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Interview with Richard Coleman, February 28, 1990

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Interview with Richard Coleman, February 28, 1990
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Fishing -- Florida
Fishers -- Florida
Fishermen -- Fisherwomen -- Women fish
Florida Fisherfolk Oral History Collection

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This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Florida Fisherfolk' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Richard Coleman
Interviewer: Bob Edic
February 28, 1990


[E: This is Bob Edic interviewing Richard Coleman and his son
Raymond "Dickie" Coleman for the Florida Fisherfolk project
of the Oral History Project of the University of Florida.
Today is February 28, 1990.]
RC: Cayao Pelau, what is on that?
E: We have not really done any work on that. It is a private
island.
RC: Mound Key, how is that over there?
E: Mound Key has been dug up pretty bad through the years. Who
knows how far back the digging goes out there. I am sure
they dug in that when you were young.
RC: I guess they did. Well, not so much when I was young. They
did not bother so much with it. Usually they just had that
lime grove on it, and that is about all. Do you think they
had some way of pumping that sand out on those islands?
Like Mound Key there. Do you not think that it came out of
that whole in the back of it?
E: I think Boggess Ridge probably did. We core sampled that,
and it seems that there was a natural sand ridge there.
They added stuff to it that they probably dug out of the
bottom of Boggess Hole to make that one-level ridge all the
way around there.
RC: I think that was all swamp, and they made it, just like
Useppa. You take those high ridges there. Some were
natural, you know, on the east side of that island. There
were some deep holes there. There were some shallower than
what they used to be. They used to be deep as hell. I
think those people had some way of getting that sand out of
there and putting it up there. I do not know how they did
it.
E: Probably basketsful at a time, on their heads, on their
backs.
RC: It might have been a crude way, but they sure got it in
there.
E: They did a whole lot of earth moving.
RC: That old Faulkner Mound. I guess you have been down there.
E: I have only been down there once, and I did not get a chance
to look around too much. I am trying to get back down
there. I have the owner's address, and we are going to
, 1
V/ -f


write him a letter. But I was on Old Ware's Mound a couple
of weeks ago for the first time.
write him a letter. But I was on Old Ware's Mound a couple
of weeks ago for the first time.
RC: Ware's Mound? Where is that?
E: Old Ware's Mound is right in the middle of Cayo Costa,
behind Cabbage Key. Faulkner Mound is on the south side,
and if you come about halfway up the island, right behind
Cabbage Key, there is a big Indian shell mound in the middle
of that. They call it Old Ware's Mound. It is probably
about ten feet high and has gumbo limbo trees growing all
over the top.
RC: It seems that I should be able to place that somewhere in
there.
E: You should surely know where that is.
RC: It is not around the Faulkner Mound?
E: No, it is north of that.
RC: In the middle of the island?
E: It does not look like it has been disturbed. There are
hardly any digs on it or anything. It is the best-preserved
mound that I have seen out of hundreds of them in the
harbor. There is no pass or anything back into it from the
beach or the bay.
RC: Is it all sand?
E: No, it is all shell. It is all conch shells, like Faulkner
Mound--conch shells, cockle shells, horse conch, big whelks.
RC: You have the Platts Point right back of Cabbage Key and Cayo
Costa.
E: Well, right on that point. If you come right along the
inside of the island right there, there is a little point
that hooks off of there, and it is back in there.
RC: Oh, yes. They call that the Ware's Mound? I never did know
what the name of that was.
E: Then we went to another mound on the north end of the
island, right where the Padilla settlement was. There are
two ridges there with conch shells on top of them, right
behind where the picnic table is now. If you go to the
north end of Cayo Costa, toward Cabbage Key and just a
little bit down there, the state park has a picnic table
there. Right in back of there there are two shell ridges.
2


There is historic and Indian stuff on top of that, both.
There is glass and real old pottery from the Indians and
pieces of old dishware. I guess they call it the Padilla
homestead.
RC: Now, where was that?
E: Right inside of Pelican Bay.
RC: As you go in Pelican Bay?
E: It would be way up on the northern end. If you went in and
went north, almost back out to the pass, it is right in
there.
RC: That would be where the old quarantine station was. You know
where that was?
E: That is right in back of where I am talking about, to
the east of it. There are two shell ridges up there.
A lot of Indians lived on there, and it looks like a
lot of other people lived there right after the
Indians. There is some Seminole stuff there.
RC: Well, you know, in 1910 they buried a lot of people there.
E: The graveyard with the whelk shells stuck down in the ground
is right to the north of those shell ridges.
RC: The graveyard stuck in the ground?
E: That graveyard where they had the conch shells stuck in the
ground? Is that the one you are talking about, the Nelson
family graveyard?
RC: No, that is way up there. My father is buried in that one.
He has a tombstone there. That is way up there on the
middle of the island.
E: That is right. Your family goes way back out there.
RC: But what I am talking about is down there. The quarantine
station is on the north point of Cayo Costa and a dock going
out there. That was before it was at Boca Grande. You
would receive the load of phosphate over there.
E: Was the dock on the bay side or the gulf side?
RC: On the bay side. It had a breakwater there--two rows of
pilings with rock in between them. You could go around
there and get in that thing, and it was always calm, no
matter how rough it was on the outside. Of course, it was
3


government. You were not supposed to get in there, but we
did. Perry Macadial was our quarantine master. That was
right there at North Point. A little bit or right at that
there was rock on the bottom, cocquina rock. They are all
about gone now; there are only a few left there. Then going
south, on Cayo Costa Island, there are some mangroves. It
used to be they made a big cove in there. At one time--way
back there in 1910, at Useppa Island, before you got to
Pelican Pass, where we go in at--there was a separate pass
there that you could go right in Pelican Bay. Old Place
Hole is what they called it. Old Place Hole has about
twenty feet of water in it in places. You could go right in
through there. We always went in that way. Then finally it
filled in there, and it broke through there at Pelican Pass
and went around the other way, right where Deadman's Key
broke in, right up there. If I had a map, I could probably
show you. Old man Padilla, Tarvia Padilla, came to this
country, but how in the hell he ever came here I will never
know. He was from the Canary Islands. The old lady was
from Mexico.
E: She was not Spanish; she was Mexican. What was her name?
RC: I'll be damned if I know. Old Gribsteen could tell you,
because he went over there to Mexico, and he found traces of
her in that Catholic Church. But to find out when she left
there and all about it he would had to have stayed there
three months, and he did not have the time. Mexico would
not let him in the Catholic Church. But he went over there
to trace it.
E: Do you think the Padillas are the oldest family on Cayo
Costa?
RC: As far as I know they were the oldest.
E: There were supposedly some people over there working for the
Cuban fishermen, the Cuban rancheros, as early as the
seventeenth century.
RC: Well, there could have been.
E: Maybe they only come around here during mullet season; maybe
they were only there in the winter.
RC: No, that could have been. It is hard to know. Old man
Tarvia Padilla ran that big mullet business. He lived at
the north end of Cayo Costa on that bayou. Tarvia Bayou is
what they call it. None of the Padillas want to talk much
about it. Nell Adams's father, John Padilla, was the last
one to be buried there. He was buried there in the 1930s.
4


E: Nell Adams?
RC: Yes, she is John Padilla's daughter. Do not quote me on
that. I do not want to be implicated on that. But Nell
Adams was old man John Padilla's daughter. She was born and
raised on Cayo Costa.
E: Who is John Padilla?
RC: He was Nell Adams's father.
E: So he was son of Tarvin Padilla? John was Tarvin's son?
RC: Yes, old man Tarvia's son.
E: How many sons and daughters did he have?
RC: Well, let me see. I may not know all of them. If mother
was living, she could tell you. Old man John, old man Tony,
and Bevo Padilla. Pholo Padilla was one of the last ones.
Rosa was one of the daughters. In fact, she was the only
daughter that I know of.
E: Well, that is one hell of a family.
RC: I know. They all lived on Cayo Costa.
E: And John's daughter was Nell Adams?
RC: Right. Nell Adams, or Nell Kula now it is, was old man John
Padilla's daughter. It was 1937, I guess it was, when he
was buried over there at Cayo Costa. He died over there at
Cayo Costa. He was fishing. About two o'clock in the
afternoon me and a fellow by the name of Neil Lanair were
there. I said, "Neil, they are having old man John
Padilla's funeral over there at Tarvia Bayou. You and I
should go over there to it." He said OK, so we got into the
boat. We went over there and ran the bow of the boat on the
beach. We did not put any anchor or anything out; we just
ran it up there. They were up there preaching the funeral
then, and we run up to where they had him buried. You could
see the bow of my boat. I eyed it every now and then.
Louis Darna and Gilbert Joiner dug the grave down there.
Jack Griffinhoff worked for Van Patten. He is married to
the actress. He is the one that handled the funeral and
all. And Mrs. Cecilia Gaines, Edgar Gaines's mother,
preached the funeral. There were a lot of oak trees and
cabbages all around there. There were a lot of little
ridges in there, and you could tell they were graves.
In a week or two, my dad was over at Useppa guiding a party.
They stayed out at the guide house one night. So I said,
5


"Who is in all of those graves over there at Tarvia Bayou?
It looked like about thirty of them over there." He said,
"Most of them was those Cubans who were on those boats that
sank in the 1910 Hurricane." They sank out there on the
Patricia Shoals, you know. I guess you heard about that.
He said they landed up over in that cove. It was all young
boys, and we did not know who in the hell they were. Well,
it would take three or four days to get to Fort Myers, to
the law, so we rolled them up in sails and buried them in
there. I am talking about times back when they did not have
any motorboats. [There were] no motorboats in this country
until 1913. In 1910 there were no motorboats here.
E: [Only] sailboats and pole skiffs and rowboats?
RC: That is right. There were no motorboats whatsoever until
1910. Then we began to get some motorboats. I said, "Damn,
there is a lot of them."
Now, Esperanza, down here at Sanibel, is old lady Rose's
daughter. She is one of the daughters of them, you know.
She had come down there several times looking for the
graves, but she could not find them. Jessie Padilla,
before he died, was looking for them, and he could not find
them. I have not been in there. Louis Darna said he can go
right straight to it. But I do not think Louis had the
first idea where in the hell they were at. I can come
pretty close to it. I do not know how close, but I can come
pretty damn close to it. But, you see, since old man Joiner
was put there, there was a big cove in there. Now it is
straight; it is filled in. I heard one time that they
washed up. Bell Hamelton told me that once, but I do not
think so. I went over there a lot in the wintertime, and I
think that if they are still there, the sand got in there
and maybe blowed over there and covered everything up pretty
well to where now you cannot find it. Alonzo should come
pretty close to where they are at, because he used to live
there. He spent one night on the graves. I think he was
coon hunting out there. He got lost out there in those
woods, and he sat out there on those graves, he told me.
Anyway, apparently they cannot find them. But I never did
look for them very much because I do not think that Perry
cared. You see, that would be Perry's daddy.
E: John, what was his wife's name? Do you know?
RC: Dolly. In fact, she was my father's sister. But I do not
think they were too interested in it.
E: We are working with the state park on the side with Reggie
Norman, and we are going to update the historic and
archaeological master file that they have for them. It has
6


been done a couple of times. It was done in 1980 by Dr.
Hanszinger from Sanibel. He documented the known sites
there, but he did not do anything with the unknown sites.
It was done again by another person named Pither from Tampa
a few years ago. He documented the Padilla homestead, and
he documented three other sites that he calls Clark sites
one, two, and three. They may be that historic graveyard,
because they would not put historic graveyards in there for
public information. They would not want anyone to go out
there and dig it up. If it was covered, they would leave it
covered, but they would mark it only on their historic
record, unless the family requested the state to put some
markers on there. They would do it on the request of the
family.
RC: There where my dad is, I hope that they keep that marked.
E: That is also on the historic register and all of that. They
are mandated as stewards of the land for the state park. I
think they are doing a pretty good job of taking care of
what they know is there. But there is a whole lot of
history there that they do not know about that they should.
And there is a whole lot of history that no one knows about
and probably should not get into.
RC: Anyway, you see the county lost that damn thing, and it kind
of got away. Jesse Padilla, now .
E: Who was Jesse's father?
RC: Bevo Padilla. You see, that was old man Bevo Padilla. That
was old man John Padilla and Pholo Padilla's brother. He
had a sister or brother. I do not know which one it was
that died that was sixteen years old. They put him in a
copper tank.
E: I have heard that story.
RC: They put him in a copper tank and buried it there. I was
taking Clem Johnson down to those islands near Captiva
Rocks. We were coming back in one day, and he was telling
me about that. He said, "Now, there is a casket in there.
I thought it was something else. I dug down to it and
chopped into it and saw it was a casket. I covered it back
up." I said, "Are you sure that you covered it back up?"
He said yes. I said, "What was it made of? Copper?" He
said, "Yes, I am pretty sure." I said, "You did not move
it?" And he said no, that he did not move it. What year
that he got into it, I do not know.
E: Well, those things should all be marked by the state.
7


RC: Of course, he did not know. He thought it was something
else. That I figured. I told Arthur one time that before
he died we should go over there sometime and find it. But I
know that Nell does not seem to be interested, and Gary does
not seem to be interested. The Bible says let the dead
rest, but I said that if they ever get interested in finding
it, I believe that you and I can find it. I said, "We will
take one of these Geiger counters and find it." It is right
in the thickest of all those oak trees. They were little
oak trees when they put in old man John. There are cabbages
all around it.
E: Old man who?
RC: John, Nellie's father.
E: He is buried on Cayo Costa?
RC: That is where he is buried. That is where they put him when
he died.
E: Those people of the 1910 shipwreck: what nationality did you
say they were?
RC: Cubans. Most of them were put there. There used to be two
of them around on the west side of the island, further down
there near a buttonwood tree, pretty close to the gulf. I
used to know where they are, but I do not anymore. The
buttonwood tree is gone. I would not have the least idea
where they are at. But they are out there on the west side.
E: How are you related to the Padillas?
RC: You see, Dollie was my daddy's sister. She married old man
John Padilla.
E: Your father's name was Walter?
RC: Walter Coleman.
E: How many brothers and sisters did he have?
RC: He had Walter, Shelly [a male], Orlando, Dolly, and Gene.
Gene Coleman is buried on Cayo Costa. He was shot with a
.22 rifle right in here when he was young, about five years
old. He lived to be about twenty-one years old. It began
to give him trouble, and he went up to Arcadia. They
operated on him there. That night it seemed like a blood
vessel got busted, and he just bled to death. He died right
there in Arcadia hospital.
E: And he is buried on Cayo Costa?
8


RC: Yes, but he is buried way up there on the hill by Captain
Peter Nelson, my dad, his mother, and all of them.
E: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
RC: Just one, Woodrow. He got killed in an auto accident.
E: On Boca Grande?
RC: No. He had bought a new boat--he had one boat but bought
another--and he was going to Punta Gorda. He went over one
of these canals up there before you get to [Highway] 41, and
a buzzard flew up out of one of these canals and hit the
windshield and busted it. All of that glass got in his
eyes, and the damn car turned over and killed him. Killed
his wife, also. Sheila was in there with them, and she
crawled out the back. There were a bunch of niggers working
on a railroad track right across the ditch there, and they
all came across the track there and pulled him out.
E: What was your mother's name?
RC: Nona.
E: What was her maiden name?
RC: Toledo.
E: She was a Toledo. So you were right in the middle of all of
them. She lived to be pretty old?
RC: Ninety-two, I guess.
E: Do you remember the year she died?
RC: No, I really do not. Not offhand. It was not too long
ago.
E: So the other families on Cayo Costa were the Darnas,
Toledos, and Rodriguezes?
RC: Well, now, you see, Alfonso's mother was Nona's mother, too.
She was married to a Darna.
E: She was married to a Toledo, and then she was married to a
Rodriguez.
RC: She was married about three times.
E: Did you know the people on the south end of the island--old
man Faulkner?
9


RC: Oh, yes. All he had there was a bee hive, and that is what
he lived on. He did not even fish. He lived off of those
bees.
E: Did he sell the honey all over the island?
RC: I guess he took most of it back to the mainland. I was a
pretty young kid then.
E: You remember his first name?
RC: Fred.
E: He had three wives, I hear.
RC: Well, one of Tommy Parkinson's wives was his daughter.
E: That was her grandfather, I believe. Her maiden name was
not Faulkner; it was Vickers. Do you know the names of any
of his wives or the families they might have come from?
RC: No.
E: Was he there a good long time on that mound?
RC: Yes. I do not know how long, but he was there a long time.
About three years ago, my Uncle Arthur and I went to Cayo
Costa. We went through those woods and went out there by
that old settlement where we all used to live. It started
with the mangroves. The dock was not where that dock is
now. It was down about a quarter of a mile. It went up to
where the mangroves quit. A little bit higher land started.
That is where the houses were. We had a house there,
Orlando. We ran out there, and it was all growed up. Of
course, we found some old bottles and stuff and the blocks
the houses were sitting on. You could not tell much about
it. But we found a hibiscus tree. It was growing in his
grandmother's yard, right in the corner. He said, "I'll be
damned!" That thing was in full bloom and still looked good
and still had flowers on it after all of them years. We
went back through it, and there were a good many houses
there. Of course, the old school house--now these houses
went straight on back--was down over to the left. It burned
up. I remember when it burned up.
E: Was that when they moved it over to Punta Blanca?
RC: No, that was before. That was when it used to be at Cayo
Costa. But they moved the school to Punta Blanca. They
used one of those houses over there for the school and just
left the one at Cayo Costa. Then after that it caught fire
over there and burned down at Cayo Costa. But they had been
10


going to school at Punta Blanca before it burned up over
there.
E: Was Tarvia a fish ranchero? Did he run one of the fish
rancheros? Did he smoke the mullet on the beach or buy it?
RC: It was salted. They told me the way they did it. They
would get these mangrove poles and put about six of them
together about twenty-five feet high. Then they put a tarp
over the top of them. They would put a fellow in it. If he
saw a bunch of mullet down there he would start waving a
sheet or something. Then another one up here would see it.
They had a lot of things. He would see it, and the other
one would wave it. They would be down there somewhere with
a seine. They would haul all of these fish ashore, see. I
have an idea (I do not know for sure) that five thousand
pounds of mullet would have been a hell of a lot of mullet
back in those days. I do not know how much they could haul,
but they would get a schooner load and take it to Cuba and
sell them. They would split them and take them back to
their ranches.
E: They would salt them?
RC: Dry salt them.
E: Would they burn them off, too?
RC: No.
E: Just dry salt them and stack them in drums?
RC: Yes.
E: Who were the people that caught the fish?
RC: Well, he had a crew there that would catch the fish, old man
Tarvia Padilla. I do not think he had twenty or twenty-five
men.
E: He did not do the fishing himself?
RC: Not a whole lot. He was a boss. He would see if they were
split and all of that.
E: That crew that he had: were there Seminole Indians?
RC: No, I do not think. They were mostly Spanish or Cubans.
They would put them in these schooners and take them to
Cuba. They would trade a lot of them for whiskey and
provisions.
11


E: That would be those demijohn bottles?
RC: Yes.
E: They would trade that to Travia, or he would trade it over
there?
RC: He would trade the fish in Cuba for liquor.
E: And he would get the rum back the other way?
RC: Yes. He would get a little money.
E: Did he use the rum to buy fish or trade for fish?
RC: No. He would bring that back over here. In 1910 that is
the reason the government moved them all off, because there
was bootlegging and smuggling.
E: Right. There are demijohn bottles all over the islands.
Useppa is covered with broken demijohns or the necks of
them. All of them islands are. Cayo Pelau is loaded with
them. So they were doing more than storing water in them.
RC: They used to have straw around them, but now they do not.
The straw has rotted off.
E: Is that to stop them from breaking?
RC: Yes.
E: Do you know that they only held four and a half gallons, not
five?
RC: No, I did not know how much they held.
E: Yes, they sold for five gallons, but they only held four and
a half. Do you think that during Prohibition that stuff was
still coming in here?
RC: Oh, sure.
E: There are quite a few of them broken bottles down in the
bayou across from the Pink Elephant.
RC: Sure. Why do you think people came down here to go fishing?
They would come to Useppa and stay two or three months at a
time.
E: Was that because it was better liquor than moonshine? Did
they prefer that over moonshine?
12


RC: Oh, yes. That was good liquor. Some of it came out of
Cuba, and some of it came out of Gun Key or Bimini.
E: It was like Augidin?
RC: No, Augidin was kind of a low grade of it. Augidin is what
we would call shine over here--white lightning. They had
good liquor over here, what they would call "chicken cock"
whiskey. Mostly all I have seen of it [was when I] was a
kid. They put it up in pint bottles, and then they put the
bottles in a can so it would float if it went overboard.
E: Did the beach runners drink moonshine or Augidin.
RC: Oh, they had to have that red stuff. I went to Useppa in
1936, and Prohibition opened up around 1936. Down there
they had the old motors that made the electricity. Then
they had the gas pumps. We would go down there and get the
gas pumped about dark. There were a couple of houses down
there pretty close to the gas pumps, and there was lattice
work around these little old houses. It was about that high
off the ground, that lattice work. They had this red liquor
in gallon jugs with this grass around them.
E: Green ones?
RC: Yes, with grass around them. They called that Bacardi.
E: Bacardi rum. Was that from the islands?
RC: Yes. Well, we would go in there and get our gas, and we
would be asked, "Well, bring me back a gallon or two
gallons." We would have to go out there and get on our
knees and get it because it was stored underneath those
houses. Oh, boy, there were many a gallon got out of there.
E: Could you sell it to the people in the Gasparilla Inn
without anything being said about it?
RC: Over here? Yes.
E: Nobody enforced it?
RC: No, nobody enforced it.
E: If they sold moonshine, would they?
RC: No, actually they would not. Lonnie Futch was the head
bootlegger for the Boca Grande hotel out here. Sam Whidden
kept the Gasparilla Inn supplied.
E: He had a place in the guide docks down there?
13


RC: Yes, he would supply them down there with redfish. He kept
them supplied.
E: So was there bootleg liquor on the island, too?
RC: Oh, yes, right across the street in the nigger houses.
E: That is who drank it, too?
RC: Yes. Of course, they made it.
DC: Were there a lot of them in this country?
E: Well, just in this harbor there were a lot of Indians, maybe
five or ten thousand of them. The Calusa they estimate as
being about one hundred thousand Indians along the coast and
down to Key West and over in to Okeechobee Basin. They
controlled all of that, but this was their fishery. They
used all of these mounds as fish rancheros and probably sent
all of the fish inland by canoe and supplied the village
settlements. They probably got deer, birds, and
agricultural things back in exchange. Just for someone to
live six thousand years in one place and not burn up the
last stick of wood or pollute the water or go without [is
quite an accomplishment]. They did not seem to have periods
where they did not catch fish and all starve out. For the
last hundred years here it has been steadily going downhill.
I think the older generation are the last ones that make a
living off of food fishing. You are going to have to do
some other kind of fishing. I guess even in this century
people have been mixing it in with sport fishing, charter
fishing, and bait fishing. I guess in the last century
there was not even that. It is an awful big food resource
to turn into a Disneyland. Somewhere along the line people
are going to need to eat that food.
Anyway, I have some questions about fishing. I am trying to
put everyone's information together to see what kind of fish
were important in their lives. What kind of fish were the
most economically important to you?
RC: Well, I would say mullet. You would make more money off of
mullet than any other kind.
E: That is more or less the industry down here?
RC: Yes.
E: You do not fish for mullet all year long. Do you start
fishing for mullet in the summer?
14


RC: Yes.
E: You do not get much for them in the summer, do you? Are
they hard to catch?
RC: That is right.
E: And they are smaller. What size net do you use in the
summertime to start off with?
RC: About an inch and a half.
E: That is a three-inch mesh?
RC: That is mostly the mesh we all depend on.
E: How many nets do you have to own to fish mullet? How many
sizes?
RC: Four.
E: What season do you have to put the biggest nets on? Roe
season?
RC: Yes. Trouble of it is, there are not many roe fish left.
E: They did not do too good this year. Do you think it is the
same amount of fish being taken? Is it just being divided
up by a lot more boats?
RC: No. These mullet raise up these rivers and canals and
places like that. They stopped the commercial fishermen
from going up there. You cannot fish up these canals
anymore. All of these canals have houses all along there.
These people have these cast nets, and soon as the sun goes
down [they go down] there with their cast nets and catch
themselves three or four mullet. The others up there will
do the same thing. They all do that, and it ends up to be a
whole lot of fish.
E: Well, there are a lot more of them than commercial
fishermen.
RC: That is what I say. You do not catch them because it is at
night, and it is pretty hard to catch them. How are you
going to catch them? It is all right to use cast nets, but
you cannot use a mullet net up there.
E: Do they still get together in big pods and run out, or are
they kept pretty much scattered by all the boats and little
backwater boats?
15


RC: No, they still get in big pods and things.
E: You do not think all that boat traffic scatters them up?
DC: Yes, it does.
E: But they still have to go out. Enough of them seem to get
out the pass that they keep coming back.
DC: Oh, yes. I think it is the boats--all the boats--that have
hurt us so bad.
E: The water does not seem more polluted now. The mullet are
still there.
DC: No, I do not think it is.
E: It looks pretty good. Do you think there is more grass and
moss than there used to be out in the bays? More sediments?
DC: No, I do not think so.
E: When you first started fishing, did you fish with a pole
skiff?
RC: Yes.
E: Did you tow it out there?
RC: Most of the time we just poled out. After a while we got to
towing it out.
E: Did you fish in a group or by yourself?
RC: We got to where we fished two or three together.
E: You could cut the fish off better that way? Then you would
split the catch up?
RC: Yes.
E: Did you ever work a stop net?
RC: No.
E: A seine net?
RC: For a little while, but I did not like that very much. You
got overboard in that cold water early in the morning, and I
did not care much for that.
16


E: Do you think there were more blue crab when you used to pole
skiff or less?
RC: No, there does not seem to be.
E: Do you know if they eat your net up, that cotton net?
RC: No more than they would now.
E: I would think that they would go through that easier than
they would that monofilament stuff. But they go through the
monofilament easy enough. After mullet season is done, what
do you fish for then?
RC: Some of them will go mackerel fishing. Sometimes we will
tie our mullet nets together and drift fish for mackerel.
That was about it. Some of them will go along the shoreline
and fish for sheepshead.
E: Did you do any redfishing or trout?
RC: You would catch a few trout. But those old cotton nets
would not hold a trout too much.
E: How about a redfish?
RC: No, a redfish would break it pretty fast, too.
E: Snook will break them right up, too, I would imagine.
RC: Yes.
E: So it would cost you a lot of time and money if you got into
a school of redfish.
RC: It sure would. You would catch one every now and then, but
you would lose more than you catch.
E: Was there a market for redfish?
RC: Yes. You did not get much for them, but you could sell
them.
E: Did you eat them?
RC: Hardly ever.
E: What kind of fish did you prefer?
RC: Mullet.
E: Everybody liked mullet?
17


RC: Everybody ate mullet.
E: I think that is what I ate the most of when I worked for the
fish house, when I had a choice. I ate more mullet in more
different ways. You would get sick of any other fish. I
would get sick real quick eating shrimp. I used to really
like them when I first went to work for the fish house. Do
you eat many trout?
RC: No, I did not eat many trout. I did not care for them much.
I do now.
E: How about shellfish?
RC: Well, we never did get many shellfish in the fall of the
year. Maybe in the wintertime we would get some oysters now
and then, and maybe clams.
E: How about scallops?
RC: Yes, some scallops every now and then.
E: Did there used to be many scallops around here?
RC: Yes, there were a lot of scallops.
E: Did any one ever drag for them or harvest them commercially?
RC: No, I do not think so.
E: You just gathered them up for yourself whenever you wanted
to eat them?
RC: Yes, dip them up with a dip net.
E: I saw three once. What do you think happened to the
scallops?
RC: I think they caught them, dipped them up. It does not take
long to gather them up.
E: When you do figure they were gone by?
RC: [Things like red tide are hard on] any kind of shellfish--
clams, scallops, or oysters. Red tide works on them.
E: Did you ever do any grouper fishing?
RC: Yes. My dad (Walter) and I used to.
E: With hand lines?
18


RC: Yes. We used to go out in these boats. We would have three
lines on each side, two hooks to each line. There was a lot
of grouper then. You would catch the devil out of them.
E: Where would you fish for them?
RC: Right offshore there.
E: Right outside the pass?
RC: Yes, about fifteen or twenty miles.
E: Was that during the war, when Sam and all of those boys used
to fish for them?
RC: Yes.
E: Was there money in them then?
RC: Oh, yes, we did pretty good at it. But there was a lot of
grouper out there then.
E: What happened to them?
RC: Probably the red tide killed most of them. It settled on
those rocks and killed them.
E: That was in 1947 or 1948?
RC: I believe it was about 1948 when it first hit.
E: Did you ever see any roe in any grouper?
RC: Never have.
E: Strange. I wonder where they gather up at. I have
gutted a few, and I never have. The trout will have a
few roe in them all year.
RC: Yes, trout will, but not grouper.
E: The red tide after the war, was that the worst red tide you
ever saw around here?
RC: Yes.
E: Do you remember any before that?
RC: No, I do not.
E: Have you ever heard of anything called poison water?
19


RC: No. Louis Darna says he has heard of a red tide way back
then. But I think that was just a freeze, and it froze a
lot of fish.
E: I have heard from a couple of different sources that between
1918 and 1920, on the Placida side over in Bulls Bay and
Charlotte Harbor on this side, they had something called
poison water, and the fish were floating, wiggling, and
dying all over the surface. It could have been anything.
Somebody could have dropped something in the water. It
could have been real localized. But there had not been a
lot of red tides. The one in 1948 was the first that you
remember?
RC: It is the first that I remember.
E: And there have been quite a few since then.
RC: Boy, when that one hit, that was something. I had the
Faithful I then, and I would go out in this bayou, and dead
fish would just plow off of both sides of the boat.
Millions of pounds.
E: More than any commercial fishermen could catch?
RC: It was unbelievable.
E: What kind of fish were they?
RC: All kinds.
E: Bottom fish?
RC: Bottom fish, catfish, sharks, everything.
E: Sharks, too.
RC: Everything. [They were] all along the boat. I had to run
slow so that I would not bump them too hard.
E: How about the shrimp and crab?
RC: Yes, a lot of them, too.
E: I heard that they crawled right out of the water on the
beach.
RC: Yes, I heard they did that, too.
E: Did anyone get sick from eating the shellfish, the first
time it happened?
20


RC: The first time it happened I do not think they would eat
them. They were scared of them.
E: People would not eat the fish, either?
RC: No. I know one time when the shrimp got on the beach they
were still alive, jumping around on the beach. People went
out there and got a whole bucket full of them. It did not
hurt them.
E: Nobody had the nerve to eat them. What areas that you
fished in do you think are the most important? Like
Charlotte Harbor. The beach or the pass?
RC: Well, I would say Boca Grande Pass is one of the most
important.
E: Did you get mullet on Boca Grande Pass when they would run
out there?
RC: No, I did not get mullet there.
E: You know where most of the Indian mounds are out there. Do
you think they have something to do with fishing grounds?
Do the mullet seem to congregate around them? It seems that
like out on the cape, that was all Indian mound before it
was dredged away and washed away by storms. But it seems
like that is one hot place for fish to run around.
RC: You mean on .
E: On Cape Haze.
RC: Yes, that must have been.
E: We figure there must be some reason why they built all of
those Indian mounds where they did, because they had to
carry that stuff there in baskets and pile it up. It took
them a hell of a long time. It must have paid off for them
in some way to be closer to the fishing ground.
RC: Of course, they ate the animals out of those shells.
E: Yes, but that was only about 10 percent of what they ate.
You only get one piece of food out of a shell, and you leave
a big bone in the mound that big. Now, after you eat the
food off a fish, there is not much left. A couple of bones,
but from a couple of bones you can put together a whole
fish. One thing that bothers us is that we figure that to
most of the fishermen here now, mullet is the most important
thing, and that is what they ate. But out of all the fish
21


in the Indian mounds, mullet is only 10 percent of the bone.
The most common fish that they were eating were pinfish,
pigfish, catfish, shark, stingray, and burrfish. They also
ate trout, redfish, mullet. You would think that it would
be mostly mullet. Now, it could be that they were just
gathering fish. Maybe that is what the ones that worked
there ate, or maybe they sent the mullet out whole. Like on
Cayo Costa, they used to split them and sell them, so you
would not find their bones on the mounds.
RC: I do not think that the Indians would be sending them out.
Do you?
E: Well, they had canals cut all across this place. Across
Pine Island and then across the mainland going into the
Caloosahatchee River they had canals thirty feet wide and
six feet deep. They had big rafts that they were taking
across these places or something that they could take across
these places in a straight line so they could stay out of
the weather and everything. They were probably shipping
fish inland from what they gathered here, and getting a lot
of vegetables and stuff, probably deer. We find a lot of
deer legs on the mounds, but we do not find the rest of the
parts, like it was butchered somewhere else. The whole deer
is not there. You do not find the heads and the horns, but
you find too damn many legs and ribs. They probably split
that stuff up and smoked it and cured it and brought that
in. For the size of some of those deer bones, they did not
seem to be key deer coming off of these islands out here.
Of course, they used all of those deer bones to make knives
and bone pins for fish hooks. For fish hooks they sometimes
took this deer bone and split it into splinters and
sharpened it on both ends. Then they tied it in the middle
for throat gorges. But they would have a trot line full of
them, baited, and the fish would swallow them.
Another thing that is in the mound is jacks. These are
amberjacks with those big cystated rib bones. These
amberjacks were twenty-five pounds and up. They are all
through the mound. How do you catch one of them things?
They are strong. I have never seen them back in the bays
where they [the Indians] could be spearing them. It seems
like an offshore fish. [There are] hardly any snook bones
in the mounds at all. It might have been that this was
cooler then, because there are no gumbo limbo seeds in the
mounds. We do not think those trees were here in the early
times. Right now they are on the northern edge of where
they can exist, so if it was a little cooler here then, and
it probably was if that many Indians lived out there, [there
were probably not many of them around].
22


But there should be some signs if there were any red tides
back then. There should be some signs of that in the
shells. Wood never lasts that long. It almost always rots
out unless it is trapped in the mud someplace and is really
sealed in.
What do you think is the biggest change that you have seen
taken place in your fishing grounds in your lifetime?
RC: Gosh, I do not know. The nets are the biggest change, I
guess. They used to use cotton nets when I started, and now
they use these glass nets. We used to have to mend nets all
the time, but now they do not mend them anymore.
E: Do you catch more fish with a glass net?
RC: Yes.
E: Do you think the mullet learn to see a glass net?
RC: Yes.
E: Other fish do not seem to see the net as well as the mullet.
When you first switched to glass nets, do you think that you
really pulled one over on the mullet, at least for a while?
RC: Yes.
E: He got a lot smarter. People say fish do not get smarter,
only people do. I think when you start cutting down on
their numbers it is the smart ones that are getting away.
You have to remember that.
RC: It is funny how we used to go out here in these skiffs. We
did not have any ice at all in the boat. We would go out
before sundown--the sun would still be up--and we would not
come in the next morning until the sun was up. Those damn
fish were in that skiff all night long, with hot water in
there, and we had no trouble at all selling those fish--all
of them. Now you would never think of buying fish like
that. You would say they were rotten.
E: One of the journals said that on the Cuban rancheros they
used to press the fish after they split them and dried them.
They pressed them with some kind of weights, and it was as
much to kill the maggots as anything else. So it was just
what you were used to. I guess you can get used to a little
maggot here and there. I wonder what those fish looked like
by the time they got them back to Cuba in those hot old
holes.
23


RC: Well, of course, if we sold them right here they would bring
them in and ice them down. They already would be roughed
up. Then they would ship them to Georgia or Alabama and
sell them all right. Now you have to carry ice with you and
throw them right on the ice.
E: When did you change over from a johnboat to a kicker boat?
Did you ever fish with a pole skiff?
RC: I do not know. Maybe ten years ago.
E: You have to make a lot more money off of mullet to pay for a
boat, motor, and gas, than fishing with a pole skiff. Do
you catch that many more mullet to make it worth while? You
have to catch a lot more mullet for the boat, because all of
sudden the boat gets a share. The boat did not get a share
when you had only three people go out and rope them up. Now
the boat kicks itself in for a share.
RC: Every now and then you have to have another motor.
E: But, you can cover a lot more ground with a kicker boat.
You can fish a whole bay out there in one day. So you would
catch something more often with a kicker boat, too, right?
RC: Yes.
E: When did you start tarpon guiding or charter fishing?
RC: I started about 1934. I guess 1935 would have been my first
year.
E: Out of Useppa?
RC: Yes. I had Faithful I in 1936. Then Miss Crowninshield's
boat Carusine II.
E: What season did you fish then?
RC: Well, I started the Miss Rhienhart from December to the
fifteenth of April.
E: Were there any tarpon here at that time of the year?
RC: We would catch one every now and then, yes.
E: What did they fish for most of the time?
RC: We would go trolling for trout. Just trolling. We did not
have any shrimp or anything like that. [We caught] snook,
trout, and mackerel.
24


E: What did they do with the fish that they caught?
RC: They gave them to the guides so that they could sell them.
You could catch mackerel all through the winter. We would
go up there off of Oyster Shoals.
E: And troll for mackerel?
RC: Yes. I came over here, and my first year guiding in Boca
Grande was 1941. I got me some new little corks and put
some lead on them, and I would go over here by Patricia
Shoals. There were not many boats out. I would go over
there and get in my boat and troll around. I would throw
one of those corks overboard--two of them tied together--and
leave them there. The next day I would go right back there,
and the mackerel would be right around there. I would go
there day after day. I had a couple of old ladies that
would go over there. They never would go out to a bar out
here or around the oyster shoals.
E: Do mackerel come around those shoals anymore?
RC: No. Never catch a one there.
E: How about kingfish? Have you ever fished for them?
RC: Yes.
E: Did they come in the pass close to here?
RC: Yes. Kingfish never come in here until about the fifteenth
of March.
E: Did you hook and line for them or troll for them?
RC: Yes.
E: Did you ever do it commercially, sell them for money?
RC: Yes, in the fall of the year when there is nobody gill
netting.
E: Do the kingfish still come by here?
RC: Not like they did. There used to be a big bunch of boats--
about fifty boats--that would come in here tolling for them.
They would get in here about the tenth of October. When we
quit mullet fishing we would troll for those damn kings out
there. We did pretty good. I made two blocks of wood on
the side. I did not have this boat here; I had the
Faithful. I screwed them on the side there, and I put posts
out here. Then I tied it here and put an outrigger on this
side and another on that side. I had two lines on each--
25


four lines. I did all right with four lines out there. If
I picked up a job down there I would take them out fishing,
too. I would put my outriggers out.
E: So the kingfish come out twice a year, once going south and
once going north. Now they are just further offshore?
RC: No. They will come in pretty close when they come back, but
there are not many of them.
E: I know that they catch a lot of them off of Key Marco down
there, and sometimes they will catch some off of Egmont
Point. I do not hear of anyone catching anything in
between. But they are out there somewhere, making that big
circle, and they hit where they hit. I mean, some years
maybe they will not come by, and other years you get a run.
RC: Weather has a lot to do with it.
E: It is like the tarpon. A front will come through, and the
tarpon will just move out for a couple of days. Do you ever
eat those penshell clams--I think you call them pearl
oysters--those big things?
RC: Oh, yes.
E: I like them. There are places in the Indian mounds that are
two or three feet thick with them, with nothing but those
penshell clams, like they went out and harvested a whole
bunch of them in one event or something and had a feast.
Also, you know that silk, that hair that they anchor down
into the mud with? Some people call it seasilk. We think
the Indians used a lot of that to make some things with,
like line, and they probably mixed it into palmetto fibers
to make their nets. I have heard people say that if you get
a big storm you can tell how big the storm was by how many
of those things wash up on the beach. We were thinking that
maybe some of the big deposits in the Indian mounds
represent a big storm or something. They did not harvest
them all of the time, but sometimes they were there in great
numbers. Other times they did not seem to be available or
were too hard to get. They do not seem to keep very well
once you cut that muscle out of there. They turn gray. I
like them just raw with vinegar and oil. I think they are a
fine food. You do not see too many people harvesting them.
There are a lot of them. You know how it is when you get a
net wrapped up in those things.
RC: Yes, I have got them once or twice out there in that middle
ground, that hole in the wall flat. There used to be one of
them. They are kind of like a scallop.
26


E: It seems like the Indians had some status foods. There are
certain places on some of the mounds that they prefer to
eat--moonshells, pear whelks, scallops (or pear oysters),
penshells, and sea turtles. I think the only thing that we
have found that is not around now is the Caribbean monk
seal, which was a seal that used to be around here, and the
dyer wolf, which was some kind of a small wolf that was
around here. Most everything else is still here.
RC: I think they had a way of digging these damn places. It may
have been a crude way. They did not have any machinery,
because you do not see any of it. There would be a little
of it left around, I guess.
E: We figure they used baskets made out of bark or some
material that has rotted away, one basket at a time. But,
boy, you are talking about an awful lot of work.
RC: That is why I say I believe that they would have to have
something.
E: In one event on Mound Key different people put layers on
there through time. They went around and collected this
stuff from other sites; they disassembled other sites. In
one place on Mound Key they added about six feet in less
than a fifty-year period. They were not just eating stuff
and throwing it out the back window. They would eat stuff
and put that garbage pile in a pile. When that garbage got
ripe they would mix these two piles together. When they got
enough material they would disassemble the whole damn thing
and move it to one side of the harbor and then move it to
another side of the harbor. There were a lot of people
doing a whole lot of work besides fishing. Digging those
canals was a lot of work. They dug that canal across
Pineland, and that is almost three miles long across there.
Then they dug another one over to the Caloosahatchee River,
right straight across from Pineland. That one is almost
seventeen miles long. There are canals all up and back to
those sites. They had fingers out in front of them to hold
or catch fish. I do not think we will ever figure it all
out. There is an awful lot of information there that they
should understand.
RC: You know it would take an awful lot of people to dig one of
those things with baskets.
[TAPE BEGINS] They waited too late to catch it.
E: Mike Farris tried to ride them one day. He about got on his
back, and he had to run them down. I am no good with
horses, and they know it.
27


RC: That was an old, old horse. He was there a lot of years.
E: He was old when Billy put him there?
RC: That was about forty years ago.
E: Really? I remember that horse. He only died a couple of
years ago. And nobody fed him nothing. He was full of
ticks when I saw him.
RC: Well, I will tell you those hogs are damn good, I thought.
The fat on the one that we killed was two inches thick.
E: I guess on the ones that you get that are feeding on the
inside [on the mainland] and not off the beach. But the one
that I got smelled just like a dead fish when I cooked it.
Maybe in the winter, too. Were the pigs always there, that
you can remember?
RC: Yes. We used to kill one around Christmastime. We would
kill one to eat and smoke it.
E: No one raised pigs on the island. If you wanted one you
went and got a pig.
RC: No. They were there years and years ago. There used to be
some down at Captiva, but they killed them all off. I do
not know why they wanted to kill them.
E: They were introduced probably by the Spanish, maybe de Soto
or Ponce de Leon. The first ones that came over here had
pigs with them. That was the way they kept their food
fresh. Were there many rattlesnakes on that island? Did
the pigs eat them? That is what the rangers told me, that
there were no rattlesnakes on the island because the pigs
ate them.
RC: No, there is nothing to that.
E: There were a lot of raccoons, though.
RC: Yes, a lot of raccoons. There were deer, also.
E: Is that right?
RC: Yes, but they killed them all off.
E: Were they small deer?
RC: Well, most of them were big deer. The last of them, I
think, swam to Pine Island, most of the big ones. You see
one swim across there now and then. Then they put some
28


little deer there. Orlanda and Angalo Bell caught most of
those little ones.
E: Do you know where Battings Landing is? It is right by
Pineland Marina.
RC: Battings?
E: It is in Pineland, right where Francis Knight used to run
his boat out of Pineland Marina there. There is a whole
bunch of mounds right behind there.
RC: Yes, I think I know where that is. I have never heard that
name.
E: Maybe that is too old a name. That is what they called it
in 1895. Colonel Randell owns a big ranch there, the
Rocking Horse Ranch. Doc Fritz's office is right on his
property over there. As a matter of fact, he bought his
house from Randell. We are working over there for two
months starting tomorrow. We are going to be there for two
months digging in those mounds. We have dug there two years
already for a couple of weeks each time, but this time we
are going to do it for a couple of months. We have got
thirty people a day to come out there and volunteer to dig
and sift and wash everything. We collect all the fish
bones, no matter how small they are, that we dig up, and all
of the seeds and pollen.
RC: Old Fritz is right there at that old Wilson place, that
mound there, is he not?
E: Wilson? Yes, he is right on the mound. I think they call
where he is Brown's Mound.
RC: Yes, I think the post office used to be right close to
there.
E: Yes, the post office used to be down around the bend from
there. Did you ever do any business over there?
RC: No. My dad lived there at one time with my mother, right
there at that mound, when they were first married.
E: Let me see if the name of the people that used to live there
is in this article. No. Some old people named Smith used
to live there. They used to have a farm right up in there.
Ted Smith?
RC: Yes, I knew him.
E: I think his father's name was John Smith.
29


RC: Yes, Ted Smith.
E: Ted Smith, who worked on Useppa.
RC: Well, he run a boat for old lady Foster from Bokeelia to
Useppa. He ran one over here when they had a little food
market over here. I guess Ted Smith--that is the boy--is
still alive.
E: I am trying to talk to him, because we think there was a
sink hole back there in those mounds that was the fresh
water supply. When they took over that farm, they took down
parts of that mound and pushed it out there to fill in that
swamp and sinkhole to keep their cows out of the damn swamp.
We do not know exactly where it is, and it would save us a
lot of work if we could just talk to Ted Smith. I have got
somebody over there trying to get me an appointment with
him.
RC: Well, is he not in Fort Myers?
E: I do not know. Somebody told me that they talk to him every
once in a while and that they were going to get a hold of
him. I guess he has some kin over there, too.
RC: Roach owned it before that, a fellow named Roach. He bought
it and built it up.
E: What year were you born?
RC: 1913.
E: So you are seventy-seven.
RC: Going on seventy-seven. Yes, it was a hotel when I was a
kid. They ran it as a resort. There used to be fourteen
cottages and a hotel.
E: Did Collier buy that island?
RC: Collier bought it in 1902.
E: And there was somebody living on it then?
RC: Oh, yes.
E: It looks like somebody was always living on Useppa, Cayo
Pelau.
RC: The hotel was there and the resort was there.
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E: That is about the only two places that they lived on
continuously. Every place else they lived on a while and
moved somewhere else.
RC: Oh, yes. Collier lived there. Well, he did not live there,
but he would come down in the winter months.
E: He more or less started the sport fishing industry by
bringing his friends down here?
RC: Well, no. He just bought the hotel, and they owned seven or
eight hotels in the state of Florida when he died in 1937.
E: He owned the Gasparilla Inn, too?
RC: Yes, and the Tampa Terrace, the Plaza in Sarasota, and the
Everglades Rod and Gun. He owned them all around. They
took most of them away from him, except the Gasparilla Inn
and Useppa.
E: Why was that?
RC: He was way in debt. He bought weighs over there, and there
were cottages all around there and workmen on it. [There
were] big storm sheds all around it where they stored boats.
They could pull up any kind of boat there. They built boats
there and had a dock built and a shore right on out to the
Intracoastal Waterway. It had a big store on it. You could
buy gasoline, oil, anything you wanted.
E: None of the Punta Gorda fish houses had any places on
Useppa?
RC: No. They had that old house there at Punta Blanca, right
around the point.
E: That old ice house?
RC: Yes, that old ice house.
E: Were there a lot of houses on stilts out in the bay?
RC: Yes. [There were] some at Captiva Rock, and there used to
be one in back of Patricia, but a hurricane blew that away.
E: Where did Bill Hunter live out there?
RC: He stayed out at Captiva for a while.
E: He had a stilt house out there for awhile?
RC: He lived down at Captiva at Safety Harbor. No, he lived
ashore. He worked for a doctor that had a house ashore at
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the north end of Captiva, down there at Captiva Pass. But
he was in this cove. I do not know just what year that was.
I was on the Panther that year. I remember we were fishing
out there, tarpon fishing at the pass, Bill was out there
fishing, he and Helen, in their boat. They were jewfishing.
I sat there, and we fished mostly at night over at that
point, the north point of Captiva. We would drive down
stakes and throw a line out. I said, "Bill, did you get any
jewfish last night?" He said, "Yes, I got a few. The
tarpon were biting so damn bad I could not catch the
jewfish." "Goddamn it," I said, "I am not going to ask you
for nothing else." We had a party in the boat and were all
sitting around there. I asked him, "How many did you
catch?" "I think we caught about thirty-eight." I said,
"Helen, is he telling the truth?" She said, "We sure did,
now." Him and my dad and old man Philip Bylaska joined each
clap party. We went out for a month at a time. We went in
July on that old boat.
E: Did you go into the service during World War II?
RC: Yes, for a little while.
E: What did you do?
RC: I was a first-class boatswain's mate in the Coast Guard.
They would not treat a goddamn dog like they did me.
E: That is the way I felt about the service.
RC: They sent me over to Miami, and there were thirty thousand
of us over there. I had a pretty good time over there. The
navy submarine training school is where they sent me for
about a month. I went over there, and in about a month we
went out to practice with those guns at night. In the
daytime they set us in there at a desk and a blackboard up
there. At night they took out a certain amount. They would
call your names. They would say, "Coleman at 2156, 4152."
That was the name of the boat. We would go down there and
go patrolling at night out in the ocean. We would go out
there and look for German submarines out there.
Mel Porter is over there at Fort Myers, I guess. He is a
salesman. He got one of those German subs one night and
talked to them. One of them talked good English. We were
on a forty-two-foot boat, on a sub patrol boat. It had five
ash cans [depth charges] on it. We were scared to drop them
or throw the damn things overboard; we were scared it would
blow us up. We talked to them, hell, two or three hours.
We were afraid they would shoot our ass off any time, but
they did not. They talked nice to us. We finally went on
in and left them sitting out there. Big old thing. That is
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the only sub we ever saw the whole time we were out there,
except one at Fort Everglades.
They took us down there when Secretary of the Navy [William
Franklin] Knox was there. They showed us that it would go
down 750 feet deep. At that time the deepest one we had
would go down 350 ft. That one would go down to 750, and
they captured it and took it into Fort Everglades. They had
a sub that they brought in there. They brought that into
Miami. It was just riddled all to pieces, [and they] said
it was full of bodies when they brought it in there. I did
not see that, but they showed it after it was full of shot.
They said, "Now you see what you are up against." So it was
a lot of fun. They fed us in that old Morrison's Cafeteria.
That was the most wasted food I ever saw in my life. They
would march us around in a big old field in the daytime.
E: When did you get out of the service?
RC: I was only in there about a year. They sent me down to Fort
Myers. They had a bunch of them stationed there. We would
patrol down around Big Hickory and Fort Myers Beach and down
there. Good old Charlie Green and Broward. Then we came
into the base, and they sent me and old Bob Thomason up to
Gasparilla Pass in a damn little old boat. We had a radio
on there, and it had a code change that you turned every
day, a secret code. The second day we got a damn message
that said come to the bay.
So all of the commercial fishermen had a chance to get out
of the service that wanted to get out. It was a raining and
blowing, and I said, "Bob, let's go." He said, "Aw, hell,
we cannot go in this weather and all. Let's wait until
tomorrow." I said, "Shit on tomorrow. Let's go tonight."
Bob got mad, and we started. We made it up there, and it
was raining when we got up to the place at Fort Myers. My
boat was up Hansom's at Orange River. She had lead paint
all over her, but she was varnished. The old lieutenant--it
was dark then--said, "Coleman, we will give you guys a
chance to get out. I am moving units now to give you your
boat back, to disengage your boat. It is raining now, and I
would hate to have them go up there in this rain." Bob
said, "They will give your boat back to you, so we might as
well wait until tomorrow." I said, "Nope. I would just as
soon as do it tonight." Bob said, "No. God, I am going to
take me a bath. I will tend to it tomorrow." The old
lieutenant--what the hell is that son of a bitch's name that
owns that bank over in Fort Myers--said OK. So we went down
to this moving unit.
We got down there, and there was a Chrysler man that was in
this moving unit group that was in the service. This
33


lieutenant says, "Hell, we have got a lot of money in this
boat. We have not used her. We got all of this paint and
stuff on her." I said, "We want the goddamn boat or
something."
E: They took you and your boat in the service?
RC: Yes. I was supposed to be on a boat, but I never did get on
it. He said, "We cannot let this man have this boat like
this. We spent all this money on this boat." Anyway, this
fella, this lieutenant, said, "I know this motor in this
boat is a Chrysler. I sold this man this motor in this
boat. I know he keeps his boat up good. I say turn it back
to him right now." Aldman (that was the lieutenant's name)
said OK. Boy, they took care of the papers, and I signed
it. I got in the goddamn boat and got back to the dock.
Aldman drove.
Another lieutenant, Lieutenant Angles, was up there. He was
going to give me my discharge. I got up there, and he swore
me this, that, and the other. He said, "You now have your
honorable discharge. You are out of the Coast Guard." I
said, "OK. I think I am going to go to Boca Grande
tonight." He said, "You cannot run at night. You will have
to wait until daylight. And you have to paint over that
number." The number 2156 is what the number was, which I
did not want on the boat. I went over there and was talking
to this lieutenant. About that time the telephone rang:
"Yeah? Do not let any more of the fishermen out. We have
let enough of them out." About that time old Bob Thomason
came out all dressed up to get something to eat. I thought
that old man was going tear up that goddamn place. "Jesus
Christ!" he said. Boy, was he mad!
E: I know when it was time for me to get out of the service I
did not turn my tool box in. I did not check out of my
squadron. I packed my car and left. I am still on KP.
RC: I heard that Charlie Green was dead. The other day a man
came to the house, and I talked to him. Something had come
up about me and old Charlie Green. He was down in Fort
Myers. We were in the service together. He said, "Yes, he
is down in the keys now." I said, "You mean he is still
alive?" He said, "Yes, I saw him the other day on one of
those keys down there." I said, "I'll be damned. I thought
he was dead." He said, "No, he is not dead. He is still
down there." Another little boy we had was named Broward
James, from Sanibel. I do not know what became of him. I
guess his old lady killed him. He had a big old fat lady,
and they were all the time fussing.
34


E: You were a commercial fishermen and had a boat, and they
just drafted you into the Coast Guard?
RC: Well, no. They come through here and picked out a lot of
these boats.
E: Were they documented vessels?
RC: No, mine was not at that time. They just picked out the
ones they wanted for patrol duty. They picked out mine.
When they picked them out they gave you the chance to go on
it. We were down there at Whitney's, and I do not even know
how they found my damn boat. I said, "Well, they got my
damn boat." Whitney said, "You have got a chance to go on
it." So I said OK. I did not want it to go without me.
Then when they got my boat, I did not see it anymore. I was
lucky enough that they did not use it, because they busted a
lot of them up.
E: They put a rotten paint job on it, but they did a lot of
mechanical work?
RC: Well, they ruined the engine on it. They had an old man
there that was in the First World War. He put graphite in
the base. It was supposed to make the oil work better.
That ruined the engine because that strainer plugged up.
E: All the graphite clogged the oil filter?
RC: Yes. I sure had to put another engine in it.
E: They did not compensate you for that?
RC: No, they did not give me anything.
E: If you let them take your boat, they would still take you,
too, but you would go someplace else? I mean, would they
take your boat without taking you?
RC: Oh, yes. They would take the boat anyway.
E: They would probably come back and take you, too.
RC: Yes, probably, if they wanted to.
35