Interview with Ruby McGehee

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Interview with Ruby McGehee
McGehee, Ruby ( Interviewee )


Subjects / Keywords:
Seminole Indians
Seminoles -- Florida
Seminole Oral History Collection ( local )


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
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Seminoles' 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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In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida

From its beginning in an ox cart traveling around Indiantown in 1895,
Ruby McGehee discusses the establishment of
Indian trade with her father, Frank Bowers and her Uncle Joe Bowers.
Reminiscing about both men, she covers details
of her father's store in Jupiter and Joe Bowers' store at
Indiantown, including methods of storage, trade between
the stores, what merchandise was exchanged and relations with
the Indians.

Bowers, Frank (store of), 2, 4-8, 13, 17-19
Bowers, Joe, 1, 2-3, 5, 10, 14
Hide preparation for trade, 4, 5
Trade with Indians, 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11-12, 14-15

I: Today we're talking with Mrs. McGehee of Frank Bowerslineage.
Mrs. McGehee, explain some background of the family, your
family, if you would.
S: Well, my father came from South Carolina, and his brother Joe.
There's Frank, Joe, and Dessie...and...back there when they
came down...why, they went to...out to what is now Indian-
town in an oxcart...they had an ox that pulled the cart, and
they went out there, and they cut their way through a cabbage
hammock...where they put in oranges and grapefruit, planted
it. And then from that they went into the cattle business.
And at that time...why the Indiantown was Indiantown. It was
just Indians everywhere. So they got friendly with the In-
dians and the...the Indians were friendly with them. And
they...put up a little store. The Indians would trade with
them. Of course they would trade furs,...for whatever they
wanted to eat, and for beads, and calico. And...he slept
under this...and my uncle slept under the same kind of shack
like the Indians do now, you know...a little ol'...
I: Chickee.
S: Chickees...yeah. I remember one day we went out there, and
a big old black snake came out from under where they...where
his bed was, and they started to kill him...somebody started
to kill him, and he said, "No! No! No! That's my pet...he
keeps down the rats and everything." And they cured their
own meat. They would take their meat and salt it down, then
hang it out to know...that would make dried beef.
I: Um huh.
S: And you...there...there was some way...I don't know what they
put on it, but they could just hang it out in the open, and
no flies or anything got to it.
I: Hmmm.
S: They didn't even have any...cheese cloth or anything over it.
But they'd hang it out there like that, and you'd go out to
see them, and they'd say, "Well, just a minute...I'11 fix
some dinner." They'd make up biscuits, and they'd make stew
out of that...out of that dried beef, and it was just beauti-

I: Well, let me ask you...did a lot of the Indians stay around
there permanently...or...?
S: At that time they were...a lot of them around there...then.
I: What...what period, would you say...not...just roughly...
S: Well, let's see...that would...well, back there...let's see...
I guess...well, I remember...I guess I was about...let's
see was about...let's see...I was born in 1909...
so it would be about 1914 I guess was what I remember now
because...after my father got his store in Jupiter, put up
a store in Jupiter, why, I saw...the Indians came there and
traded with him all the time, and he'd trade the furs, and
I've seen all of a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with
furs...otters, wildcats, and all kinds.
I: Where was the warehouse at?
S: In the store...connected to the store.
I: Indiantown?
S: was right where he put his groceries that he stored,
you know, the extra groceries. And it would...and that's
what I say, he would trade them furs for what they wanted...
I: Um huh.
S: And I sold them calico and beads myself, you know, and every-
thing. Then after the ox cart, then he used a mule with a
covered wagon. So he would come halfway from Indiantown
where he called had a halfway ground...halfway
one day then he'd come the rest of the way the next day...
which is only twenty-five miles now.
I: Um huh.
S: He had stopped there so many times a little pond
along the...what fascinated the little ditch, you
know, he had tamed fish...that he'd feed those fish out of
his hand, and everything was...I mean all the wild things to
him were know...he, like in these groves the
wild turkeys would come in, and nobody had better not shoot

a wild turkey 'cause they'd bed with his tame turkeys...
I: Um huh.
S: And they'd just come down the grove...and you'd go out there
...and you'd see deer walking out there, or you'd see the
turkeys, wild turkeys, all walking through the grove. And
anybody that went out there...why, they were free to, you know,
pick all the oranges they theirselves, you know.
And that was the way it was back there then.
I: How long did Joe keep this store...your Uncle Joe, keep this
S: Well, he had a store until about...I would say about...ummm,
I can't figure out now...oh...think I can't think how many
years ago that's been now.
I: Did he keep the store opened until the day he died?
S: Oh no! he married a twenty-year old woman
when he was seventy-five.
I: Um huh. We heard about that...on...married on the horse?
S: Yes...I was in the wedding too. And there were movies...
cameras from everywhere...from all the papers up north...
all the newspapers up north carried that.
I: Well, let me...let me ask you this...your dad started his
store when?
S: Well, as far back as I can remember.
U: He came here in 1908.
S: Before me...yes...before I was born...yes...because my mother
had to go back to Georgia for me to be born...there wasn't a
doctor close...see?
I: Um huh.
S: So she went back to her folks in Georgia for me to be born...
then when I was a month old...why, she brought me back, see?
I: Well, the question I'm trying to lead to is that...did your

brother or your uncle...pardon me...did your Uncle Joe,
bring any of his hides down to your father's store so that
he could trade them or send them north? What did your Uncle Joe,
do with his hides per se?
S: that time he would bring them in too for...for
Poppa, see.
I: Um huh.
S: And they would sell them, you know they'd have to ship them
off, but at that time they just wrapped them up and shipped
them off by express...see...that's [the] they way we'd do...
I: By the train...or by the boat?
S: Well, back further than I am it would be by boat.
I: Um huh.
S: Way back before I remember...because the boat come right up
to the store. It would dock right out by the store, and
they had to get all the groceries that way. I remember that
part...that the boat come in and brought the groceries.
I: Um huh. And do you remember who your dad traded with?
S: Oh, I don't.
I: Was it in the state...or did he send them up to New York...
or do you know a rough location he sent the hides to?
S: I sure don't...I don't know.
I: Well, he could have dropped them off any place. That's the
problem. For example, we find Oskie's up there in Jacksonville, and we find...
the Mann's up there...
S: I wasn't old...I wasn't old enough to remember what he did
with them. But I remember they rolled them up in rolls...
I: Um huh.
S: They rolled...they rolled the furs up in rolls, and the ot-
ters were always turned inside out.

I: Hmmm.
S: They would skin that otter so the whole thing just come
inside out like that, and it was like a tube.
I: Fur protection.
S: Um huh...beautiful.
I: Did...did your dad, or did your Uncle Joe take plume feathers
per se? Did they ever trade for plume feathers?
S: No, not that I know of because knowing Uncle Joe the way he
was he wouldn't know what to do with them. I mean he didn't
have any outlet for something like that, see. But I know
he went to all their corn dances, you know...
I: Um huh.
S: He'd they would...every time they had a corn dance or any...
anybody died...or, you know, any celebrations...why, he
always went to all of those.
I: He'd go out in Big Cypress then?
S: Well, where...wherever they...their...their camp....
I: They'd hold it?
S: Wherever they were, why, he would go. And he rode horse back
until he died. Never...he couldn't drive a car. He's never
driven a car.
I: Well, let me ask you about your father's store now, Frank.
What all did he have? Did he have a variation of stores?
Can you give us a description of what was in your dad's
store, and what time he started his store per se, and when
he last kept it?
S: Well, like I say, he started it like Bessie [Mrs. DuBoise]
said, before I was born.
I: Um huh.
S: And after I was born in 1909, now I don't know just what

year he came down here...
I: Um huh.
S: But he sold everything. It was a general store. He sold
everything. He sold meat, and nails, clothing....
I: Did your dad deal with any of the Indians...did they ever
travel this far?
S: Oh yes! They came in. I remember
one come in and he was a little intoxicated, you know,
and the old store had a showcase in front, like, you know,
where you displayed your articles, you know. So they asked
him to dance, and he got to dancing, and he danced all over
the glasses, and that window, and they...almost
couldn't get him stopped, you know. Somebody had given him
a little firewater, you know, so.... But I remember that
so good.
I: Did your father trade for skins?
S: huh.
I: What did your...did your father...keep the skins and have them
shipped off some...?
S: He shipped huh.
I: How long did...your father have the store? We'll say that we
can say...Mrs. DuBoise...that he was postmaster-general in 18--
or long after many years was he...?
S: Let's see, I was married in '27, and he still had a store in
Jupiter. So let's see...he lived about...I forgot what year
it was.
D: Your father died?
S: Yes, about what year that was. See, he moved...he took the
old store, and moved it...on a...on a barge...all down the
canal to down on...on old A1A, where that...I don't know
whether you know Jupiter or not, but the big old white buil-
ding there on A1A, in the middle of Jupiter...two-story

building, that was his last store.
I: In other words he moved it from...from where...out here?
S: Down where the marina is in know where the
Jupiter marina is?
I: Um huh.
S: There was a big store there. He put it on the barge and
moved it all the way over here and then was torn down later.
I: Huh, that's quite a...several number of miles there.
D: I don't have....
S: I've got it written down over here some place.
I: What old...
D: He died in 1920 something, but...
S: I'd say about '27-'28 or '29.
I: How old was he when he died? I'm trying to get at...
D: Sixty-five at his death.
S: Sixty-five.
I: So we could subtract the difference there, and get a
rough date of the birth of your father. How-long was he in
Florida, your father? Did he come down right before you
were born?
S: Yeah...well, I would say four or five years before I was
I: Where did he come from, Mrs. McGehee?
S: South Carolina.
I: South Carolina.
S: Um huh.

I: The interesting point is the...your Uncle Joe and your fa-
ther having these two stores, and having a lucrative
business in Jupiter to Indiantown was's an
unusual...the kind of payment....
S: Well, see, he come into Jupiter for his supplies, see...
me daddy could supply him, and he'd carry him back.
I: That's what I'm trying to say then...maybe possibly that
your Uncle Joe brought the hides in with him leaving your
father's source to....
S: That's huh...he'd have
cause there wasn't at that time, there wasn't any outlet
that far back to get anything out, see.
I: Let me ask you, how long did the Indians stay
you remember...on your recollection? In other words when
was the first time you made contact with the Indians, a
rough date?
S: Oh...I was a real tiny...I wasn't more mean the
first time I ever made contact?
I: Yeah.
S: Oh...I guess...a year old.
I: A year old? Well, that would be 1910.
S: Yeah.
I: How long did the Indians stay around your father's store? they went back into the Everglades?
S: Well now, they stayed out at Indiantown longer than they
I: Um huh.
S: They didn't stay in here...they just come in for supplies
...and they'd go back. But they stayed out around Indian-
town for...oh, golly...I guess the last ones moved out in
the twenties.
I: Why would they come to Jupiter...things that your Uncle Joe,

couldn't supply him?
S: That's huh...yeah.
I: And just a matter of visiting when they could.
S: Yeah...yeah...they got to where they could get in and out
a little bit.
I: Do you remember any of the Indians per se?
S: Oh yes, I remember quite a few, and every once in a while I
run...if I see an Indian...I work out at Big Dollar out here.
I sell in a grocery store. If I see an Indian come up some
time that I don't know, would look familiar...they do...
from younger generations...I'll go out and I'll ask them,
I'll say, "What your name?" like that, you know. I have
had them to say, "Joe Bowers."
I: Um huh.
D: Yes, they've kept the names that they've admired.
S: There's a lot of them.
D: There's some named for Eli Morgan.
S: And I'd ask them, I'd say, "Have you heard...ever heard of Joe
Bowers?" And oh, my goodness, they'd start telling you, you
know, he'd tell you all about it. Just like old...old Billy
D: Yeah.
S: You know, you ask him...he remembers all about it...
D: You remember Ernie? He said your father and mother brought
me out here...brought you out when you were just a little
I: Well, let me ask you this about the family...when did your
dad die? We just established that.
D: We can't remember.

S: We tried to...
I: When did Joe die? Can you give us the date when Joe died?
S: No, I forget, I forgot that too.
D: He died in 1945...I knew him.
I: He died in 1945. Was there anything on...let me ask you
this, and then we'll have to....
S: I said that I should go out at my uncle's place because that's
where he kept his money. He buried it in a coffee can.
I: Your Uncle Joe buried all his money in a coffee can?
S: That's where they...he didn't have any place to keep it so
they just put it in coffee can. I said I bet that whole
U: Is full of....
S: Yeah, it sure is.
U: Better not tell anybody that.
S: They've already found that, I guess.
U: When the trapper died...why, they just dug his place up far
and wide.
S: Uh huh...that's why I said...I bet these people been all over
that out there.
U: The trapper kept all his money in the bank, but he did have
one coffee can full of change, that he kept for his poker
game. Then when he would have a poker game going on...he'd
just go out in the yard...his change...just play poker. That
was all he kept it for.
I: Let me ask you is there any family records of Joe Bowers or
your father? Did he keep any records of trading activity or
of the store itself?
S: Well, I don't know of any.

I: You know what I'm talking about, the books, the ledger
books per se?
S: I don't know what they did with that. They had them I know.
I: Um huh.
S: I know they had them because I as a child remember looking
through them in this little old store he had.
I: Did they give the Indians any credit? You know, what they
call paper, what the Indians call paper? Did your father
or your uncle...?
S: Oh, they both did. Those two.
I: Allowed them to sign?
S: Oh, yes. Uncle Joe...what is...all...I can almost remember
...whatever with Uncle Joe, the Indians wanted something they
had it too...I mean that's the way he was. I mean whatever
he had was theirs because I mean they were the same way to
him. I mean they were...they would help him, and he'd help
them, you know.
I: Do you remember what the rough prices were for skins?
S: No, I never heard anybody say...I never...I just....
U: Oh...I know a coon skin wasn't worth very much...I think...
I know anywhere from twenty-five to thirty cents.
I: Well, we have consistent figures that alligator skin was
worth ten cents a foot, you know, and average skin was six
foot...sixty cents.
S: I didn't see any of those...that's one thing I never seen
any of...never...
I: They never brought in any alligator...
S: I never saw any of those.
I: They only brought in then the beaver, and the otter and....

S: The otter, and the wild cats, and coon, and skunk, and
opossum, and you know, stuff like that, you know.
I: That's unusual, because all the other traders that we have
ever talked to, it was always alligator, and now for the first
time we have a new item called the cat. None of them ever
mentioned the bobcat per se.
S: Well, they did have the wild cat...yeah, yeah....
I: And they'd skin them.
S: Yeah, the bobcat. But I don't remember ever seeing any alli-
gator hide...that' know...being as you said that I
don't remember ever seeing any. But the otters, they always
fascinated me. There was some...oh, there would be some this
I: Where did they...where did the...just anywhere out in the...?
S: In swamps was where they stayed...they had...they needed
I: Um huh.
S: Yeah, they needed water.
I: What were some of the things that your dad traded with them...
do you know...remember specific things that they asked for
and got?
S: Beads.
I: Beads and what else?
S: The cloth.
I: Right.
S: They used a lot of cloth, and...
I: How about candy? We found several items that they were highly the...what we would call the old rock candy.

S: Yeah, they loved...they got...had a little candy.
D: Do you remember how it used to be back in the olden days?
S: I have a...had a bag of peanuts...a great big old bag of
peanuts sitting there, and everybody that went by took a
handful, and you set a mousetrap in there...I've seen them
do that several....
D: I hadn't heard of that.
S: Yes, sir.
I: Let's see if we can establish...your father had actually
one store, but he moved it two positions. Is that correct?
S: And then built another one.
I: And then built another one.
S: Um huh.
I: All right, but he had a store up here in the middle of Ju-
piter, inland.
S: Um huh.
I: He brought it down by barge...moved it down to the coastal
S: No, see, the first store was down where the marina.. you know,
right down the know where the marina is...under the
old bridge.
I: in Jupiter.
S: And then they put it on a barge, and moved it down to where
this old two-story is on A1A.
I: Question. Why would he, why did he move that instead of re-
S: Well, he had used that until he rebuilt this one, see?
I: All right.

S: See, but he used that for a post office and a store until
he rebuilt this one.
I: And he built a new one after...
S: Then he built a new one...and then he built a building 'side
of it for the post office.
I: Do you remember the date that he don't
remember the date that it started.
U: ...remember dates from your own family particularly...
S: don't...I don't that time you just
didn't...I don't didn't even think anything about
it, you know. The time...there's had all the time
in the world that you never thought of, you know.
I: And the Indians kept visiting all three stores. Well, actu-
ally three positions of the stores.
S: Well, yes, they even came to the last one...I'd a...I sold know, when I was pretty good sized...I sold stuff in
there to them. But of course now they were getting to where
they had an automobile or something to move around in more
than they were way back there.
I: Did your father's store ever...we find that most of the trading
stores per se around in the mid-twenties reached about their
peak, and then started peaking off. Was this true of your
father's store?
S: Yes.
I: And then came the depression and various other things. During
the depression era were there many Indians around then or did
they stay inland?
S: No, they...they were far didn't see many then.
Back there around Okeechobee...that's where they were...back
out in that territory.
I: Your Uncle Joe's store up in Indiantown then, he had it we'll
say until '45 or '40, into the forties.

S: I'd say then, yeah.
I: Did the Indians continue to come in faithfully to him as much
as they did in the earlier periods?
S: Well, as long as they were there he did, and they would always
visit him, you know.
I: This is interesting that they continued on
World War I into the pre-World War II era.
store then went...probably changed more to
even up until after
Your father's
a white trade...
S: Oh yes.
I: In the thirties and picked up...because Jupiter itself here
started to pick up in the thirties. And he kept the store
until roughly...
S: When he died it was in the forties.
said a while ago...I forget what the
I took the store over after he died,
opened for a long time until we sold
What was it that you
date.... My husband and
see. And we kept it
I: How long did you keep the store going?
S; Oh I...'till...let's see...twenty...was it...I'm trying to
think now....
I: Around '45.
S: Yeah...1945...something like that.
I:'s interesting. Did...let me ask you...did
your...did your Uncle Joe or your father ever sell whiskey
to the Indians or guns to the Indians...or...?
S: No whiskey because my daddy didn't drink it, and my uncle
didn't either, so....
I: How about ammunition and guns for their hunting?
S: Well, they would sell, you know...shells. That's what they
would sell, shells. But I can say that no whiskey 'cause my
daddy didn't even...

U: No.
S: Uncle Joe didn't either so...and neither did Uncle Dessi
I: Where was Dessi during this time...let me ask...?
S: He lived right there with my Uncle Joe.
I: He did?
S: Yeah...but he didn't...he didn't go with the Indians as
much as Uncle Joe did, see.
I: And did any other part of the family get involved...any of
the other brothers?
S:, the other one was in Lake Placid, and he and another
one in Fort Meade, and another one was still in South Caro-
lina. But no, they were the only ones that...and they were
...Poppa and Uncle Joe were in the cattle business too. See,
they had cattle all over the woods. At that time you just
turned them loose and let them run, and every so often...
why, they'd go in and brand the calves, and my daddy would
go out and we wouldn't see him for a month at a time when
they were branding...and they just slept under a tree, you
know. They carried a old blanket rolled up and sleep under
a tree, and never think a thing about it you know.
I: Something else?
S: It was beautiful.
I: So there many in your...let's see if we can get the
number of your family from your...fathers, brothers, and sis- many were there?
S: One sister, and five brothers.
I: Five brothers?
S: Um huh.
I: Do you remember the five brothers' names?
S: Bob, Joe, Frank, Dessi; Joe, Frank, Dessi, Glen, Amos, and

I: And the girl's name?
S: I don't know her name...I don't know her name. She lived in
South Carolina too. No, in Georgia with her....
I: And then from your father's many children did
your father have?
S: Just two.
I: Yourself...and...?
S: And my sister.
I: And your sister. What was your sister's name?
S: Ruth.
I: Ruth and Ruby.
S: Um huh.
I: All right now, did Joe have any children?
S: No...........n..nor Dessi either.
I: Nor Dessi that was the last of the family. You
were telling me...I'd like to go back with this thing...but
next to the store...your uncle's store...Uncle Joe Bower's
store...the whole building was filled full of skins and vari-
ous other things that he kept in that line or...?
S: That was my father's store I was talking about, the big
white one down here.
I: Oh...right...o.k.
S: Right down here...that's here now.
I: Right.
S: And next to that was a great big building which he stored all
his groceries and stuff, you know, that wasn't on the shelves
...that his supply, you know, his supply room. But I...

,,.that's where they would try.,,they would bring these furs
in, and 've seen them all the way up to the ceiling, which
is a ten-foot ceiling,
I: Hmmm.
S: I've seen them stacked in there.
I: And he'd keep them for...
S: Until he'd get so many of them.,.then..,then they'd ship them
all...roll them all up at one time and get rid of them.
I: And most.,.did you ever see how Joe kept his skins? Did he
just leave them in a similar,,.?
S: They'd roll them up...they'd roll them up, yeah. And tie
them, yeah.
I: Fantastic, and then when you took over the store you never
seen any of your daddy's, your father's books per se that
he kept? Ledger books, or anything like?
S: Well, I have some of those old things...some of those old
I: You do?
S: Yeah.
I: I'd like to see them...they're worth...there's only two peo-
ple in the state of Florida that has their books. One's
name is Mrs. Stranahan of Stranahan's Trading Post. The
other individual is Smallwood, in Chokoloskee Bay area.
S: Now I don't know how old these are, I mean, I could look and
see sometime. They're in a...he the old garage at
home I have was...belonged to my was the
first safe that was ever in the sheriff's office in Palm Beach County,
It's about as high as that cabinet there.
D: Oh, you still have it, Ruby?
S: And you couldn' can't...we had to have it put in

there with some kind a...wrecker!
I: Um huh.
S: It's so heavy. Yeah, I still have that thing.
D: Oh, good!
I: And this would have some of your father's old records?
S: Yeah.
I: If possible I'd like to...when I come up here...whatever
I can...
S: I'll look and see what is in there.
I: ...borrow from Mrs. DuBoise here is...I'11 stop up Wednes-
day. I'd like to see if...ask if you had anything there?
S: I used to have to do...Poppa did a lot of credit business,
and every time...he made a little ticket out, see...
when anybody comes in and at the end of the day every one of
those had to be written down and itemized in this ledger.
D: Everything, always.
S: I had to itemize.
D: It was hilarious to get ahold of some of those old tickets.
I: This is what we found with Mr. Stranahan's area, and the
reason these are so tells you what the prices
were of items...based on the know, prices.
And it gives you a picture of the economy of Florida. It
gives you a picture of the trading procedures. And these
are invaluable...this is the reason...if you would...we
would more than happy like to take a look at these.
S: I'll look and see what's in there.
I: And even in fact if we could borrow them for about three
days to xerox some pages out of it.

S: I'll see what what I can find in there.
I: Or your dad's transactions to brother Joe
saying how many skins they moved on a certain date is really,
you know, just a nice little footnote per se of things.

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