The Heritage Collection

The Sunny (?) South: Interesting Florida Letter.

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, FLA.,
March 12, 1890.

Leaving home on Christmas day, which in old St Clairsville was ushered in by the roar of Jackson crackers and the hurrying and scurrying and the hilarity of the small boy, which may not have been in honor of our leaving, but simply, I suspect, for the fun of the thing. All the same, whatever it was for, they enjoyed it, and so did we.

Thinking it not safe to linger in the North longer this year, before starting South, lest there might come a sudden cold snap, which would render travel more unpleasant, and besides close the river, which would prevent us making the journey by our favorite route. As it turned out, however, there need have been no hurry on that account. No severe freeze came. The river had no notion of solidifying–the water persisting in maintaining the liquid form, and plenty of it, all winter.

Following the windings and twistings of the two rivers–the beautiful and the great–on the bosoms of which our steamer plowed its way for two thousand miles: pulling and blowing it went, and in fourteen days from Wheeling, landed us in New Orleans, where we tarried eleven days. There had been no winter there–just a continuation of summer, warm and dry–with plenty of mosquitoes. It is a great satisfaction to one to lie in bed at night under a mosquito bar and listen to the little rascals holding a concert outside, to buzz in your ear and sponge their supper off you, and can’t succeed, but have to give it up and leave you to your slumbers.

Arrived here on the 22d of February, stopping over one day at Pensacola on our way from New Orleans, just four weeks after leaving home. Found most of our old friends here, occupying cottages around the little round lake (or big spring), or having quarters at the hotels. Also found the season at least one month in advance of other years–peach and other fruit trees in bloom–garden vegetables well on the way, and some kinds ready for the table; ripe strawberries, for instance.

But at this writing a great change has taken place in the weather. The unprecedented mild winter that has prevailed about all over the United States up to the first of this month, has been broken in upon by very cold snaps, snows or blizzards all over the country. The cold wave from the North reached here on the 1st, and by the morning of the 2d, ice had formed to the thickness of one inch. I never saw it equalled here at any time of year. As a result, the early growth of vegetation was completely killed. The young leaves of trees and garden vegetables generally were crisped and leveled to the ground, which also was frozen to the depth of an inch or two. A banana tree in my yard, the leaves of which were the size of a large fan, shared the same fate, together with the China tree and fig. The fruit it is thought, is generally killed. Even the oats, which was about a foot high, has gone with the rest. The citizens here don’t seem to mind it much. They say there is still ample time to raise vegetables by replanting, and besides the freeze will kill the fever germ and malarial influences, and thereby insures them from the outbreak of fevers and other epidemics the coming summer: for say they, what is the loss of a few early vegetables and fruits compared to the loss of health? It is remarkable how fond the Southern people generally are of cool weather, even to freezing, l believe they like it better than Northern people do when they come here with the object of escaping cold. Doubtless their fondness for cool weather arises mainly from the terror they have of epidemics breaking out in the summer following an unusually warm winter.

In a private note from the editor received a few days ago, the question was asked, “Can’t you find something to write a letter about to THE CHRONICLE?” Well, I had not thought of inflicting My effusions on the readers of THE CHRONICLE this winter, and therefore had not coined anything about which to write–and having written so much other winters about our journeys to this Southland, descriptive of the country and our surroundings, that now I scarce know what best to write that will not be a rehash of something formerly written, and that might prove of interest to the reader. But as the uppermost topic, perhaps, and especially down here, has been for some days, about the cold snap that was long delayed, but came at last, I thought it might be wen to commence this letter by giving a chapter about the weather. A lady here last winter made some remark about the weather in a company of three or four others, to which a gentleman replied, “I’m glad you introduced that subject, for it is one in which we can all engage,” at which the lady felt very much insulted, taking him to mean that he thought that the subject was the one best suited to her capacity. It is not in this sense I speak of the weather. I will state farther, while I am at it, the cold snap of Saturday night of the 1st inst., beat the record in this section. The oldest inhabitant says it was an unprecedented cold wave for the 1st of March. It was unquestionably the coldest bit of weather that has fallen to this part of the country’s portion at any time in several years. It brought the first freeze since the opening of the winter season just past. The thermometer took a terrible plunge on that Saturday. The sky was cloud-scattered and a high north wind blew strong and steady. The cold wave came in with a vengeance, and it continued to grow colder every hour Saturday night. Sunday morning, the 2d, everything exposed to the weather was frozen stiff. Following the warm winter season the freeze hit as hard and hurt as badly on the 1st of March this year as it would the 1st of April following an ordinary winter season. In the middle and southern portion of Alabama, just north of us, many orchards were in full bloom, the fruits were green and the flowers were blooming. The spring-time had come. and the people were led to think that winter had given the country the go-by until another season. But you can’t sometimes [always] tell about these things. There is one thing certain, however, if you were feeling a little smothery up North on account of the too mild winter up there, I fancy had you been down here the first week of March you would have gotten cooled off. We enjoyed the snap first-rate. It gave us a chance for bright blazing pitch pine wood in an open fire-place, around which we could sit of evenings and mornings and chat and wonder how it is up at St. Clairsville, and gas and gossip and discuss the lectures, readings, concerts, &c., heard at the Tabernacle, for the
CHAUTAUQUA ASSEMBLY
is now on, and in full blast for the last three weeks. Among the brilliant things recorded in the history of this institution, this Assembly is perhaps an exception, and has been spoken of as one of the most royally filled with interesting and entertaining things. The audiences are usually large, filling the Tabernacle, which is 112 x 100 feet in dimensions. Chancellor J. H. Vincent was here over a week, and was during his stay the chief attraction. He succeeded admirably in carrying the large audience with him every time. It was fully en rapport. I think he excelled himself. Of fine personal presence, musical voice, rich and full, magnetic style, thoughtful and scholarly in the matter of his lectures, the method that of the orator–blending the elegance of Phillips, the strength of Storrs, and the wit and dramatic power of Gough. He was interesting here not only as a great man and eloquent lecturer, but as the originator of the Chautauqua movement and idea, and the manifold plans and self-help which the name suggests. He delivered three lectures–“Tom and his Teacher,” “That Boy,” and “That Boy’s Sister,” besides preaching on two Sundays. It would be impossible to describe them.–Sufficient to say that all who heard them delight in the memory of many precious things.

There have been many other good things and brilliant lectures, among them two by the bright young preacher and scholar, C. C. Albertson, of Goshen, Ind., and two by the witty and accomplished Dr. Geo. L. Spinning, of Cincinnati, O., Dr. J. W. Lee’s fine eulogy on Henry W. Grady, and the art lectures (chalk talks) by Chas. E. Stokes. Delightful music was furnished by Rogers’ magnificent band and orchestra. These with normal class lessons, open air concerts, camp fires, music on the water, and most delightful fellowship, the time passes pleasantly away. Sam P. Jones comes on the 19th and 20th. Other good things are in store for those who come before the close which is on the 27th of this month.

THE MURDER
of W. R. Saunders, Deputy U. S. Marshal, of which the reader has doubtless heard, having occupied the attention of and been discussed by Congress a week or two ago, was one of the most cold blooded and high handed that ever disgraced any community. Mr. Saunders was a citizen of this place and was the editor of a paper here called the DeFuniak Signal. I have been acquainted with him for the last four years. He was a very genial and social fellow, and a man of some ability. Was elected to represent this county in the State Legislature three years ago, serving two terms. He was with us on the car coming from Pensacola on the way to this place. In talking together he gave a good many items pertaining to the people of Florida, and some of his experience in the Legislature, and also as Deputy U. S. Marshal. Seeing little Ada and Jennie on a seat a little way off, reading, he said to me: ” How noticeable it is, the difference between the little Yankee girls, when one sees them down here, and the native little Cracker girls of this region. There are your little nieces with their books reading, while of our native little girls of their ages, not more than one in twenty can read at all.” He then went to them and chatted awhile: asked them about their school, and what they were studying: told them what all they would see at DeFuniak, and what they must do, and what they must get their uncle to do, and hoped they would have a good time. He seemed to be very much impressed with the gross ignorance and want of moral principle among the masses of the South; spoke of the danger that often surrounded him in the discharge of his duties as Deputy Marshal.

His murder took place near Quincy, a little town near Tallahassa, in broad day light. The circumstances connected with the killing, as I learned them from the best sources, were in this wise: It seems he and his chief were at the hotel in the village of Quincy. During the day the hotel proprietor and another man, whose name I can not now recall, who had been indicted and placed under bond for fraudulent voting, invited the Marshal and Deputy Saunders to take a ride with them out to some point in the country.–The Marshal declined going for some reason. Saunders said he would go any way, and they went. When about three miles out, near a stream, one of the men (the one under bond) jumped out of the buggy, drew a revolver, presented it at Saunders, saying: “You have had your time; now I am going to have mine,” and then immediately fired the fatal shot, and as Saunders fell fired another shot into his body. The man then ran into the forest. Saunders died almost immediately, simply having time to say, “Take me back home to die with my family.” The other man drove back to the village with the dead body. This is the statement substantially of the transaction made by the man on his return. There was no other witness present.

A great deal could be said not creditable to parties more or less connected with this tragedy, but I forebear.

The body of Saunders was brought home to his distracted family, and was buried in the cemetery at this place.

There is no use in ignoring the fact that there is an under strata of deep, dark, and vengeful opposition to the enforcement of law, which too many people wink at; and when crime is committed too many papers are silent on the subject, in denouncing the crime and endeavoring to make law-breaking odious, and of making an effort to mould public sentiment in the line and with the intent of breaking down the opposition to the enforcement of law. Especially is this the case when there is any politics in the matter, and it don’t suit their side; hence the frequency in the South of crimes similar the one detailed.

SAILING ON THE SPRING.
It may sound strange to speak of sailing on a spring, but it is being done down here. Nowhere that I ever heard of is there a spring on which a yacht of fair size can be sailed, except here on our DeFuniak Spring. The reader must recollect that the spring is one mile in circumference and sixty feet deep in the centre. A yacht has been bought and placed upon it this year in place of a little steamer formerly used. Parties are out the yacht nearly all the time for pleasure, sailing all around and across and cutting all kinds of figures and evolutions, which, together with the rowing of skiffs hither and yon, make the scene quite a lively one. The band frequently gives concerts at night on the water, being towed along on a large float, whilst all around the border of the spring is dotted beacon lights, made of pitch-pine knots. The people assemble all around, listening the charming music and breathing the odor from the burning resinous pitch pine, which is life and health.

At no time during the seven winters spent in the South have I seen New Orleans and the country around here look so beautiful as they did this winter up to the time of the freeze.

Now I will say, as the boy at school used to say in winding up his effort at making a speech, “with these few remarks I will close.” H. C. W.