Camping on the Myakka
Articles: Sarasota History
The Myakka River area has attracted people to its scenic and fruitful reaches for centuries. Scattered archaeological remains suggest that Paleo-Indians lived along the river seasonally; perhaps during the dry season when the general swampiness dried out and game concentrated around the remaining water sources.
The above engraving is titled "Camp in Miakka Swamp" and was published in Wildlife in Florida by Englishman F. Trench Townshend. This 1875 publication describes Townshend's visit to the Myakka River area by wagon and mule team. The palmetto roots on the ground's surface and absence of a road resulted in a speed of about two miles per hour. Once there, Townshend was overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the area, the variety of birds, many flocks of wild ducks, black bears, deer, Florida panthers and hundreds of alligators. He found this hunter's paradise to be as true in reality as in reputation.
Another 19th century sportsman, G.E. Shields, responded to the "praises of this mystic region" he had heard from others and spent four days on the Myakka after having stayed at Webb's Winter Resort at Osprey. In Hunting in the Great West, Shields devoted a chapter to his Myakka trip. He described that trip as "one of the brightest, most romantic and exciting episodes of my life." The stately oaks under which he camped, the colorful birds all around and the abundant game contributed to such an unforgettable experience.
In 1962, the Florida Historical Quarterly printed "Tales of Old Florida" by Jane Brush, who had visited the Sarasota area with her husband in 1904 and kept a diary. According to the "Tales," the Brushes and two other couples decided to go camping in Myakka after hearing in town that the bass fishing was especially good there. They left Sarasota early in the morning and arrived at Big Hammock in time to set up camp before dark. Under tents, they created beds from piles of pine branches smoothed with palmetto leaves, topped with dry grass and then Spanish moss. Only at that point did they spread the felt blankets on which to lie.
To provide a reliable campfire, the campers sought out "lightard," the heart of pine that remains after the rest of a fallen trunk has rotted away acid which, in small pieces, can be lit and carried like a torch. They sought button wood also, for it was slow burning, acting almost like charcoal.
The next morning, the campers located the deep holes that reportedly held the bass. (During the wet season these holes were connected by flowing water.) The Brush party caught 15 big-mouthed black bass in the first morning. Dinner that evening consisted of fish and biscuits baked in a Dutch oven and hearts of palm Hollandaise sauce. Nearly a dozen wild pigs interrupted the campers' sleep that night. The razor-backs found the bass, strung between two trees, to be very attractive. They grabbed only a few, however, before bird-shot prompted them to leave the campsite. As Brush recalled, that incident made not only a good story when they returned home, but accounted for the "ones that got away."
Special Thanks to Ann A. Shank, Sarasota County Historian, Sarasota County History Center for her research and time devoted to writing this article.
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