A tribute to Bone Mizell, “one of the most colorful characters in early Florida,” a century after his death


Whether you think of a century as a heartbeat or an eternity, 100 years ago, last month old Morgan Bonaparte Mizell breathed his last, so I think it’s time to raise a glass in his memory. .

Maybe we should fill our glasses with sweet tea, given the cause of death of the 58-year-old man in an Arcadia rail yard. When the attending physician was asked why he did not need to perform an autopsy, the good doctor reportedly said, “I don’t have to test it, I know that at this point Old Bone would test good evidence.” 90. “

The three-syllable Bonaparte’s praise was too much, so he went by his nickname, Bone. As Fort Myers architect and local history buff Ted McGee wrote, Bone was “one of the most colorful figures in early Florida. Horse Creek was a sparsely populated community when Bone was born there in 1863. He was the eighth of Morgan’s 12 children. Mizell and Mary Fletcher Tucker Bone’s father greatly admired the little French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, so he named his new son in his honor.

“That’s where the comparison ended, however. Napoleon was a little over 5 feet tall; The bone measured nearly 6 feet 5 inches, taking on the gangly appearance of an Ichabod crane as it turned manly. Tall, thin and gangly in the saddle, he often let his long legs hang down under the stirrups. This awkward appearance was deceptive as Bone could easily ride his little Florida-bred horse called Marsh Tackie. And, he could just as gracefully chase a fly off a cow’s rump with his 18-foot whip, never lifting a hair off the poor animal. He was one of Florida’s most famous crackers. “

Not that Bone and his pals made a big impression on the old fantasy artist Frederic Remington, who spent much of the late 1800s mythologizing the American West in paintings and sculptures.

Remington’s images have filled the pages of popular magazines with his flowery tales of good cowboys and modest Native Americans, though his characterizations and bald fanaticism have earned him well-deserved contempt in recent years. But Remington was the one who launched the contempt in 1895, when his path crossed that of Bone.

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Harper’s Magazine had sent him to Florida, where he encountered the cowboy in his natural habitat. In his sarcastic Harper play, “Cracker Cowboys of Florida,” he describes two skinny ponies “wearing wild-looking individuals, whose drooping hair and drooping hats and generally scruffy appearance would remind you of both moss. spanish that hangs so quietly and helplessly from the branches of oaks in the swamps. There was none of the bilious ferocity and herding plunge that I had associated with my friends in the West. … They had about four dollars worth of clothes between them. “

Frederic Remington described the Florida cowboys as "wild-looking individuals (with) hanging hair and drooping hats ... usually scruffy."

Remington was also unimpressed with the Florida cattle, poor little beasts no bigger than donkeys, he said, “half starved and horribly emaciated.”

He also disliked the appearance of Florida itself, which he called “sad country … flat and sandy, with miles upon miles of straight pines … dwarf palms, twisted brakes. and the hammocks and gnarled water oaks adorned with the sad gray Spanish moss – hardly a country for a spirited race or moral giants. “

Tourists, Remington wrote, knew little about what had happened inside the state. “The winter visitor from the North throws the snipe along the beach or tarponises in the estuaries of the Gulf … worthy of a pointer to mess around.”

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Ol ‘Bone probably wouldn’t have taken it personally – after all, Remington was a New York-born Yankee, and the cowboy was well-armed with a keen sense of humor, writes Phyllis Mathis Borden on a website of history of DeSoto County. Because Bone “spoke with a lisp and a light wheeze, and was teased by his childhood friends.” He developed a quick wit in defense and was a notorious prankster. He was uneducated, barely able to write his name, but he managed to keep records in his head and remember dozens of brands of cattle. “

Bone was a drinker and knew that one day he would die, she writes. “One night after the drink got the better of him, a group of cowboys took him to a graveyard and left him lying among the gravestones. When Bone woke up the next morning, he looked around and said, “Here is judgment day, and I’m the first to get up. “”

The year after Remington’s visit, Borden wrote: “Cattle rustling was rampant and Bone was not immune to the lawlessness of the day. that he stole cattle for a king. In 1896 he was convicted and sentenced to two years in state prison. A petition for his forgiveness was circulated by many of his friends, but they were told that he could not be pardoned until he time served.

So, Bone was put on a train with a whole new set of clothes, courtesy of his friends, who also gave him a big farewell.

“He arrived at the prison, where the warden showed him around the facilities and invited him to dinner,” Borden writes.

The justice system was obviously not immune to its charms, for the next day, with dinner digested, Bone received a pardon and hopped on the next train home, where he spent the next two decades until his death. dead.

“Moonshine,” the undertaker / medical examiner wrote when the day came. “I fell asleep and didn’t wake up.”

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