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Bertha Palmer Adds Cowboy to her Estate

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Chicago Journal
Photo Credit: Sarasota Times newspaper
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Bertha Palmer Adds Cowboy to her Estate photo

The Chicago Journal has the following article on “Big Bill” Ferguson, who has taken charge of Mrs. Potter Palmer's ranch along both sides of the Myakka River: A cowboy chaperon has been called as Cerberus for the citrus groves and white-sanded beaches upon Mrs. Potter Palmer's small southern kingdom at Osprey, Fla.

His name is “Big Bill” – no kin of Chicago's mayor. In his chaps and moccasins, this Indian-eyed protector for the properties of Chicago society's dowager empress stands 6 feet 3.

Possibly the correct way in which to introduce to the reading public “Big Bill” and his recently acquired investiture of this portfolio from Mrs. Palmer, would seem to be through the medium of a crisp little news item. This scarcely would belong to the society column, even though it concerns a minister plenipotentiary to certain branches of his sovereign's realm.


Will Be Tutor In Woodcraft

Yet here's the item:

“W.H. Ferguson of Central Point, Oregon, known to his intimate friends as “Big Bill,” will pass a portion of the winter season in Osprey, Fla. Mr. Ferguson is proceeding thither to act as woodcraft tutor to the five grandchildren of Mrs. Potter Palmer, and to perfect them in this primitive art of being true Americans. A liberal salary will repay Mr. Ferguson for his trouble.”

“As is well known in the West, Mr. Ferguson is a cattle-breeder of repute as well as a champion bronco buster. It is understood that while he is in the South, Mrs. Palmer will remodel a section of her estate, and oust from this space all citrus fruits, so as to replace baby lemons with baby beef.”

Sounds very simple and businesslike, doesn't it? But back of this little notation lurks a genuine heart-story.


Comradeship With Grandchildren

Mrs. Palmer has five grandchildren. Her son Honore, who married Miss Grace Brown of Baltimore, a sister of Mrs. Stanley Field and of Mrs. Walter Keith – has two sons, D'Orsay, aged 11 years, and Honore, aged 7. Mrs. Palmer's eldest son Potter Palmer, Jr., has two sons and a daughter, Potter III, aged 7 years, Gordon, who is 2 and little Bertha, aged 5. The greatest comradeship exists between Mrs. Palmer and her grandchildren – a “palship” approximated only by the keen enjoyment that Mrs. Palmer's father, the late H.H. Honore, found in the company of his great grandchildren.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century the first members of the Honore family who came from France to America settled in Kentucky, and were among the bravest of the pioneers. Family legends of Indian fights, and woods-lore were favorite narrations of Great-grandfather Honore to his daughters' children and his great grandchildren. When the Honore Palmers became interested in a western ranch, Mr. Honore was delighted with what he considered a recurrence of the virility of the primitive spirit of his grandson's ancestry.

“Big Bill” Appears

This summer, shortly after Mr. Honore's death, Mrs. Palmer, her brother, Adrian C. Honore, and Mrs. Palmer's son Honore and his family went for an extended western trip. While they were our on the Honore Palmer ranch, “Big Bill” Ferguson came along, displayed his talents, and won his fate in the way of employment unique in the annals of social education. The clean-cut wholesomeness of the young cowboy was as inspiring to the eastern visitors as the morning wind from the mountains. He won all hearts by his accurate rifle work, his skill with rod and line, his keen sympathy with nature and her nearest children – the wild life of mountain, thicket, woods, and river – and best of all, perhaps, by his weird yarns of  Indians and pioneers, soldiers and raiders. All of his stories, even in the face of their lurid plot and setting, ended invariably with a Sanford and Merton moral that would gladden the heart of the father of any little Rollo.

Puts Beef in Place of Fruit 

Further “Big Bill” talked about cattle with the inborn poesy of a Sir Mathew Arnold, and the financial vision of a Wall Street broker. To his auditors there seemed but one way out. And that path led to a contract with William Ferguson by virtue of which he agrees to set down baby beef where once grew citrus fruits, and to teach the scions of the house of Palmer to recognize the chipmunk's rustle and the oriole's note with as keen discernment and unerring instinct as they now manifest in choosing the right fork for salad, and making the proper exits “before company.”