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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
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Chapter V. 1840-1883. Travel in the South.

1840 to 1883 — Visit to Florida — Seeking Winter Quarters — The South at the Close of the War — Indian River — How I enjoy Myself in Florida — Backwoods Life Again — Visit to the Lighthouse — A Hermit.

In 1840 I quit dealing in hogs and cattle, and occupied my time in farming, buying and selling lands and town lots, up to the year 1866, when my wife died. I then felt mentally and physically broken down, and knew I was not capable of doing much business. At the time of my wife's death we were living in Springfield, south of the Leland hotel. We had a good woman and child, and I thought I would continue housekeeping. But I soon got restless, and did not know what to do with myself or for myself; so I sold the house and moved to one I had built on my farm two miles east of town. This farm, comprising more than one thousand acres, I put in pasture, and cultivated nothing but grass and a garden. I knew I was not fitted for buying cattle to graze the pastures, and I engaged Harvey Edwards to buy cattle for me in the spring to eat the grass, and in the fall would sell the fat ones to shippers and the others to feeders. I only had to attend to the care and salting in the summer, and in the winter had nothing to do. I placed the leasing and selling of

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my town lots in Springfield in the hands of my nephews. N. M. Broadwell and Obed Lewis, and would not risk either the leasing or selling by myself. Every year since I have been going to Florida to spend my winters. I have a room fitted up for myself at my farm, and make it my home a portion of the summer. I also repurchased the house I had sold in town, which now belongs to Mrs. Obed Lewis, my niece, and in this I also have a room fitted up for me, and make that my home part of the summer.

In 1874 I leased my farm to J. W. Dalby, reserving my furnished room, which is at all times ready for me to occupy when I choose to stay at the farm. This gives me leisure in summer, and relieves me of all care.

When I make my visits to Florida, it is not for the purpose of sight-seeing, nor for the flowers or the perfume of flowers, nor for the fruits of the south, for these we can get in Illinois from all climates at all seasons; neither is it for the purpose of spinning out my life; but solely for the purpose of finding a place where I can be comfortable in winter. And I think I have found at Jupiter inlet, on Indian river, and at Lake Worth, twelve miles below, the most enjoyable winter climate in the world, where there are no frosts, where one can breathe the balmy salt atmosphere, be out in the open air at all hours, day and night, and have the doors and windows open.

The first winter I visited Florida was just after the close of the rebellion. I followed the route of Sherman's march from Nashville to Chattanooga, Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah, and found the country in a horrible condition. The fences were all burned, fields

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lying waste, many houses burned, with nothing but bare chimneys standing — earthworks and battle-fields yet plainly visible. The towns on the route, as well as the country, were in a bad fix. The people had little money — their hogs, cattle and sheep all killed — and it seemed hard to subsist without suffering. I saw ladies who had been in affluent circumstances come into the towns driving a poor cow in a cart, bringing vegetables to market to exchange for necessary wants. I stopped some time in Atlanta, where the convention was in session. The members were mostly carpet-baggers, with more than thirty freedmen just from the plow. I visited the convention several times while in session, and always found the lobby and gallery filled with blacks; the white population seemed crestfallen and held themselves aloof. In returning home I came by way of Richmond, Va., where a convention was also in session, and it was very like that at Atlanta. The state legislatures of Georgia for several years after, were composed of the same class of irresponsibles, and the legislation was most reckless. But now, in 1883, you cannot see the first vestige of the war. It is astonishing how quickly the country got into a flourishing condition, after they got rid of the carpet-baggers and had better legislation.

After leaving Atlanta, my next halting place was Savannah. I liked the town and climate, but I only stopped there a few days, and then went to Jacksonville, Florida, and stopped at the Taylor house, the only hotel in Jacksonville. It was a long, low, two-story house; the partitions and doors mostly of cotton cloth nailed on strips. I found the house filled with invalids who had various complaints contracted in the war, and were

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broken-down. These, with a few well ones who came to take care of the sick, were about the only visitors at that day. The moans and groans of the sick distressed me; I could hear them at all hours, day and night. So this was not the place I was hunting for.

My aim was to find a climate and place where I could be comfortable in winter, and in the wildest section I could find — where the people mostly lived in one room cabins, much like the ones in the wilds of Kentucky where I was born and raised, and where they subsisted mostly on wild meats. So, taking a steamboat, I pursued my journey to what was, at that day, the head of navigation on the St. Johns river, and stopped at Melonville, where I found a store kept by Doyle & Brantley. No other house was near. They lived a mile and a half back, and had a negro to lodge in the little store house at night. I walked to the nearest house, one mile back, and got board with Mr. Ginn, at the Spear orange grove, where I stopped for the winter and enjoyed the balmy breeze. The Spear grove and the Hughey and Dr. Caldwull groves were then the only bearing ones in that district; now, in 1883, the country back is filled with groves in full bearing, and the town of Sanford, on the river, is growing rapidly, while Melonville has been abandoned.

In all my visits to Florida, I usually hunt the wildest and most thinly settled sections I can find. In 1878, when I made my first visit to Indian river, all who knew anything about the river tried to persuade me not to go, as they thought I would find too much roughing in the trip. Arriving at Titusville, at the head of the river, I found a good settlement and the best oranges in

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the state, but from a little below Titusville to the mouth of the river, 150 miles, I found but few settlers. Judge Paine, at St. Lucie, opposite the Indian river inlet, was the only one prepared to take a few boarders. This river is more than two miles wide, and runs parallel with the ocean. It is salt water, and is fed by inlets from the sea. It is very shallow, and the oyster reefs make it difficult to navigate, even by small sail boats. I go down in mail boats, usually with no other company than the mail carrier, who makes two trips a week the first one hundred miles. I make these rough-and-tumble , trips down the Indian river much more enjoyable to myself than most visitors do. I stop off at most of the cabins on the river — some of them only one-room houses — and stay until the next trip of the mail boat, when I move lower down the river, but only travel when wind and weather are favorable. I am one of the favored ones. All make me comfortable, no matter what the appearances may be. I often stop at cabins where I seldom see the face of any other persons during my stay than those of the household. This I enjoy, while others would be miserable for want of excitement and company.

The first winter I went down the Indian river I stopped at James Paine's, opposite the Indian river inlet. The second winter, the mail was sent down once a week to Jupiter and Lake Worth. I went down with the mail carrier, but when we got to the lighthouse at the foot of Indian river, the carrier had to pack the mail on his back, twelve miles, to Lake Worth postoffice. As I could not walk that distance, he left me and his boat at the lighthouse. The keeper told me the government did not allow him to take boarders, but

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I was welcome to stay until the mail carrier came back. By the time he returned I had become pretty well acquainted with the family, and they were willing for me to stay as a visitor; so I stopped the winter with them. In the spring, when I was about to leave, the lighthouse keeper and his wife invited me when I came back to come and stop with them as a visitor, but to bring no one with me. The family consisted of himself, his wife, two little daughters, and two sons younger. The little girls were good oarsmen, and would have me out on the water in their little boat, riding or fishing, more than half of my time. This gave me exercise without fatiguing me much. I am now at this date, 1883, in the eighty-eighth year of my age, and can take but little exercise without getting very tired.

But few visitors come down this river; when they do, they come in sail boats, and camp out or lodge on the boats. A few sportsmen come down hunting and fishing, and camp at the inlet, half a mile from the lighthouse. My little girls often take me down in their little row boat, and while I pay a visit to the sportsmen or visitors in camp, they take a romp on the beach and gather shells. From my window I can see large ships going south, one mile off. They never stop, there being no harbor; those going north are kept out by the gulfstream, and are never seen. I have visited my nearest neighbors at Lake Worth, twelve miles distant. It is an isolated place, and to get there you have to go out in the ocean twelve miles, and must have very favorable wind and weather. This lake and Jupiter are the most charming places for me that I have yet found. The lake is twenty miles long and one mile wide.

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The products of the lower part of Indian river and Lake Worth are cocoanuts, pineapples, bananas, tomatoes, and all other fruits common to that latitude, which grow luxuriantly. No orange groves are yet started. The people all have sail boats, and it costs them nothing but their own labor to get their products to the head of the river. It is then hauled over from Rock Ledge, three miles, or from Titusville, seven miles, to St. Johns river, and shipped north from Jacksonville. Since I first went down the river it has settled rapidly. Some from the north and west are erecting dwellings for winter homes.

When I am at my winter home at Jupiter inlet, with the family of the lighthouse keeper, the children are my constant companions. I want no other. I am good company for myself, and never get lonesome.

On one of my trips down Indian river in a sail boat, we were stopped by a fog, and had to stay in the boat all night. It was ten next morning before the fog raised, and twelve miles to the first cabin. I was crazy for a cup of coffee. The mail carrier said a Mr. Estes, a hermit, lived off the river, a half mile up a cove opposite to us, and thought that by going there we would get a lunch. On getting to the place I found a feeble old man, in a comfortable straw shanty lined with hides of the sea cow and skins of the panther, bear, and other wild animals. I told him I was hungry and had stopped to get a cup of coffee, and anything else he chose to let us have for breakfast. He said he had been sick several months, and was not yet able to wait on himself, and that he had been cared for by the lifestation keeper, as old a man as himself, who lived alone

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at the life-station on the sea side of the island, half a mile off. There were no other cabins nearer than twelve miles. These life stations are kept supplied with provisions to be used in cases of vessels being wrecked. He said by our help he could give us breakfast. We asked what help he wanted, and he said to make a fire, bring a bucket of water, put on the teakettle, and bring the meal and tray to where he was sitting, so that he could mix the meal for corn cakes. He then described what he could give us for breakfast, which was coffee, corn cakes, and fat bacon. He said that he had got too old to hunt deer, but when he wanted fresh meat he had fish and 'possum. When he mentioned 'possum he made my mouth water. He told how he caught 'possums. Setting a barrel by the side of his door, he would put a fish in it and lean a stick of wood against the barrel. The 'possum would climb up and jump in, but was too clumsy to get out. While breakfast was being prepared I took a stroll about the premises. He had a few oranges, bananas, a garden, and other fruits. Near by were two ridges of oyster shells three feet high and more than a hundred feet long; they looked like they had been placed there centuries ago. I liked his place and his simple manner of living, and thought I would like to live alone just as he did. I proposed to buy him out, but he would not sell. He would take no pay for our breakfast. This was about the only cabin I ever stopped at where I could spend no money. Perhaps it was because there were no children there.

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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
Persistent link to this document:
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