6/23/2018 0 Comments
1885 Florida: wild pigs, wild people, and Trouble in Tampa!
Like most people, I moved to Florida looking for warm winters and easy living. But I’m a storyteller. Retired or not, I can’t seem to quit spinning yarns. I started thinking about a setting for the fourth book in my Oliver Redcastle historical mystery series. Oliver is a sharpshooterand ex Pinkerton investigator. The first two Redcastle mysteries are set in 1880’s Baltimore. The third, Hard Water, is set in 1884 on an island in Lake Erie where I’ve spent summers. A fourth book would take place around 1885. What, I wondered, was going on in Florida in 1885?
Turns out Florida in 1885 was a fascinating place and just as wild as the fabled “Wild West.” As far as I can tell, Civil War Reconstruction was not a big success in Florida during that time. Self-styled bands of “Regulators” roamed the countryside, often taking the law into their own hands. People they considered “troublemakers” could disappear, never to be heard from again.
On the other hand, 1885 was the year Henry Plant brought his railroad to Tampa and changed the town from a sleepy fishing village to a major metropolis. My storytelling wheels started spinning. When I learned that William Walters, a 19th century Baltimore tycoon, invested in Plant’s railroad, I knew there was a Florida story brewing for my Baltimore detective. I decided he would meet a former colleague in Tampa, Hannah Kinchman, a daring detective in her own right, working for Pinkerton. I liked Hannah as a character in Gunshy, the first Redcastle mystery, and thought it was time for her to reappear. Hannah has her own agenda in Florida. She and Oliver will clash.
Figuring out the rest of the story meant more research into Florida history—a lot more. I learned it became a state in 1845 and was deeply involved in the Civil War (as was Oliver, my detective). I had imagined Oliver might meet Indians while roaming the Florida interior, but that turned out to be unlikely as decades earlier Europeans brought diseases that wiped out the indigenous Calusas. Later, Andrew Jackson banished most of the Seminoles. Only a few escaped into the Everglades.
That didn’t mean Oliver wouldn’t run across people in the Florida wilderness—people with unusual stories. Civil War survivors who didn’t go west after losing everything in the war etween the states, often immigrated south into the Florida wilderness. Some of them raised livestock. Florida in the19th century was cattle country. There are still a lot of cattle ranches in the interior. Less prosperous Floridians nearly wiped out the egret population hunting tropical birds so women up north could adorn their hats with plumes. And when they ran afoul of what law there was in Florida, they might wind up doing hard labor in a turpentine camp. My beleaguered protagonist, Oliver, finds himself in such a camp, surrounded by mortal enemies and ferocious mosquitoes.
I had a great time writing this novel. I learned about my new home, and did it while having a wild ride through a bygone era in what was, and is, a remarkable state. Check out my book at https://www.amazon.com/Trouble-Tampa-Redcastle-Historical-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B079HHCP7C/ for a wild reading ride of your own. Louise Titchener
I've been writing novels and teaching about writing novels for many years. It's true that some people write well from the beginning of their careers. It's also true that writing is a craft you get better at over time. I hope to describe some of what I've learned about the craft in my blogs. Please join me.