Twenty Mile House
By Dena Snodgrass
Cover: Fort Davis at Dee-Dot Ranch.
Fort Davis was built in 1942 by James Roosevelt Stockton Sr., who
named it "The Haunt of the Hermit." As a gentleman's hide-away,
it was the scene of many gatherings. Perhaps the most colorful of these
was the debut of the Stockton's daughter, Preston. Mr. and Mrs. J. E.
Davis bought the property in 1954, added the porch and almost
doubled the size of the building. Made of cypress logs chinked with
concrete, Fort Davis is a proper ranch house for Dee-Dot's 20,000 acres.
The name of the ranch is a contraction of the names of the Davis'
son and daughter, Dano and Dorothy.
FROM EARLIEST TIMES
Walk softly, sir, for here you walk with many yesterdays.
There's a sight of history on this land; along each waterway and
across the fields of Dee-Dot. And there's more in the making, today
and tomorrow and tomorrow. The return of God's wild creatures has
made it so.
In the beginning were the Timuqua, those handsome Indians
remembered in the names they have left behind. Who can say that
they did not see the discoverer, Juan Ponce de Leon, though there is
no record of it. Or even heard his voice, for the Spaniards tarried on
the beach and wandered about for five days while making small repairs
to their ships. Ponce de Leon landed April 2, 1513 somewhere along
the unbroken beach East of Dee-Dot and conceivably in sight of
its tallest trees.
These were the same Indians who welcomed the French when they
came to the St. Johns River in 1562; who helped them two years later
at Fort Caroline on the bluff. Of them it was said: "The river banks
were inhabited by peaceful Indians who welcomed Ithe French] with
signs and dances .. their heads were embellished with much plumage.
They wore shell necklaces about their throats, and bracelets of fish
teeth enwound with silver beads and precious stones, from which hung
little bells of gold, silver and brass to make their embassy more
clamorous, were tied to their legs." Deerskins, Spanish moss and braid-
ed palmetto served as their scant clothing. Their music was tuned to
native ears for when they played "upon flutes resembling pipe organs,"
the French found it "disagreeable." Fruits, edible roots, squash, corn,
berries, fish and game were their foods. Their principal chieftain was
Names on the Land: Northeast Florida in 1821. This map is an
adaptation of one sent to General Andrew Jackson, Florida's first
American governor. Places which did not exist in 1821 are shown
here in parentheses. The dotted outline in the center of the map
indicates the approximate location of Dee-Dot Ranch and
..ro.is the acres of D ee-Dot is as a verse
:assrtment of men: invading ge~ea9.a aid th eir
;otsore ijnfan trymen ca tle rustlers, _ghwa
iand pirate; ir ocent travelrs, mail carriers, :il-
fa'irme.r ~i'S and !,-kindly missionaries; zb1_:c_ men ,-d
red men; governors and planters and cattlemen;
rengiTneer aknd Abot.anists. Ianyhia. their wi.7es
ai n their families with them. Each has serve
this land and in tn has beein served by it. Thy
ar presented throg these ges foVr 'the enjoy-
ment~ and perhaps enlightenment of gues-ts of J
and Flo Davis at Fort Davi.
With the French out of the way, the Spaniards set about firmly
establishing St. Augustine as a military post. In so doing, they founded
Florida's cattle industry. The natural suitability of the region to cattle
raising had been pointed out by Fontaneda in the early 1500's. Here
was a Spaniard who knew what he was talking about: Shipwrecked on
the peninsula's southern tip, he had lived with the Indians, had mi-
grated with them and had published a book on his experiences after
being rescued and returned to Spain about 1575. Cattle raising was
also recommended by Sir John Hawkins, the English nobleman-pirate,
who stopped at Fort Caroline in 1565.
A century passed before the valley of the two rivers was producing
cattle. But by 1680 St. Augustine had two slaughter houses for curing
the meat of animals driven in from pastures to the North and West
of the town.
Geography caught up with the Spaniards in Florida about 1700
when isolation ceased to afford protection. It was then that more than
a century of recurring clashes between the British colonies and Spain
began; a running conflict for the control of the land. The founding of
Carolina foretold the future: The British claimed that the colony's
southern border extended below St. Augustine! Absurd as this notion
may seem, it was infuriating to the Spaniards. And the impudence of it
indicated the weakening grasp of their once-grand empire.
The controversy burst into armed conflict in 1702 when British
Governor James Moore of South Carolina invaded Florida ostensibly
to punish Indians for harassing settlers in the borderlands. The mis-
sions across North Florida were destroyed by Moore and he and his
invading forces returned home after unsuccessfully besieging the fort
at St. Augustine. Most of the town was burned; the missions were
Word of the approaching invasion sent soldiers, priests and Indians
from missions on Fort George Island and at San Pablo scurrying down
the valley of the two rivers to safety in St. Augustine. Some may even
have tarried in the relative security of the valley, for the British forces
did not follow. Some of the British took the ocean route; others went
by the St. Johns River then overland to the town's back door in order
to squeeze it from both land and sea.
Grandiose defense plans to fortify Florida against invasion were
made but were hamstrung by a limited budget. They did, however,
effect some strengthening of outposts and, in the long run, of Castillo
de San Marcos at St. Augustine. Following the British raid of 1702,
Fort Piribiriba was built at the Indian village and mission of the same
name located at San Pablo Point, West of the San Pablo River at its
mouth. This was a fort with four bastions and most probably was
built of wood. Inexplicably, the Spanish governor who built the fort
in 1703 demolished it three years later in a revision of military plans.
At any rate, the importance of the water route by way of the San Pablo
and the North Rivers, handicapped as it was by a portage between
headwaters, was emphasized by these events. The line of communica-
tion between St. Augustine and fortified St. Johns Bluff lay along this
river route rendering it a part of the inner defense system of the
The first to test Spain's new defenses was Georgia's founder,
General James Oglethorpe, who invaded Florida in 1740 in an un-
successful attempt to capture St. Augustine and its massive fort.
Oglethorpe encamped first on Fort George Island at the fortification he
formerly constructed there, then crossed the river and set up a base
camp on the site of present day Mayport. Oglethorpe's forces marched
southward along the beach, then moved westward to take Fort San
The cattle ranch of Diego de Espinosa had been known as San
Diego as early as 1703. Here he raised cattle on the lush grass lands
which have ever since borne the name, Diego Plains. This ranch
lapped over on Dee-Dot's acres and goodness knows how many cattle
wandered westward between the headwaters of the two rivers. The
lowlands were green year 'round with the grass now famed as "St.
Augustine." And wire grass provided sweet, tender shoots in the Spring,
following the customary burning off of the dry winter pasture.
The military at St. Augustine was Espinosa's principal customer,
and a profitable one. The Diego ranch house, which stood three miles
east of the headwaters of the North River, was fortified in about 1735
The French had built Fort Caroline within Spanish lands and at a
suspiciously convenient distance from the Gulf Stream; Spanish
treasure vessels followed the Gulf Stream when returning home from
Mexico, loaded to the gills with gold. To rout these trespassers from
her soil, Spain sent her greatest admiral, Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
When he reached Florida in September of 1565 and landed at the site
where he founded St. Augustine, he resolved to attack Fort Caroline
as quickly as possible.
Menendez had three choices of a route from St. Augustine to the
fort on the bluff. The first, by the ocean and the St. Johns River, was
ruled out because the fort was on guard against such an attack. The
second was through the Guano River and lake, then northward along
the beach to the river's mouth and westward to the bluff. This in-
volved danger of detection since the enemy could sight soldiers on
the beach. The third choice, a direct overland route northward was
taken, beginning at the mouth of the North River, but quickly leaving
its banks to follow higher ground slightly westward of the river. In
making this choice Menendez had the advice of an Indian who had
become disenchanted with the French and a captured Frenchman who
was threatened with death should he fail to give proper directions.
Blazing trees to guide the rear guard, and to indicate the return route,
Menendez led his men through the terror of a hurricane, high water
and a strange terrain. There was neither trail by day nor star by night
to set the course; the guides alone showed the way. They moved
rapidly through open pine lands, gaining precious time, only to lose
it when crossing swamps and thickets.
The Spaniards trekked the length of the land which is today
Dee-Dot, perhaps along much of its present main road. And after
victory, they came back again, relatively unmindful of discomforts and
fatigue, so great was their pleasure to be going home with good news.
This land route along the rim of the valleys of the North and the
San Pablo Rivers was used later only in the emergency of rough water
on ocean or river when urgent messages were dispatched from St.
Augustine to the bluff. Many years were to pass before the bluff land
route became a trail. River travel through the valleys was much the
easier; it was safer too.
peace to come. Spain and England continued at each other's throats;
and France joined the fray when it suited her interests.
Suddenly, without warning, Spain swapped Florida to England
in 1763 in exchange for the city of Havana which the English had
captured. Most of the Spanish citizens of Florida were evacuated
British rule brought an interval of peace and a degree of pros-
perity to the valley; many land grants were made to settlers. Three
Runs Plantation, 500 acres just North of Dee-Dot, was typical. In
1782 William Watson built there a dwelling house, two corn houses, a
carpenter shop and houses for twenty Negroes. He cleared, fenced
and planted thirty acres, boxed 3,000 pine trees for turpentine and
cleared a navigable creek for shipping his products to St. Johns Town
located on the bluff. Other plantations grew rice and indigo for which
bounties were paid because these crops were needed in England. Re-
miniscent of those British days, wild indigo is found today on Dee-Dot.
John Bartram, Philadelphia botanist, undoubtedly was as famous
as anyone who looked upon the valley. On February 12, 1766 he wrote
in his diary: "Cool morning, with a little white frost, yet a pleasant
day. Set out early, [from Fort George Island] rowing up the river
again; on the south side, near the bar, there are some very high sand-
hills, a little above which is the mouth of San Pablo's creek, which
runs towards the head of the North river, that empties itself near St.
Augustine; 'tis reckoned about 5 to 6 miles between them, where, if a
good passage was cut, and could be kept open, there would be a fine
communication from St. John's river to the town, without the hazard
of going to sea, and crossing two troublesome bars . ." The canal
proposed here is a reality today and borders Dee-Dot full length on
the East. Engineer-botanist Bernard Romans explored East and West
Florida and assisted the British surveyor general in mapping the pro-
vinces. After visiting the valley, he too recognized the need for a canal
between the two rivers and sketched them on his map of East Florida.
Paul Revere, patriot and silversmith, engraved Romans' map for pub-
lication in 1775.
THE RETURN OF THE SPANIARDS
Hardly had Britain's development of the Floridas begun when the
ax fell again. Again the Floridas were international pawns and were
returned to Spain in 1783 by a British government hoping to prevent
their falling into the hands of the newly-formed United States. Even
so, the twenty year rule by England saw more development than the
previous 250 years under Spain's ownership. The loss of the Floridas
by the British cut deep. These were loyal provinces; they had re-
mained true to England, had not revolted during the struggle for
And it was a loss to the valley as well. During the last days of the
conflict with the colonies, almost 14,000 Loyalists had fled from them
to the safety of East Florida rather than join the rebels. The population
of the province was multiplied almost four-fold, as was the demand for
food and housing. Those Loyalists who could afford it, came in large
vessels to St. Augustine; others came overland down the King's Road,
and still others came by the inland passage. It was this last group which
trekked through the valley; many liked what they saw and stayed.
Some stopped on the bluff where newly-settled St. Johns Town was
fast a-building. And the coming and going through the valley to St.
Augustine was augmented as plantations and settlements multiplied.
Spain inherited what progress had been made. The former Spanish
citizens of Florida returned, replacing the British whose turn it now
was to move on.
when Espinosa erected a palisade of cedar posts fifteen feet high
around the house and equipped it with five cannon and a supply of
small arms. Spanish Governor Montiano supplied soldiers and am-
munition to help maintain the fort as an outpost against invaders. But
Fort San Diego was a small structure with a capacity of only fifty men.
Oglethorpe's superior forces took the fort without difficulty. He
also surprised reinforcements at the head of the North River where
he found two 20-oar launches abandoned, but still rocking. Spanish
horsemen who had ridden shot-gun for the launches along the eastern
bank of the river, disappeared in the thickets. The Indian allies of the
English rounded up about fifty horses and some cattle from Espinosa's
fields and from plantations nearby. The soldiers noted a good stand
of wheat and declared the land the "finest in North America."
The general personally traced the design for a moat and breast-
works around little Fort Diego which he ordered dug to strengthen it.
And to further secure its position, he had twenty men drag a cannon
and carriage down the beach from the mouth of the St. Johns, across
sand dunes and pasture to the little fort. Here he established a second
headquarters and wrote reports headed "Fort San Diego."
With much fuss and fury, Oglethorpe made ineffective sallies to
St. Augustine and then marched full force back to Fort San Diego or
to the camp on the St. Johns. Often he used both the San Pablo and
the North Rivers to move men and supplies. And this went on for five
fruitless months before he at last returned to Georgia taking his dis-
appointed forces with him. Fort San Diego survived only to be
abandoned by the Spaniards a few years later for more defensible
A portion of Dee-Dot was in the thick of this turmoil. During the
fiasco of the invasion, Oglethorpe, his patrols and his Indian friends
were everywhere, seeking out Spaniards and investigating the land.
And well can we say that the general himself rode West of the rivers
and across Dee-Dot country.
Quiet should have followed on the heels of the departing Georgians,
but not for many a long year and many a threat to the valley was
Spain offered grants of land to private individuals with the avowed
purposes of increasing agricultural and lumber production and attract-
ing new settlers. During the stormy days when troops were needed to
capture invaders, especially after 1812, soldiers were paid, or rewarded,
in acres. It was hoped that the generosity of the governor, as the
personal representative of the King of Spain, would result in a well
developed colony; and a secure one, made so by the presence and
diligence of grateful settlers. Much of Dee-Dot and most of Duval
County were covered by these Spanish land grants.
At the northernmost tip of Dee-Dot, along Turkey Branch, Lewis
Mattair, a Georgian, was given a grant by a thankful governor for his
help in repelling the Venezuelan filibusters from Fernandina in 1795.
He named his plantation San Ramon. Adjoining on the South was
Thomas Fitch, a fellow Georgian, with a 3,000 acre grant, half of which
was within the present boundaries of Dee-Dot. A previous settler on
this grant had several milk cows, "the milk of which he sells in town."
This instance of a dairy is rare in early Florida.
Benjamin Chaires, one of the founders of Jacksonville in 1822,
was granted land which covered the southern tip of Dee-Dot. And
Pedro Cocifacio from Cuba was given 500 acres North of the House of
the Dragons. Cocifacio was a merchant in St. Augustine and a captain
in the militia.
Francis Sanchez inherited his grandfather Espinosa's Diego plan-
tation. And he was given a thousand additional acres, a long slender
tract almost in the center of Dee-Dot. It was on these two plantations
that he entertained and sheltered Dan McGirt and his men. Another
Sanchez property was a nearby hundred acre plot bearing the ap-
propriate name of Monte de Puercos, or Hog Mount, a hammock
plentifully stocked with the native razor-backed hogs.
In 1791 John McQueen, debonair Philadelphian, friend of Wash-
ington and Lafayette, took refuge in Spanish Florida to escape his
creditors. His insatiable passion for purchasing land, and his subse-
quent inability to pay for it, had driven him ever southward. He was
welcomed by a friendly Spanish governor who recognized the value of
an important American along the volatile Georgia-Florida border. Each
was true to this friendship. The governor granted McQueen extensive
lands and McQueen rendered service in keeping the borderlands quiet
during the sixteen year interval of his life in Florida. McQueen bought
San Pablo Plantation, now the site of Greenfield; and had another
plantation which lay northwest of Dee-Dot. McQueen often passed
down the valley to St. Augustine where he had much business and
maintained a town house.
On the East bank of the San Pablo River, a few miles above its
mouth, was Naranjal, a plantation and orange grove owned by Forbes
and Company, famous Indian traders. Francis P. Fatio Jr., and George
Fleming, substantial Florida residents since British days, and officials
under the Spanish government, contracted to operate the plantation
about 1818. They established a private mail service, principally for the
convenience of Governor Coppinger, their friends and themselves.
Every Monday two riders left St. Augustine and followed the North
River to Judge Fatio's home. His boats continued the route down the
San Pablo River and then northward to Fernandina.
Many visitors stopped at Naranjal and family tradition holds that
one of them was the pirate Jean Laffite, incognito. If it were the elusive
Laffite, the ally of General Andrew Jackson at the battle of New
Orleans, he might well have been looking for another base of opera-
tions. He visited and purchased a plantation nearby, presumably
under an assumed name, but was never seen there again.
The old land grants have left a very real spectre on the map of the
valley, and of much of Florida, in fact. Across today's grid pattern of
land survey townships, lies a patchwork of the irregular outlines of the
r -~.,< -,.
Changes in the valley came too. In 1787, the new governor, Vizente
Zespedes, set out to tour the East Florida countryside. In ascending
the North River, he and his entourage noted vineyards, cultivated
fields, peach and orange orchards, beehives and the remains of British
rice plantations along the river's edge. They took note of wood cutting
preserves where firewood for the bake ovens of St. Augustine was cut.
And Father O'Reilly counted the settlers along the river; 102 in all.
Leaving the stream, the party tramped overland to the headwaters
of the San Pablo River. On the way they crossed the pasture lands of
Francis X. Sanchez's Diego ranch which had been established by his
grandfather Espinosa in the early 1700's. Sanchez, a man of consider-
able property, was one of the few Spaniards who remained in East
Florida when England possessed it and continued on into Spain's
second try to hold the land.
Zespedes paid close attention to the land between the headwaters
of the two rivers for he took seriously the idea of a canal to join them,
an idea proposed by one of his predecessors, Montiano, in 1737 and
recommended by British experts some forty years later.
Governor Zespedes stopped at San Vincente Ferrer, the military
outpost on St. Johns Bluff. It was this position which he hoped to
supply by way of the two rivers, should he be able to construct the
canal. He sought to cut short the dangerous ocean rout when ship-
ments were made to the bluff.
The Spaniards also inherited the notorious Dan McGirt. He was
the purported leader of the bandetti which for years had terrorized
remote plantations and robbed travelers along the Kings Road from
St. Augustine to Cow Ford, where Jacksonville was later founded. (The
Ortega River was once known as McGirts Creek for it had reportedly
served as a hide-away for his boats when he turned pirate.) McGirt
found a ready partner in Francis Sanchez whose plantations he pro-
tected from his fellow bandetti. Together, McGirt and Sanchez helped
make the valley of the two rivers a lively place 200 years ago. And
Sanchez, as an attorney and leading citizen of St. Augustine, repre-
sented McGirt in his running conflict with officials there. When McGirt
was banished to the Bahamas in 1785, life in East Florida was safer
but not nearly so interesting.
grants, ghostly remains of British and Spanish plantations, farms and
Some of the land in the valley yielded only lumber and naval
stores. Cotton, rice, potatoes, beans and other plantation crops grew
on the more fertile land. There were many patches of pasture, for
cattle were counted in every man's wealth and few there were who did
not have at least a small herd of the scrawny, long-horned cattle of
Over the years, success in the valley has depended most of all on
hard work, grueling hard work for all the family. Even then, every
settler who lived off the land took something from it, for that was the
way of life in the years of nature's bounty. Too soon was the richness
of much of the valley's soil exhausted; the humus was thin and the
white sand beneath it, deep.
Among traces of other days still to be seen at Dee-Dot are the
former fields of farm and plantation. And J. E. Davis has followed the
faint line of the Gress Manufacturing Company's tramway from
Crackertown on the San Pablo River to Bayard on U. S. No. 1. The
last of the giant cypress was snaked out of the swamps by this
company about 1920; stumps of these huge trees remain. The beauty
of cypress is preserved in the dining table at Fort Davis which is made
of polished boards 23 feet long and four inches thick!
In a sense, the debt owed to the soil of the valley is being paid by
Dee-Dot's present management. Since 1954 when J. E. and Flo Davis
purchased the property, they have planted six million pines. And as
though they would recall the past, the pines thrive especially well on
once-cultivated land, the Fitch Old Fields, the Old Fields of the
Dragoons. Amazingly, where nothing else would grow, pines are flour-
ishing and stand tall above the sawdust covered mill site in the north-
east corner of the ranch.
LA CASA DE LOS DRAGONS
The Old Fields of the Dragoons were the plots of land where
soldier-turned-farmer raised vegetables and fruits, or corralled the
horses, for the men stationed at la casa de los dragones de las viente
millas, or Twenty Mile House. It was here, twenty miles North of St.
Augustine and halfway to fortified St. Johns Bluff, that messengers
changed horses, their path leading them through much of Dee-Dot on
its way northward. Or a group of cavalry might find a night's rest here,
or the mounted mailman be sheltered before going on to the bluff or
to Judge Fatio's on the San Pablo River. Those soldiers who were
stationed at Twenty Mile to maintain the post, care for the horses
and work the garden, learned early to remain alert. The crack of a
twig on a summer's night could mean hostile Indian, bear, lost traveler
Hidden away in early Spanish records are the details of the first
house built at Twenty Mile. That date has not been uncovered. When
Governor Zespedes toured East Florida he found the buildings at the
post dilapidated and ordered that they be repaired. On June 18, 1787,
engineer Mariano de la Rocque reported them in such bad condition
that they would have to be rebuilt. In his orders are found the con-
struction specifications for the buildings. Trees were felled and lum-
ber was "cut and shaped" at the site. The bunk house was built with
three doors, a shingled roof and a masonry chimney. The separate
kitchen was made of pales. The stable, which provided two bunks
inside for those who tended the horses, was placed between the house
and the road. A well with a wooden curb was in the yard and the
whole was enclosed within a paling fence.
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The work on the Twenty Mile Post began on June 25 and was
completed on November 10, 1787. Two years later, the chimney was
enlarged. In 1796, general repairs were made and in 1804 a September
storm damaged the house. This entry is the last mention of the build-
ings at Twenty Mile yet uncovered in Spanish records.
Although the buildings have vanished with time, the name, Twenty
Mile, persists to this day. At one time or another plantations, orange
groves and farms clustered near the site. And a small settlement grew
up there before the turn of the century. Helping to perpetuate the
settlement, and indirectly the name, was its proximity to the traditional
crossing of the North River. Today the ruins of one small house, built
by Robert Mier after 1900 still stand on the site near the South tip
of Dee-Dot. And a hundred oaks shade the spot.
Ti1 f L' ", T r / 72 n Vi. I L
The sensitive Anglo-Spanish borderlands grew more restive as
Spain's strength diminished. Who would wrest the Floridas from Spain?
Finding the answer became a game played by England, France and
the United States with Russia looking over shoulders and offering to
mediate. The War of 1812 (between England and her former American
colonies), meddling of French revolutionaries, American meddling in
the affairs of Spain's South American colonies, Indian attacks and an
attempt of the East Florida Patriots to secede, kept all hands busy and
made East Florida a very hot spot.
Intrigue was a game that pirates could play too; in fact, they
were often very good at it. The colorful William Augustus Bowles,
friends of Simon Bolivar and office holders from New York, aping
nations, tried their luck at moving in and declaring themselves pos-
sessors of Florida lands. In the long run, all failed.
The valley of the two rivers, remote as it was from world events,
was nevertheless affected by them. History swept over the land: Men
were drained off to fight invaders, red and white; the blacks were
enticed away from the fields and Indians burned and pillaged the
homes of terrified settlers.
Fort Stallings, a blockhouse built on Davis Creek southwest of
the valley, offered refuge but no effective protection could be furnished
homes and crops. Cattle from the famed Diego Plains were driven
South by invaders to satisfy their hunger while storming the fort at
St. Augustine; corn was no safer than livestock.
Most of the invaders after 1800 were United States volunteers
who were ordered into East Florida by Americans in high places with
a thirst to annex the provinces. For long periods, the Spaniards re-
mained cooped up in St. Augustine. Of necessity they used every ruse
to outwit their enemies. In one instance, five young American soldiers
unwittingly tampered with Spain's desperation and paid for it with
their lives. As they rowed on the North River, not far from Fort
TWENTY MILE HOUSE
La Casa de Los Dragones de Las Viente Millas
This military outpost, 20 miles North of Spanish St. Augustine, was a
way station on the trail to fortified St. Johns Bluff and was a part of
the defense system of East Florida. Soldiers, mail carriers and travelers
found food, rest and fresh horses here. This sketch is an artist's
conception based on detailed reports by Spanish military engineers in
1787 whose duties included the maintenance of the buildings at this
post. The site is near the southernmost tip of Dee-Dot.
practices, now count some 100,000 of these sabal palms growing across
Dee-Dot's 20,000 acres -- .. ... ...." -.,
-I .-, "-- ,. -'.'" -. ..-. -n'["
By the last decade of the century, big lumbering and naval stores . .. ,""
operations had virtually ceased work in the valley; and citrus and .
cattle had moved southward. Much of the land slipped back into
Vegetables became the mainstay of the small farmers who re-
mained in the valley; syrup and honey were in turn necessities and
luxuries. And ahead of its time, a grist mill on Pablo Creek was
operated by the action of the tides. From time to time there had been
other grist mills and several saw mills along the rivers in the valley.
Game was plentiful. Coon, otter and other furs and the once-
fashionable aigrette feathers found a ready market in Jacksonville.
Moonshine provided sustenance when all else failed. Colloquially
expressed: "The boys ran a little copper" in the deep woods protected
by isolation, bears, panthers and snakes. So secure was this operation
that a landing field was constructed during Prohibition days for im-
porting liquor by air from the Bahamas. The field was in the very
center of a planting where pines grow tall today.
The Spaniards talked about it, the English planned it, but it was
the Americans who eventually built a canal to connect the North and
the San Pablo Rivers. The need for this canal was the one point on
which the three nations agreed.
The idea of joining the headwaters of the two rivers began in the
early 1700's as a dream of Spanish defense engineers. It would be
such a simple task to construct the canal, everyone said. But no definite :,, ,.
move was made to do it. Was Spain afraid that this inland water route ..'.-
which would ease her way northward to attack the Georgia colony >, .. .
Moosa which they occupied, they spied five pretty Spanish girls. The
girls waved, smiling, from the river bank and the soldiers landed to
talk with them. In a flash the girls disappeared into the woods and
musket fire felled the soldiers. All were killed in the ambush; three
of the bodies were found scalped. There was no glory in this conflict.
In 1821 the uncertainty and the bitterness and the turmoil ended.
The Floridas, East and West, were at long last ceded to the United
States. The transfer was made through a broad settlement of differences
involving the Philippines, lands in the West and Spain's assumption
of debts owed to Americans for destruction of property as a result of
her failure to keep order. Northeast Florida residents shared in these
Never again was the valley to be torn by strife though twice it was
touched by war. First, during the Seminole War which ended in 1842,
a mounted force was stationed by General W. K. Armistead at the
head of North River. Later the rim of the valley was aware of the
conflict during the War Between the States on fortified St. Johns
Bluff; and deserters from both armies sought refuge in the quiet of the
land along the rivers.
There were times that life in the valley was very good. Two un-
named travelers found it so and published their story in London in
1819. They wrote of visiting a plantation at the mouth of the San
Pablo River, and of another four miles to the South. They were
"obliged to remain two days for the arrival of a boat expected up the
North River at a place about sixteen miles distant, to which a cart
would convey" the baggage. The two days were spent "very agreeably
in noticing the mode of culture of cotton and rice . the latter is
uniformily sown on the low land on the margins of their rivers and
creeks." For four hours the travelers followed the track of the luggage
cart to the head of the North River, "the road tolerably regular and
open." They passed en route "three plantations, but they were by no
means important settlements." The travelers were impressed by "the
beauty of the woodland scenery" and the serenity of life in the valley.
Though nightfall overtook them, they finally reached St. Augustine
During the days that Florida was a territory, 1821 1845, small
farming settlements grew up along the rivers. Jury duty records of that
day list the names of some of these settlers, their homes and the
distances they traveled to St. Augustine and back. James T. Mattair
lived at San Diego and the round trip was 56 miles. John Andrews
lived at Shellbank, North River, an 18 mile trip. And John Masters
and L. H. Coe lived at North River and traveled 44 miles. Toward the
turn of the century came families whose descendants live there today.
Among the names remembered are Mier, DeGrove, Mickler, Patton,
Townsend, Broadnax and Oesterreicher.
James Grand Forbes' Sketches was published in New York in
1821, one of the first American books written specifically to entice
settlers to come to Florida. "No part of the country comes more
generally into notice than this," Forbes wrote of the valley. "Many
productive settlements have been made . Diego Plains afford the
most luxuriant pasture for cattle, which thrive there wonderfully; the
mast for hogs is very abundant, and the wild cabbage is found in im-
mense quantities in the adjoining swamp."
Wild cabbage, swamp cabbage and cabbage palmetto are pioneer
names for the sabal palmetto or palm, Florida's state tree since 1953.
It was from the abundance of these trees that the name Palm Valley
was given in 1907 to the old settlement so long called Diego. For
many years palm leaves were cut in the valley and shipped in vast
quantities to churches throughout the nation, especially on Palm
Sunday. The cabbage, or bud, of the tree was cooked and eaten as a
vegetable by pioneers. Today it is a gourmet item called hearts of
palm. The tree must be destroyed to obtain the bud but state law now
protects the tree from this fate. The Davises, following protective
trees die. More trees, ample feed and protection from buzzards who
fight to peck out the eyes of newborn calves, make up a part of the
cost of owning buffalo. Come April and October, the animals have an
urge to roam, responding no doubt to the instinct of their ancestors
who ranged the western plains. It is then that they push down fences
as if they were match sticks and roam at will, the very act of release
being satisfaction of their wanderlust. These were Oklahoma buffalo
orignially; J. E. Davis brought them to Florida in 1945. Since that
time, natural renewal has made Florida natives of them.
In scraggly cypress trees, the osprey build their nests; seventeen
were found on the ranch at one count. Near Fort Davis, the wood ibis,
or American stork, have an apartment house, as it were, so many are
the nests among the tree's branches. The northern nesting limit of wood
ibis in North America is here at Dee-Dot.
There are countless nestings of egrets, the Great American, the
snowy and the cattle egret. One bird-watcher said the cypress trees
near the lake were "creaking with them for they all seek the same place,
just like people." There's magic in the sight of 500 to 1,000 egrets
dropping down at twilight against the darkness of distant trees.
Upon seeing fifty buzzards roosting in a dead tree, one might
rather grudgingly admire the artistic pattern of their pose, if only one
did not know what they were.
Blue heron, cormorant, anhinga and fish hawk; the gallinule, and
the grackle, all find homes here. The smaller favorites are in abun-
dance: cardinals and red-wing black birds, doves, migrant swallows
and the raucous blue jays and crows. Every fowl is counted, closely
observed and admired by Audubon Society members twice each year
and thousands of ducks, winter visitors, are welcomed.
The deer are watched even more carefully. The Florida Game and
Fresh Water Fish Commission has trapped in excess of 400 deer on the
ranch under a continuing management program. Some of these deer
are used for research, others are moved to underpopulated areas. If a
deer or turkey is found to be sick, it is immediately killed and sent
to the Commission's laboratory for diagnosis. For decades similar
cooperative game programs of neighboring land owners, the Skinner
families, the McCormicks and George Hodges, have been effective
One quarter of Dee-Dot is flat, marshy land; most of the balance
is sandy and the highest ridge is forty-five feet. Strangely there are
deep gorges through which Pablo and Horseshoe Creeks flow. Dee-Dot
stands astride an ancient shore line. Deep beneath these lands are the
remains of prehistoric animals: the sabre-toothed tiger, the giant sloth,
mastadons and their fellows.
New names mix with the old on the land. Betty's Branch and Rye
Hammock were added in the 1940's by the Stocktons; and Horseshoe
Creek is the descriptive choice of J. E. Davis.
Water enough for Dee-Dot is supplied by nature but to insure
against drought, fourteen wells have been drilled. Those in low places
form lakes which are operated as game ponds and stocked with fish.
Fort Davis Lake is fed by two wells, one of them a quarter of a century
old. Half a dozen water holes are the haunts of wild, shy things.
With matchless foresight (albeit unwitting) one of the earliest
ranchers to pasture his herds on Diego Plains observed that "Divine
Providence conserves" this land "for the benefit of its creatures."
Today, J. E. and Flo Davis strive to fulfill that destiny so aptly
prophesied almost two centuries ago.
The vibrant beauty of sound and sight, the whir of a wing, the
flash of a deer's flag, is everywhere at Dee-Dot. And to be a part of it,
one must listen and one must look with his heart.
would also ease the way of her enemies southward? Perhaps so, for a
similar but shorter canal was cut by Spain below St. Augustine.
England's short tenure of ownership of Florida, twenty years, came
and went too quickly to effect such an undertaking. And after Florida
was ceded to the United States, ninety years passed before this missing
link in the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway was dug. By 1910 the
canal was a reality after two years spent in excavating the ten mile
stretch. Today, the 125 x 12 foot canal replaces the canoe portage
which had blocked the route since time out of mind.
Every year hundreds of palatial yachts and thousands of other
vessels knife through the trees of the valley, or so it would seem, seeing
them at a distance through the pines as they go South for the Winter,
or simply to and fro along the waterway. The first bridge was built
across the canal in 1915 and the present structure is its second replace-
ment. For years this bridge (Palm Valley Bridge) has been the only
bridge in the nation actually owned by the U. S. Army Corps of
Shining white sand, the spoil from the widening and deepening
of the canal, was deposited along Dee-Dot's eastern boundary. This
barren strip was conquered first by tall and glossy patches of buck-
wheat bush. Scattered cedars followed and the native cactus grew
.t.i41, h, b d-
-- -.^.T /I | L ':.T 1Y
Man, beast and growing plant: these are the elements of Dee-Dot
today and their mutuality is its heartbeat.
The millions of pines, the protected hardwoods, the hammocks and
swamps, house small game more numerous and in greater variety than
ever before. Fox, otter, bobcat, 'possum, gopher, weasel, and coon are
fed and their numbers are regulated, especially by selective hunting.
The coons thrive on gallberries; the black bears wear shiny coats
because they too are fed and do not have to be predators. Many
feeding stands and twenty-seven feed patches keep the deer and the
turkey and the quail fleet of foot and fast of wing. And everywhere
are the armadillos who think they own the place.
Alligators thrive at Dee-Dot. Once their master's imitative grunt-
ing call was answered by the surfacing of twenty-seven pairs of gator
eyes as the critters crowded around the small dock in the lake fronting
Fort Davis. And Lady Gaines, at home in a small creek, is a favored
female alligator for she eats proffered Gainesburgers with a daintiness
not often encountered in one of her species.
w aII Uanion. Soon the ceuars were filled withn happily swarming buees.
Instinctively they knew that the cactus was an effective barrier against
the bears who would rob them of their honey. The bees feast on clover A herd of some forty buffalo on the ranch have a fatal affinity for
cover crops and on such wild delights as tupelo, sweet bay and honey- pine saplings. The great beasts scratch so hard against the trees,
suckle, enjoying the bug-killing resin, that the bark is cut through and the
' 2&F. fhr.V'^V^'^7^<^^iL5 ''^^^^^^,fflBqa ]-Pr1 A: _, 'ds",.
On deer, do not use rifle head shots aim immediately behind
the shoulder for a heart shot. Avoid gut shots to preserve the meat.
Take your time and "squeeze off" don't pull. We have many 5 to
8 point bucks, if you want to wait for them. There is a state law against
killing does, but no longer a "ranch penalty". We hope you will want
to hunt deer and will USE THE MEAT, TOO. Ranch employees will
help "use" it if necessary.
Do not shoot at noises shoot to kill. Shoot rifles down only -
don't shoot horizontally at game in trees. Get out of the blind un-
loaded. STAY PUT OR YOU MAY GET LOST! If an accident hap-
pens, it may be in excitement after you have shot your game. Empty
your guns or leave a dead shell in the chamber to be safe. YOU HUNT
AT YOUR OWN RISK. Tree blinds are dangerous a dropped gun
can shoot you a fall can break your bones! BE CAREFUL!
After you get your game, if it's cold, gather lighter knots and build a
small fire, but control it!
Never come back to camp with a loaded gun nor ride jeeps with
guns pointed toward another seat. POINT THEM DOWN REGARD-
LESS OF WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE LOADED! When going
on a "stand", take enough shells to fire two series of three shots in case
you need help from being "lost", falling out of a tree or a gunshot
Shoot wildcats, foxes, coons and skunks if it will not spoil your
chances for something better they are predatory. As for wild pigs,
shoot one per person when they are in season. DO NOT SHOOT a
boar or a sow with little pigs. We ask that you do not leave a dead pig
in the field. The carcass draws buzzards. This scares game out of
DO NOT SHOOT A BEAR unless you get specific permission!
IF YOU WOUND AN ANIMAL, STAY CALM AND BE SURE
TO CAREFULLY MARK EXIT FROM THE PATCH. IF YOU DO
THIS, WE HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF LOCATING IT.
Note: DRESS WARMLY do not leave clothing at the camp if there
is any chance you can use it. You can always sit on it if the weather is
WARM. Sitting still is the coldest recreation we know. YOU CANNOT
WEAR ENOUGH CLOTHING WHEN IT IS BELOW 30 AND THE
WIND IS BLOWING.
USE HEART SHOTS ONLY ON DEER.
IF HUNTERS ARE SCHEDULED TO GO HUNTING AT 5 A.M.
AND YOU'RE NOT GOING, DO NOT STAY UP LATE. IT'S A
HUNTING COURTESY TO GO TO BED EARLY ALSO.
NATIONAL RIFE ASSOCIATION
NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION
1. Treat every gun with respect due a loaded gun
NAL RULE OF GUN SAFETY.
2. Always carry the gun so you can control the direction of the muzzle,
even if you stumble.
3. Never climb a tree or climb a fence with a loaded gun. NEVER
shoot at a flat, hard surface or the surface of water. Never go into
a blind with a loaded gun. NEVER MIX GUNPOWDER AND
Quail hunters keep gun barrel up, not in the rump of the man in
front. Stay in front of the guide. Walk smartly up to the feeder on
point. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!! ALWAYS WEAR A RED OR
YELLOW CAP! Before point, carry gun on your shoulder, POINTED
UP! Immediately upon "point", carry gun to "high port". Do not shoot
armadillos while dogs are out PLEASE! Dogs learn rapidly to point
Strange voices confuse quail dogs LET THE MAN WORKING
THE DOGS GIVE THE ORDERS! Shoot only birds flying your way
unless your partner misses and is well in the clear.
When shooting feeder quail, follow your guide's suggestions exactly,
please! Get up to the feeder before he releases the dogs don't force
RANGE OF RS the guide to get in front of you. Dogs get excited and jump over
palmettos after the birds. Please pass low shots! Don't shoot our dogs.
22 caliber class rifles 30-30 caliber class rifles 30-06 caliber class rifles
up to 1 mile up to 2 miles up to 3 miles
RANGE OF SHOTGUNS
Quail limit: 12 native per day 20 stocker per half day.
No. 4 to No. 8 shot
to 300 yards
BB or Buckshot
up to 300 yards
up to 600 yards
WE ADMIT WE ARE "CRANKS" ABOUT GUNS BUT
OUR ACCIDENT RATIO IS GOOD.
DO NOT SHOOT BUFFALO.
ALWAYS WEAR GLASSES (PLASTIC IF POSSIBLE) ON
A DOVE SHOOT. NEVER, NEVER SHOOT A DOVE,
WOUNDED OR OTHERWISE, LESS THAN TEN FEET
OFF THE GROUND.
'.'.. ... ,-_7 1' J ,,T _IG
Shoot at ONE turkey DON'T SHOOT INTO A BUNCH.
Shooting turkeys at more than 30 yards away has been unsuccessful in
the past. Feeder will be positioned at 25 yards. Kill a young turkey for
the best eating. To get your gobbler, use camouflage so your face can-
not show. MOVE IN SLOW MOTION WHILE THE TURKEY IS
LOOKING AWAY, MAKE NO NOISE. Listen for turkey clucks
approaching. Shoot at turkey's head. Sit still for five minutes and
shoot again if he gets up. You would be surprised how many fly off
after flopping for five minutes.
Try not to allow surviving turkeys to see you. Do not leave your
turkey on the ground with hogs in the field one bite and the breast
meat will be gone.
i I '
SI,.I r P ,JSYT I i 1; 1
1513 Florida was discovered on April 2 by Juan Ponce de Leon who
claimed all of North America for Spain.
1562 Frenchman Jean Ribault landed at the mouth of the St. Johns
River and claimed the land for France.
1 .. -
The French built Fort Caroline on St. Johns Bluff.
St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles who
captured Fort Caroline after beating his way across Dee-Dot's
1702 Governor Moore of the British colony of South Carolina de-
stroyed the Florida missions and unsuccessfully attacked
1703 Fort Piribiriba was built at San Pablo as part of a defense
system for Spanish Florida.
1740 General James Oglethorpe of the British colony of Georgia
invaded Florida and unsuccessfully attacked St. Augustine,
using Fort San Diego as his base of operations.
1763 Florida was swapped by Spain to England in exchange for the
city of Havana which the British had captured.
1783 England ended her 20-year rule of East and West Florida by
returning these provinces to Spain rather than allow them to fall
into the hands of her former colonies, the United States.
1787 Twenty Mile House was rebuilt at the southernmost tip of
1821 Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain and thereby
ended a long period of warfare along the Georgia-Florida border.
1845 Florida became a state adding the 27th star to the flag of the
CR EE DIT' 7
Photography: J. E. Davis
All photographed sites: Dee-Dot Ranch, 1968-1972
Translations: Luis Arana
Sketches: Robert Thomsen
Cartographic data: Leon Alexander
Produced by Ambrose the Printer
The bear was king of the valley when the Davises bought the
ranch in 1954. Ten of the bears were trapped and removed to other
areas; but the big boy of them all, nicknamed Pete, fought so savagely
that he broke his holder teeth and part of his jaw bone. After two
years of confinement and refusing to eat adequately, he was down to
580 pounds. Pete was the largest bear ever recorded by the Florida
Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission; his skull measured 81/2 by
13% inches. Though healthy, Pete could no longer take care of himself
in the wild and was miserable in captivity. The Commission granted
permission that he be killed and his meat was enjoyed by ranch guests
and neighbors. But that was not the end of this magnificent beast. His
hide was prepared by the taxidermist at the New York Museum of
Natural History and today he is the principal feature in a popular
exhibit at the Jacksonville Children's Museum.
Baby alligators scurrying about in their mother's nest.
Andrews, Charles M., ed., Jonathan Dickinson's Journal. New Haven, 1941.
Arana, Luis, "Fort San Diego," Escribano, Vol. 8, No. 4. St. Augustine, 1971.
Arnade, Charles W., "Cattle Raising in Spanish Florida, 1513-1763," American
Agricultural History, Vol. 35, No. 3.
Barcia, Andreas Gonzales, Chronological History of the Continent of Florida
(1723). Gainesville, 1951.
Bartram, John, Diary of a Journey Through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida,
From July 1, 1765 to April 10, 1766. Philadelphia, 1942.
Chatelain, Verne E., The Defenses of Spanish Florida, 1565 to 1763.
Colonial Records of South Carolina, The St. Augustine Expedition of 1740.
Connor, Jeannette T., trans., Pedro Menendez de Aviles. DeLand, 1923.
Forbes, James Grant, Sketches, Historical and Topographical of The Floridas.
New York, 1821.
Hartridge, Walter C., The Letters of Don Juan McQueen to His Family.
Jacksonville Historical Society, Papers IV. Jacksonville, 1960.
L'Engle, Susan, Recollections of My Early Life. New York, 1888.
Miller, John, pub., Narrative of a Voyage to the Spanish Main in the Ship Two
Friends. London, 1819.
Patrick, Rembert W., Florida Fiasco. Athens, 1954.
Romans, Bernard, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida.
New York, 1775.
Seibert, Wilbur H., Loyalists in East Florida. DeLand, 1929.
Tanner, Helen H., Zespedes in East Florida 1784-1790. Miami, 1963.
True, David, ed., Memoir of Don d'Escalente Fontaneda Respecting Florida
(1575). Miami, 1944.
Vignoles, Charles, Observations Upon The Floridas. New York, 1823.
Williams, John Lee, The Territory of Florida. New York, 1837.
In addition, the following were useful: The East Florida Papers, the American
State Papers, the Florida Territorial Papers, Spanish land grants documents and
records of the Superior Court, St. Johns County.