he had backed out
on him. I told him, "I'd be glad to buy your typewriter and your desk and chairs
and things, but I ain't got no money, Don." I said, "I'd have to buy them on a
credit." He says, "Well, I"ll sell them to you on credit." And he got a list
of all of it, and he got it all fixed up. I think it was between $400 and $500
that I owed him, and he drew up a title to change contract. His little library
and his typewriter and desk. So I signed it and agreed to pay him fifteen
dollars a month for it. I didn't know where it was coming from, but I'd try
it, and so I took over his office.
His main practice was representing all these credit people. He represented all
the collection agencies, books and all around there, and they'd send claims down
here for him to collect. He'd arranged with the post office to put all those
letters that came from those people into my box, and send all his personal mail
up to him in Jacksonville or wherever he went to. So the first work that I got
were those claims, but I didn't get anything much out of that. That started me
out. And many a time, I'd have to write him and tell him, "I didn't make it this
month. I'll get it next month, maybe. I'll get it to you." Finally, I paid him
off. I had some luck, depending on business.
H: Well, fifteen dollars doesn't sound like much nowadays, but it was mighty much
in those days.
S: It was. My rent was seventeen dollars a month. I had two offices, one for working
in and one for a waiting room. I didn't need two, but I had to take both of them.
And I'd have to stand my landlady up too. And my board, too. She was running the
boarding house there, and she'd give you a card for twenty-one meals for six dollars.
She'd punch your card every time you'd come in and have a meal with her, and many a
time I'd have to buy that card from her and pay her; wait on it. But I got by all
H: Well, that boarding house meal ticket on credit, that institution was still around
as far.as World War II, I want to tell, because a lot of us had to do that at the
University. As late as the 1940's, that meal ticket on credit was what kept some
S: The worst thing about me was, when I finished up my law course up there, just
about a month before the commencement come, I woke up and found I was coughing
and spitting up blood. And I says, "Good Lord, I've got consumption." That was
the dreaded disease in North Carolina. That was the most dreaded disease in the
world. Mothers always taught us about it, and my mother told me hundredszof
times, "Get out and walk around. Take deep breaths." I had to work so durn
hard up there so I could get through that course and make my way that I hadn't
taken any exercise. I just stayed in there, and I woke up and I was coughing
up blood. Wasn't just coughing--boiling. When I come down here, I put a cot
in one of my rooms. And I'd put that cot out there on a skylight when I had the
disease, and I'd sleep out there where I'd get fresh air. Then, every morning
when I got up, I'd pitch out and walk for about two or three miles, taking deep
breaths all the time. Within six months, I was strong as a mule. I wouldn't
have no coughing, no blood, or nothing. I was getting along fine. I went to
see the doctor, and never told anybody about it 'till after it was all over with.
H: Well, it sounds like you discovered the original cure: exercise, good habits
and deep breathing.
S: That's right. I knew what the cure was.
H: Mr. Cy, you've been mighty helpful with us, and we appreciate this so much.
We're going to have to go in just a couple of minutes. Let me just ask you,
while Jan is saving her next question, let me just ask you to tell us what
Fort Myers looked like when you first started up here. Just describe the place.
S: I don't think it had 2,000 people in the city of Fort Myers when I came here.
It was just a small town, little old....
H: Well, what were the people doing for a living?
S: Well, they had hotels in the winter, and they had the tourist trade here.
They had a pretty good tourist trade here at that time. Then they had a
lot of smaller groves out scattered over the county and over town there.
And they had the fishing industry. There was a lot of fishing men, and they
had fishing companies that shipped fish from here. And there's two companies
operated fish business up in Lake Okeechobee. Boy, that was a wild place. It
wasn't hardly a month that somebody didn't get killed up there, they'd get to
fighting over the fishing business and all up there. Oh, boy.
B: Was this a pretty lawless part of the world, or was the law pretty good? Who
S: It got to settling down pretty good right smart. It was pretty tough though.
And you take way down along the coast, all that was inhabited by renegades
that's been run from up there in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia,
and Maryland, all up in there. They'd settle down the coast where there wasn't
no law. This one old lawyer here that became a real friend of mine helped me,
old Colonel Mickle. I hadn't been here for any time, and he told me, "Stewart,
let me tell you something." He said, "Don't you go to asking anybody that lives
down this coast down there about where they been or who they are or anything.
You'll get into trouble. Don't you never go into that. He said, "There's too
many renegades down there." He gave me advice and warned me about it. So I
never asked anybody from down.there where they came from or who they were.
B: I often heard my grandfather say that the vigilantes rode out of Sarasota to
keep order down here.
S: Well,do you know where you can get ahold of a law book?
B: No, I don't.
S: You go into some lawyer's office, any lawyer's office you go to, and if you can
get volume twenty-two, I think it is, of Florida reports, you'll find a big case
in there about the vigilantes, and their history and all. It's the greatest
history you'll ever get anywhere.
B: I'd like to read that.
S: Well, sometime come in. I'll see if I can't find that case for you. OiThat's the
most interesting case you'll ever read about the vigilantes and what happened.
B: My grandfather always said that these people came down this way because it was
the last stop before the Everglades. He said a lot of them just disappeared.
They got down this far, and then they just vanished, so that they wouldn't have
to account for what they'd done, I guess.
S: Well, they had Naples down there. A pretty big bunch of rich people was there
when I came here. And then, at a little town down there there was a crazy sect.
Down there at Estero....
B: The Koreshans?
B: Believed the world was upside down and inside out.
S: They were the ones that believed that we lived inside the world.
H: Well, we're going to leave you now, Mr. Cy. We want to thank you so much for
being so helpful.
S: You're quite welcome. I don't know if I helped you much or not.
H: Oh, it's a wonderfully interesting life and the History Project thanks you.
We've just concluded the interview with Mr. Cyrus Q. Stewart. In the course of
the interview, he has brought out a family diary, kept by his father, and a
number of excerpts from family letters and records which indicated that Mr. Cy's
grandfather was born in 1815 in North Carolina, and married a lady who was born
in 1820. And glancing rapidly at these notes while Mr. Cy was talking, it appears
that his father had come to Marion County in the 1850's with his parents, and they
farmed in Marion County for a year or two, and then returned to the Carolinas.
But the father stayed on to enlist in the Federal army in the years '57 and '58.
He had almost two years of total service in the course of the Third Seminole War.
The notes go on to say that after 1858, after finishing up his army service, Mr.
Phillip Stewart returned to Carolina. The war broke out in '61, and by February
'62, he had joined up.
He stayed in the army throughout the war. This was passed over very rapidly,
there's a very short sentence in the diary, until April of'65 when the war
ended, and the shattered I'Confederate forces in Carolina who were caught be-
tween Sherman and Grant surrendered. His notes go on to say that he return-
ned to Charlotte about May 1, 1865; and we can imagine the desolation en
route, and the desolation of the men at Charlotte. And it was this father
who, many years later, returned to the Florida that had attracted him so,
but instead of returning to Marion County, to grow fruit, he went all the
way to Arcadia in the southcentral portion of the state. What had happened
in the intervening years was the great freeze of '94 and '95, which wiped
out the citrus industry north of Lake County, and, as we hear him say, had
badly damaged groves as far south as DeSoto County.
Mr. Cy is still active in the practice of law. He does not consider him-
self remarkable; he does not consider his physical state remarkable, he
does not consider his memory remarkable. He is adamant on the point of a-
voiding having any attention called to his life. He has, in the past, re-
fused interviews to reporters who would be delighted to publicize him in the
newspapers of southwest Florida. In the recent past, I suggested to his son
William Stewart, who is a Florida alumnus, his dad, Mr. Cyrus, was a fine
candidate for an alumni award as the oldest living alumnus in southwest Flo-
rida, and the oldest practicing attorney, that he certainly cried for rec-
ognition by an admiring alumni group. This was declined on the grounds that's
theydon't care for any personal publicity, which is very admirable. But we
were priviliged to be able to make this interview, and the purposes of it
are explicit in that it is for the archives of the Oral History Project, and
not for publication in any form.
Based on what I saw of the diary and transcripts, I think there is a wealth
of material, genealogical and early historical material. We span the en-
tire territorial nineteenth century period of Florida, and we span the con-
nection between the Carolina populations and the Florida settlement patterns,
the southward migrations. I think there's a mine of material here, to be
used if the right accommodation can be reached with the Stewart family. I
think that Mrs. Brown is the right person to do this, and it fits in well
with her plans. I think the contributory potential that the Stewart family
has will provide a valuable asset to our reconstruction of the history of
the nienteenth century and twentieth century Florida. That is another pro-
ject, and Mrs. Brown has it in hand. She has been invited to contact the
Florida Historical Quarterly with a view to publishing certain of this mat-
erial, and that will be a follow-on project between herself as this local
area writer and the headquarters at the University.
The Stewart family spans a remarkable compass, and Mr. Cy's own story starts
with about the last of the animal-drawn wheeled migrations into Florida
from the adjacent South. As he indicates himself, on his own return to Flo-
rida in 1910 he traveled by train. So we saw the last pulse of the wheeled
migration into Florida, in the years just about the turn of the century. The
Cy Stewart story starts with the last migratory phase, and we immediately
get projected into the recovery from the freeze, early days in Arcadia, and
the local DeSota County cowboys cutting up over Christmas holidays. We have
the early phosphate industry; we have fruitpicking; we have the price lev-
els; we have the amazing tale of this sixteen year old boy with his charge
to drive the mules and wagon to near Fort Mead to pick up this load of fruit,
and his twenty-five mile drive at night through an unfamiliar woods road. We
have the family camping out by the fire because they had no fireplace at home,
and during this freezing weather, we have the lightered knots piled up in the
grove waiting on the possibility of colder weather. We have all of these vig-
nettes into both pioneer life and stock raising, and the early grove indus-
try, and then we have the beginnings of his law practice in Fort Myers in
1910. We have the early days of the University of Florida Law School; we
have the business of the admissions and the bargaining. Ther's an enormous
amount for Mr. Stewart to tell us, and having fought off the interviewers
for all this time, we can consider ourselves privileged and fortunate.
We also have the father-to-son narrative of the incident of the Third Seminole
War. In this incident, we are separated from the actual participant only by
word of mouth connections to his son, and I suggest that htis is as close as
we are ever going to get in 1977 to first hand accounts by the living voice
of veteran participants of the Seminole Wars. This ends the interview with
Mr. Cy Stewart.