Pioneering South Santa Rosa County
In the late 1800's a lot of families in the southern portion of Santa Rosa County. They raised large herds of either cattle or hogs. Annually the calves were branded with the owner's mark. Then the steers were selected and driven to market. Usually the boys of the families drove these herds of hogs or cattle to Milton to sell.
Joseph R. Broxson lived on Yellow River near where Highway 87 now crosses. The hogs or cattle drive was done in two stages. The first day they made it as far as the Broxson Place where the livestock were penned and the boys were fed and given lodging. The following day the hogs were driven on into East Milton and sold to market. The money that was obtained from the sale of cattle or hogs was used to buy such things as salt, flour, baking powder, and cloth for making garments.
On the trip home the boys would come across several gopher holes. In The North West Florida region a gopher is a species of land turtle. These turtles burro into the soft sand similar to how a rabbit does. Today this turtle, the gopher is considered endangered and it is illegal to catch or posses one.
The boys would catch these gophers and take them back to Milton and sell them. They usually sold for ten or fifteen cents each, depending on their size and weight. Folks back then and even today if they could get them, would make soup or gopher dumplings from them. The boys brought a ox and a cart with them to transport these gophers back to Milton.
There were several ways to catch gophers. One way is pitting. Strips of bark were peeled from a pine tree and the edges were put together to form a cylinder. This was put into the ground to make a pit. When the gopher came out in the early morning to feed on the green tender grass, it would fall into the pit. In the winter gophers hibernate so the best way to catch them was with a long piece of wild grape vine with a hook on the end of it. The gophers sometimes would burro up to fifteen feet into the ground, so they would run this vine down into the gopher hole and hook the gopher under it's shell then pull it to the surface.
When the boys were older they sawed logs and fastened them with logging chains under tall wheel carts. Using these carts, the boys transported the logs down to the rivers and creeks. From there the logs were floated down river to East Bay to be towed by steam boats to mills near Milton. One was at Bagdad ( a small town on the south side of Milton) and the other two were at Bay and Robinson points.
Trees were cut and burned to clear land for farming. Stumps were burned out by digging under the roots and starting fires. It usually took several days and a lot of wood to burn out a green stump. Some corps were planted around stumps.
Wild deer and turkey were plentiful. Hunting added a form of recreation to a more or less monotonous life. The hunt brought food as well as fun for young boys and even girls. Dogs were used to flush deer out of swamps and thick under brush where they laid during the day.
Women of that time generally stayed home and attended to cooking, washing clothes, and attending to small children. Single mothers usually washed linins and clothes for people for money and took in boarders. Children were given chores to do by the time they were four years old. There was a school but a lot of young children had to quit as low as the third grade to help out with the family. The younger girls hung out the wet linens and clothes on clothes line after their mothers or older sisters washed them. Young boys chopped wood and stacked it up, burned trash, and would draw water from dug wells or from a picture pump. Boiling hot water was used as a disinfectant. Clothes, dishes, bed linens and eating utensils were all sterilized with hot water. Lye soap was also used as a cleaner and to bathe with. It was made in the home by boiling ash from a wood stove with pork lard in water. This process made a soap that got clothes clean and dissolved grease from crockery, dishes, and their eating utensils.
Females of all ages wore long sleeve dresses that went all the way down to their ankles. They pulled their hair back and tied it in a ball on the back top of their head. This kept it out of the way of what ever they were doing. It was also a lot cooler and more comfortable in the summer time since there were no electricity for air conditioning or electric fans. Washing clothes and linen were done in oak or galvanized wash tubs. Women would scrub the clothes or linen against a metal scrub board framed with oak hard wood. Then the clothes or linen were hung out on a cotton spun clothes line.
Even though woods stoves were available and a lot of families had them, still a few families were quite poor and could not afford to buy one so they cooked with large cast iron pots called Dutch ovens inside fire places or over outdoor open fires. These Dutch ovens were hung from tripods over fires. Flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder or yeast, salt and other spices that was not grown at home were purchased at a general store. One in particular was owned by my grandmother's
( Bessie Bengtson Boswell ) uncle, Frank Nelson. There was also a commissary at the turpentine still which was located in Holley. Oysters were harvested from East Bay during the winter months or months with the letter R in them. Fish such as flounder, mullet, red fish, sheep head, black drum, speckled and white trout were also caught out of East Bay. Catfish, bream ( blue gill ) and bass were caught in the rivers, creeks, and ponds. All vegetables such as turnips collards, mustard greens, sweat corn, rutabagas, egg plants, squash, peas of all kinds, okra, green beans, and others were all grown at home in gardens. Some families raised livestock, hogs chickens cows, and goats. Milk was gotten from cows or goats. Families would trade or purchase these items from each other. Wild game, deer, turkeys, hogs, squirrels, possums, raccoons, gopher turtles, and water fowl were a common food source. Basically you had to grow, catch, or kill it in order to eat.
Homes were framed from solid two by four lumber. Some were log framed with logs from tall yellow pine trees. The lumber was purchased from mills in the area and red brick for fire places were brought in on barges pushed by steam boats from Mobile, Alabama or Pensacola. Prior to 1900 nails were hand forged by local blacksmiths and resembled cut nails used today for fastening wood to concrete.
These homes were insulated with just about anything from old newspapers to boiled Spanish moss. The outer walls were planked with one by six to twelve inch planks nailed vertically side by side. The joints were covered by one inch by two inch baton strips then sealed with oil based paint. The roofs were covered with wide planks and sealed with hand made cedar shingles. All these homes were heated with fire places or pot belly stoves.
Window glass was framed in heavy wood frames and had counter weights installed in the walls to make opening easier. They also had storm shudders in case of real bad weather.
Furniture such as dinning tables, chairs, chest of draws, china cabinets, hat stands, cedar chests, end tables, and coffee tables were all made by local craftsmen. Few families could afford comfort chairs but those who could brought them from Milton or Pensacola. Bed frames, head and foot boards were also made by local craftsmen. However some were purchased in Milton or Pensacola and were made from iron. Families that could not afford to buy mattresses would pull large amounts of Spanish moss from trees and boil it in large cauldrons. This would kill the red bugs ( chiggers ) that thrived in the moss and also would make it soft and fluffy when it dried. The folks then would string long lengths of cotton spun line parallel about three feet a part and drape the wet moss across the line to dry. When dried women took long sheets of linen and spread it out. They placed a thick layer of moss evenly over half of the linen. Then they pulled the other half over top and sewed around the edges. Last the women finished by quilting it together therefore creating a home made mattress.
Men of that time mainly wore collarless long sleeve cotton shirts. A lot of these shirts their wives sewed together from fabric bought in the general store. Some were even made from flour sacks. Trousers were black or gray and were held up with suspenders. Wide brim hats made of straw or felt served two purposes, one they shaded the face and neck from the sun and two, if a man had to work in the forest cutting timber or harvesting pine resin, these wide brim hats kept ticks from falling down their backs.
There were some farming, but most raised livestock or fished. John Victor Lonnie Anderzon, a Swedish immigrant, Fished the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He eventually had two of his own boats, the Serena and the Genoa. The Wells family raised hogs and caught gophers to sell. William Miller, late Brigadier General Miller of C.S.A., operated a sawmill at Miller Point across East Bay and to the south Frederick A. Axelson had a ship yard. There was also a turpentine still at Holley. African Americans sold pine resin to this still and used the money to buy fish from the locals before their long journey home.
Single mothers of that era really had it harsh. Elizebeth Bengtson, ( Lizzie ) eldest surviving child of John Victor Lonnie Anderzon and Caroline Frances Harvell Anderzon married Captain Andrew Bengtson. He left her with five children and sailed back to Sweden to never return. The children's names were Oscar, ( Later was involved in law enforcement in Fort Walton Beach, Fl.) Will, ( Retired in the early sixties after owning and running Pop's Bar & Grill, Cold Beer on Tap was a sign he had out front of his establishment in downtown Fort Walton Beach, Fl. ) Albert, ( Retired from Dairy business, farm was in Cantonement, Fl. ) Bessie, ( Married Bernie Boswell from Bagdad Fl. And lived in Wright Fl. ) and Annie ( Died at age two when clothes caught on fire and in fear inhaled heat and burned her throat and lungs.) Lizzie remarried a man named John White and had two more boys, John and Tom. John died in 1944 from Tuberculosis and Tom was a private night patrol and security officer in Fort Walton Beach, Fl. up until 1965 when he died of cancer. John White Sr. died in 1909 while eating chicken gizzards when Tom was only a few months old. Lizzie was left with six children to raise. The oldest, Oscar had quit school after the third grade to help his mother then
not long after John Sr. died he got a job as a Santa Rosa County Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff John Henry Harvell. Rumor was that John Henry Harvell was Oscar Bengtson's biological father. At one time Lizzie did want to marry John H. Harvell but her mother would not let her because she said he was too close to kin. The other Two boys worked when they could and Bessie had to quit school in the fifth grade to help her mother with the two younger boys. Not only did Lizzie do laundry for pay for folks, she also cooked and took on boarders. Lizzie had cooked meals for the workers who built the draw bridge that connected Camp Walton to Oakaloosa Island. Where Brooks Bridge is today. At times it was so hard that Bessie and Will went around with large linen flour sacks picking up box shell turtles and Lizzie would make soup out of them.
Oxen were used a lot to pull heavy loaded carts and large timber out of the forest and swamps. Horses and mules pulled wagons, carts, and buggies. To what my grandmother ( Bessie Bengtson Boswell ) told me, the first automobile she ever saw was the one the circuit preacher of Holley Methodist Church, Brother George Miller came driving up in when she was sixteen years old. Approximately 1918.
In those days in these small communities, people were very poor and churches were very small. One single church could not support a permanent minister. So one pastor had at least four churches he pastored . These Pastors were called Circuit Preachers. Folks that were poor and did not have a lot would pay their tighthes by giving these preachers fresh vegetables, baby pigs, or chickens. The folks of these churches took turns putting their preacher up on a Saturday night and having him at their house for Sunday Dinner.
Most all of your denominations, Baptist, Methodist, and others had these Circuit Preachers. The preacher that came to Holley Methodist was George Miller and he lived in Dorcus, Fl. He came to Holley every fourth Sunday.
Information for this article was obtained from newspaper clippings from The Navarre Beach Blanket. These articles were written by William J. Wells. Other information was obtained from hours of sitting at our kitchen table as a child and young man listening to my grandmother, Bessie Bengtson Boswell tell me how it was growing up in Holley Fl. She was born in Holley November 9, 1902 in Holley and God took her home on April 24, 1985 at Humana Hospital in Wright Fl. Her mother Elizabeth ( Lizzie ) Anderson Bengtson White was born in Holley in the year 1871. Her mother, Caroline Frances Harvell was born in Holley ( East Bay ) on October 22, 1854. Both Caroline and daughter Lizzie married Sweds. Caroline married John V. L. Anderzon, who was born in Sweden in 1839, came to Pensacola after stowing away on a ship in 1853. Lizzie married Captain Andrew Bengtson who owned and sailed a triple mask schooner. Latter after he sailed back to Sweden to never return, Lizzie remarried John White from Robertsdale, Alabama.
Joseph Alan Boswell