Chapter 5 Zeke’s Daughter Mollie and Jacob Bartow
This couple would have a daughter named Mollie who will be the matriarch of a huge clan and plays prominently in the Cracker Legacy of Lee County, Fl.
East of Ft. Myers, 30 miles or so, a little cattle village later named Ortona was born when Mollie Witt and Jacob Bartow cleared land for their ranch in 1853 and began living on their homestead. Jacob Bartow, Coleman and Matt’s friend Henry met with his Ma near Arcadia started his family and homestead there. He has a son named Jehu who likes to venture too far from home way out in the swamps, looking for adventure.
Not a large or muscular lad, in fact, he was scrawny, but one look at this boy in the woods tells you he is ready for what might come his way. Stealthily silent and still as a rock in a burlap bag shirt and well-worn trousers belted with a rope he patiently waits sitting on the ground with his back against a pine tree. Young Jehu Bartow is about 5 feet tall with a dark complexion and dark hair, sharp eyes and an impish grin. He looks natural to the woods as the tree he sat against, nose to the breeze and undoubtedly hearing all.
He worked hard last night cleaning around the farmyard and tending his families critters so he could take a morning stand deep in Ortona’s woodlands. He knew being in his hiding place before daybreak would blend him with the woods and make his success possible. His strategy seemed effective as Mockingbirds, Cardinals, and Blue Jays were flying around paying him no mind. His pine tree in the palmettos was all the cover he needed.
Over the rhythmic dew dropping on the ground from the trees Jehu strains to hear the stirrings of some dinner. He recognizes the mumble of a distant early riser. He smells the distinct smell of muddy hogs so they must close. Filling the sky, big flocks of birds leaving last night’s roost like Curlew, Iron Head, and Hooper Crane fly by overhead. He can hear Mosquito swarms thick as a horse blanket humming a quarter mile away as the heavy fog settled to the ground. An alert a fox squirrel barks “Bar, bar, bar” mixed with squeals from the hog clan nearby added to the steady plop, plop of the dewdrops tapping ground off the trees to dry in the morning sun.
Jehu chose this spot because there is so much sign of hog. While rabbit hunting a while back, Jehu and his father hunted a middle of dry season cypress head and discovered a great deal of hog-plowing and scat. When Jacob and Jehu came through the bull rush to the open lowland, it had a heavy green carpet of swamp clover.
Jehu said, “Pa, this place smells like hogs”
Jacob patted his son on the back and said ” I saw a little dirt kick up on the edge of the tree line yonder, see the dust over there where that hole is, they just ran through there when they heard us coming.” Jacob showed Jehu, bending down with one arm on his son’s shoulder as they both looked down Jacobs other arm, pointing into the trees.
“Now don’t you come out here without me, it is too thick and some big hogs are in the bunch that did all this digging” Jacob said to Jehu as he hugged him a little and stood back up.
Jehu looked at his dad and said “All right Dad.”
Jehu looked around and was astonished. The clearing looked as if it was a battleground cannon balled a hundred thousand times. If it was summer, this land would 2-4 feet under water. That is why the hogs preferred the moist ground full of crawdads for the eating. The hogs found the crawdad holes and dug or bulldozed with their snout and hooves when needed to catch the next crawdad. With those long piney-rooter snouts they could smell a grub or crawdad from a good distance.
Jehu snuck back on his own this morning contrary to what his dad had told him that day, this morning Jehu sat against his tree on the palmetto hammock in this big dry cypress head all by himself.
A sudden movement from the side alerts Jehu to a huge boar hog. The boar is so big and closes, maybe 50 steps and Jehu is afraid to breath. The muddy-faced boar stares coal black into Jehu’s eyes and it begins to do what it came to do. He is starting to root for some variety of grub or crawdad. A huge boar can “Plow” holes a foot deep with his snout and hooves and a half-acre every hour. Luckily, for Jehu this hog did not care for him at all. Jehu did not dare twitch; a big boar can kill ten dogs and maybe a hunter. Jehu thought it better to let boar pursue his breakfast than instigate a dash to the big tree to climb in.
Forgetting to breathe for a moment, Jehu slowly exhales to ease his burning lungs. The old 36-caliber musket or “Kentucky Rifle” is best suited for squirrel or rabbit but could kill any animal when properly aimed and shot. Jehu did not have a great deal of confidence in the musket for a bear or hog as big as a bear, no matter how proper he could shoot. The boar with long, shimmering black hair and bulging muscle is impressive. With a long nose and sword-sharp tusk, he looked like he could eat Jehu if he wanted. He is the biggest Piney Rooter he ever saw and what a tusky boar.
Jehu thought to himself, ”That boar would smell really bad in the pan, and besides I am glad he didn’t eat me, I am not shooting that old boy”. Jehu sat there smiling thinking about the boar. He thought “Dad would be mad if he seen me now sitting next to this big hog out here”
Wild pigs (especially boar) are as dangerous as any animal Jehu could hunt. Many animals he lived around could eat a person like bear, panther, and alligator or wild old bulls out in the thick woods stomping you into a mud hole and leaving you to the buzzards. Jehu’s dad had told him a few stories about evil bulls in the thick.
Animals hunt their dinner, sometimes in teams, sometimes alone, some in the day but most at night. He supposed the big boar ate what and when he wanted to, he was a champion hog. Jehu had heard tales of a whole family ate by alligators at Indian Hill. Old Mr. Weeks was ate by his hogs on his farm. Snakes are everywhere and where you least expect, one bite could kill. Danger lurked any place a person walked. Granny Gitoe said if you do not wear shoes, you would always be watching to see the snake before you step on him. Keeping all this in mind Jehu thinks it best to sit quiet and not bother the boar. He thought, “Maybe he will go away in a bit and I can go walk about looking for pigs, I just have to wait for the boar to move on”.
Jehu did not wait long to change his mind. He heard the pigs coming and when he saw the variety of hogs, he knew he had hit it right this morning. More swine begin congregating to his area and several are 50-pound pigs. This could be a great day. A 50 lb pig is the perfect pig. Bringing home two pigs would be cause for celebration. He would not hunt all day today, rabbits were easier to carry or clean but you had to walk more than a few miles to gather dinner sometimes. Those pigs would be small enough to drag a couple of miles easy and he should be home soon. He had to shoot him a few since they were so many available.
Jehu started thinking about all the eating he was going to do tonight. What would his Momma cook? Mama, Mary, and Mollie would have roast, bacon, pickled feet and enough to trade Mr. Johnson for some store goods. The lard can be cooked and then used to store venison in the larder barrel in the barn. Small pigs lard was sweet, not rank like an old boars and the venison would taste better. They would be eating good off of this morning’s hunt!
Granny Gitoe could come to dinner and stay until breakfast. Jehu loves the areas midwife and storyteller. Jehu had to get Granny when his sister Mary was born since Dad was herding cattle down the river to Punta Rassa. Jehu wanted to ride the range with his dad, but he stayed with his ma and sisters and helped run the farm.
Just a little more compelled to shoot two pigs with one shot, as he was to sit quiet; Jehu pulls back the hammer with a loud “CLICK”. This click made all the pigs grumble and stirred up. Jehu needs two pigs to stand close enough to line a shot through ones neck behind the head. High enough to hit the first pig in the top half of his first neck bone and hit the second in the face or heart or backbone. The pigs are moving around but seem intent on plowing for grubs. With a hissing snap and “KABLAM” his shot connects to the first pigs neck with a “THUMP” and as the second pig falls it worked just like Dad had said. Since the pigs were within 25 yards the power gave plenty enough steam to the too small rifle which was plenty of gun this day.
Jacob told him “I shoot through ones heart and sometimes hit the one next to him too with this .54 rifle. Everything has a way of working out.
Luckily the 50 pound pigs were small enough for the .36 caliber to penetrate both pigs, it probably would not have been nearly as effective on the giant boar that ran off with the rest of the pigs.
The remaining pigs scattered screaming, crashing through the brush away from Jehu as the smoke cleared. Jehu felt emboldened as he left his stand with a sharp knife and a deliberate attitude. Taking life is a solemn time. As he walks to the pigs to bleed them he can still hear the pack of hogs fussing among themselves nearby. He took a knee next to pig #2 and stuck his knife in the side of his neck behind the ear and jaw and found the juggler, 10 seconds and a few kicks and the pig is silent. Pig #1 is dead but to be certain he sticks his knife in its juggler to let the blood flow. Jehu is excited, he thought to himself with a smile “Mama will be proud”. Jehu’s excitement caused him to forget to reload his rifle and he had better calm down long enough to remember that.
Back at home, Jehu’s mother Mollie is doing the days washing. The river made life so easy; she could garden and water her fruit trees like Guava and Mulberry, Mollie even has citrus. She was so afraid of the big alligator population she instructed her brood, “Sometimes big gators can stalk you from the river but if you are careful to keep an eye open to them hiding underwater at the shore they can not sneak up on you. If you did not see them and walk too close you could disappear and never be heard from again. That ole gator will jump out to strike like lightning, drag you to the bottom of the river and drown you”.
Mollie had an instinctual need to look under foot and everywhere else danger could hide, especially the Caloosahatchee. It was an instinct rooted in the fear of making that fatal step. She passed this instinct on to her kids and they never got bit or ate, none yet. She kept them scared of anything they needed to be. If a person was to step on a moccasin, rattlesnake or alligator they were apt to die so be scared or be dead. She told them about the rattlesnakes in the palmetto and the moccasin in the water or mud. She told them about all the people that died from these perils that she knew and anything else that would make an impression.
Jehu’s family the “Bartows” are one of the pioneering families in Florida and for that his father Jacob is proud, but some of them were Indian fighters which did not set well with Jehu’s Grandpa Zeke. Jacob was born in Atlanta in 1821; Martha was born in 1827 to Zeke and Martha Witt. Jacobs’s dad Peter came to Lake Alfred in 1830 after serving a hitch at the fort there where the army forced the big Seminole city to disband and run south or be foot marched to Oklahoma at gunpoint.
She and her husband Jacob eventually homesteaded these 160 acres and had squatted darn near twenty years before then. It was a great home for a man with a wife and three kids to thrive. Jacob could be home sometimes, when he was not on the trail. Occasionally he could be gone a few months when they drive from Kissimmee and Okeechobee, to Estero’s Bahaia or Punta Rassa. In the early years of their marriage Mollie collected cattle alongside Jacob and sold them to her father Zeke or the Roberts clan.
After a few years they both had a hankering to raise a family so they squatted some land in Indian country near what was to become Ortona. At first, it was a place for her and Jacob to get away to, but later as the family needs grew it grew into a home.
The sun is pretty high in the clear sky and the chores are moving along without complexities. Mollie’s daughters Mary and Mollie are helping in the garden while they wait for dry cloths to fold and put away. Mollie’s son Jehu is out rabbit hunting and due home by dinner. Jehu is more of a man by the minute, which means thinking to do what needs to be done, without Mama’s chiding. The girls are 6, 10 and Jehu is 12 years-old.
Mary asked her mother from across the farmyard “Ma, do we have to dress the collards today?”
Mollie answered back “I think you should wait until we water tomorrow, it is too dry” Mary smiled and shook her head in agreement thinking to herself “Good, I don’t want to smell that manure today nor do I look forward to it tomorrow”. Mary, named after her grandmother was a good daughter and sister.
Mary was a dark version of her mother, you could see Indian traits with her dark skin, her mother and sister had a lighter shade of skin but the same traits. Mollie an impish 6 year old squealed ” Momma, there is a big grasshopper eating the collards, come look!”
Mary went over to her baby sister and cried “Yew, its big and yellow, Momma it’s a nasty looking bug”
The three womenfolk stared down at the bright orange grasshopper, it was 3 inches long and had left a trail of destruction on the collards newest leaves. Mollie did the motherly duty and kicked it off the leafs then stomped it in the dirt assuring it had ruined its last leaf.
The girls both groaned “Yewee” while a couple of miles away Jehu started heading home.
Jehu waits for the hogs to bleed out and reloads the .36 cal musket. To fire his rifle again he had several steps to take to prepare the rifle to fire. First he had to check the mark to show the unloaded position on his ramrod down the barrel and see his scratch he marked at the exposed exit point. Then he had to load the right amount powder for his shot, he made that load at home and wrapped it in paper so he did not load from his powder flask because it could blow up with a spark . He would give the side of the barrel a sharp tap with the hand to set the powder. He had musket balls in greased cloth patches so they would slide down without a spark when he used his ramrod. In short, 8 to 10 inch steps, using a smooth motion he set them home. Then he had to make sure the ball was seated on top of the powder to ensure he was ready. This took about a minute usually, but today it went pretty quick because he feared the hogs might rush him.
To the east, he can hear the family of hogs grumbling and squealing about fifty yards into the Bull Rush Grass. That big boar and the others are squealing and snorting. It was a great shot and now a good time to get home. He takes a quick look into the trail through the Bull Rush and spots that big boar. He looks right into Jehu’s eyes from a mere 20 steps away. He has black mud all over his face with his eyes and tusk beaming through. Young Jehu mischievously smiles, causing a twinkle in his youthful brown eyes. This boy is dark and tanned with both his White man and his Indian characteristics prominent, just like everything else in the state becoming unique to Florida, a blend of White man and Indian.
Jehu grabs a rope from around his pants to tie a pig to each end, and drags the pigs with the rope around his waist. This leaves his hands free for his gun. He leans forward and starts to drag. The rest of the hogs stay behind as Jehu leaves the woods while their squeals fade from earshot.
Across the Roberts pasture Jehu goes home dragging his prizes of a day‘s hunt. The Roberts are cousins and the big cattle family here. Jehu’s father worked for this family and ranch. His father Jacob had known the Roberts up in Polk County when he was young and had worked for them a long time. Someday Jehu will become a prosperous cattleman and builds a big herd near Lee County.
As Jehu returns home his slender mother wearing a faded blue dress and grey streaked black hair in a bun is hanging laundry in the farmyard; his sisters dressed like their mother were in the garden weeding. Over in the corner of the yard stands a young bull tied to an oak tree. This bull lives on goats milk, grain fed, and he will feed them like royalty. Once about every year and a half they slaughter their yard bull and start over with a new calf. Although beef is plentiful, it is easy to barter with fresh meat when it is was farm raised, hand fed stock. Jehu’s father Jacob remembered early days when there were more maverick cattle than people hereabouts. Folks back then preferred venison to scrub cattle, wild hog being the mainstay. Young Jehu is excited to clean his hogs. He dragged them to the barn, which is next to the well-expanded shotgun shack they live in.
At the entrance of the barn is a post with a block and tackle and a wooden spreader hung to clean game from the wild or the farmyard fare. Jacob stores his tools, supplies, goods for his yard animals and horse in the barn. About fifty steps into the trees at the edge of the yard is a smokehouse the size of modern day refrigerator for their smoked meats and fish. Living on the Caloosahatchee River supplied plenty of mullet, gator, turtle, deer and hog to smoke. The “Sea Cow” is a daylong job when Jacob and Jehu decide to harvest one from the abundance of the river. Sea Cow meat is composed of fat and meat swirled in layers like a giant Danish roll and separating the two is tedious butchering, but vital if you want decent steaks.
His mother waves him over yelling “What you got there boy?”
Jehu’s reply was a happy “We have 2 pigs just big enough to be worth killing”.
Jehu’s mother Martha smiled and patted down her dress and thought “I don’t like him hog hunting by himself, those tusky varmints will cut him up and eat him,” She says, “Jehu , you got a lot of work there son. Where did you find those pigs?
Jehu said “Back by Robert’s pasture”
“Don’t want you in the swamps tracking hog and cow son, they are too dangerous for you all alone,” Mollie told her son, and she continued, “You better get a drink of water here” as she pointed to the pump “You have been working mighty hard this morning boy”.
While he worked the pitcher pump Dad got from Tampa Jehu was all smiles and no stories. His mother persisted so Jehu told how he was walking in the woods looking for rabbits and saw those pigs.
He smiled at his Ma and said “This big bunch of hogs come running out of the woods and I shot one and killed two, and didn’t shoot-up any meat either”
He had a look of being up to something but his Ma could not imagine what, she just knew he was up to something. She nodded her head and patted him on the back as she went to the garden. Back at the garden Mollie and the girls talked about the hogs and if Jehu was behaving and what Mr. Johnson would trade for a small pig. Little Mary wished for some cotton cloth for a dress for her that was printed with Daisy and Pansies, Mary wanted some soft cloth she found in light blue which would be fine. Everybody will get a little something and it would be exciting for them.
He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and went back to work. Jehu drags the pigs to the spreader bar and winched on up and tied it off. He cut the first pigs back feet near the Achilles and strung him up adjusting the rope to the correct height and proceeds to skin him. The pigs are small and his freshly stone sharpened knife made for an easy butchering. After skinning, Jehu opens up the pig and cautiously removes his guts, careful not to break the bladder or anything else placing the guts in his twenty-gallon tub to dump away from the barn. After cleaning both pigs, Jehu uses a bucket of water to wash the meat off real good so his Mother may approve and enable her to clean it again when cooking so it would not be gritty or hairy.
It was well past noon when Jehu was done. He carries the pigs into the house in halves and mother is going to clean and quarter the pigs and go to town with one pig in quarters to sell in Ft. Myers to the little towns butcher near the fort. The Union Army had a company there of all black soldiers and fresh meat was very popular. Jehu built a hot fire for the smoke house and put two shoulders and a ham on the wire shelf. The smoker was taller than Jehu and about 3’x3′ square with the fire in the bottom the ham will slow cook and smoke as the fire burns down in the smoker. When he gets back it will be seasoned.
He then takes a ham and back strap to Granny Gitoe to trade for a kid (goat). Granny told him she had too many goats and he knows she wants some pork. As he grabs a ham and a back strap off the kitchen table where his mother is wrapping up her butcher work he says “I want to go to Granny’s and trade a ham for one of her new goats, that would come in handy next month”
Martha smiles as Jehu leaves and waves him goodbye, already looking back to her work. He walks about two miles in a hour through open pasture west to Granny Gitoe. Jehu arrives at Granny’s home and enters through the west side of her 20-acre grove and farm. Granny had the river in the back and a spring where her cottage is. The grove consists of ten-year orange grafted on wild lemon. A friend in Ft. Myers gave her cuttings from the groves and some of the trees she has in her grove. Desoto’s men spit orange seeds that 300 years later a evolved to a sour citrus tree that grew wild and independent of man’s cultivation known as” Florida’s wild lemon”.
As he enters Granny’s farmyard gate Jehu makes a stop at the garden where he tries a bean off the pole and a guava from a tree in the garden providing shade and then had a big collard leaf, which was all very good as he could forgive the collards bitterness knowing the young leaves would be mild. He stepped away from the rows of the garden on the path to the house front door and stopped at the mulberry tree for two red ones and a few purples.
He knocks on the door and Granny yells, “Come in Jehu”.
Jehu says “Granny I have a ham to trade for a kid and some back strap to roast for you”
Granny smiled and said, “By the looks of that ham I would say this is a small pig, lets throw the back strap in and stew it with the collards”.
Jehu said,” Yes ma’am, I shot both in the neck and head with one shot, they died fast and didn’t suffer a bit, are you going to fry the back strap chunks in the pan?”.
Granny said, “Yes, do you want a piece”
Jehu smiled shaking his head yes and said “Thank-you “.
Granny told Jehu the kids from the new round of goat births were just old enough to leave the farm and accepted his offer with a “Let’s get this cooking”
He talks while Granny starts staking her ham out saving the rest for soup. Jehu said “I seen those pigs standing there and shot em quick, I was so good I surprised myself”
Granny laughed and chided “You ought to be humble; knowing you killed both with one shot tells a person that you shot good”
Granny loved Jehu; he was such a good boy and was growing fast. She had “Irish Potatoes” in the yard and collards to cook with this ham. When Granny takes those collards and cooks a meaty hambone and some potatoes, Wow that is good stuff. She will brown the steaks and drop them in and it will complete the meal.
Jehu said, “Granny, your collards smell so good in the garden I tried a piece, It wasn’t bad bitter at all”
Granny grinning a big toothless smile says, “I seen you out there boy, you took a big ole piece, I seen that”
Jehu asked, “Would you like me to go dig some of your potatoes and pick a mess of greens?”
Granny said, “Well my young man Jehu, that would be mighty fine and if you was to wash them while you are out there it would be good. You keep an eye peeled for my ground rattlers as they are apt to be hiding in the squash and don’t move my vines too much, it isn’t good for them”
Silently smiling Jehu headed to the garden because Granny G was fixing to cook some collards and ham, ham from a 50 lb pig. While smiling he thought to himself, “Maybe she will roast a goat when we tire of hog this week” Jehu went to the squash and there was a ground rattler under a big squash leaf.
Jehu wondered “Was he getting shade from the sun or hiding from the hawks, maybe there was little hopping mice for him to ambush in the garden?”. Jehu kept an eye on the snake and shared the garden with him respecting his sometimes lethal venom.
Granny’s long, white haired ponytail is black and gray today due to heating her washing water over a lighter knot fire but her eyes and beauty smiled at Jehu through the soot. Who would have thought this slender, five foot tall Indian woman could be so strong. Granny keeps 20 acres of grove and helps the area with its mid-wife needs. Sometimes Granny smokes a corncob pipe claiming it was “Rabbit Tobacco” but right now, she is intent on the Ham Stew she would cook with the ham steaks she does not eat right away with Jehu, while they wait for the stew. It will be seasoned with the collards being cooked together with them. She thought, “Those leftovers with some fresh chunked potatoes would be the best”. She reached in her cool box ( no ice, just out of the sunshine through the window and safe from bugs)and took out the mornings goat milk. She helped the areas new parents feed their babies “Goats milk” including Jacob when he was old enough. Luckily she always had an extra nanny goat for them to get their milk. Granny watched Jehu and his sisters play and grow all their years.
Granny was about 70 years old and very wise. Wise with the wisdom you get from suffering the good life. Granny suffered pioneering, as natural as it was. Granny resisted marriage and had tolerated few men once leaving home. Men stunk worse than the cattle and were not real fun to be around if they owned you so, she stayed single. Granny liked the life she had, quite a few babies called her Granny and she was pleased. Grannies mother was Cherokee, her father was Portuguese missionary. When they died Granny was raised by her Grandmother Whidden near Arcadia.
She worked for the Roberts off and on for 50 years. She used to work in the house for her grandma and eventually worked as a cook on the drives to Kissimmee or Tampa. She had a place of her own in Ortona and stopped caring for the “Chuck Wagon” a long time ago. Now she is free to raise her goats and citrus, fruit and oaks in the pasture and along her cabins road. Of course, you can still find some wild cattle about but Granny has steered clear of mavericks this long she probably will never have any.
Jehu inquires about the Indians she has in her family and she tells him to care for his family, neighbors and respect the animals and he would be a good Indian too! Jehu is a dark looking breed and makes any Indian Grandma proud. Some of the kids made Granny lonesome for motherhood although she mothered anyone she saw needing it all of her life. Jehu was at her door a few times a week and he was the closest she had.
By 1875 cattle was the established state business. Old cowboy clans like the Roberts and Whiddens, King and Smiths were very established operations and each ran their particular range in south Florida by then. With the railroads expanding and phosphorous mining and tourism on the rise the state economic composition was bound for change. Over 125 years later, none has outlasted the cattle industry.