A few years ago I watched one of those haunted history shows on TV. I want to say it was on the Travel Channel. The program told "ghost stories" from several historical sites across the U.S. One segment featured the Smallwood Store, a haunted trading post in the Everglades, and the true story of "Bloody" Ed Watson. When I realized our travels would take us directly through the Everglades, the only thing that came to mind besides my fear of snakes was the Smallwood Store. When we hit Everglade City we turned off the main drag & headed to Chokoloskee Island to check it out.
The current settlement on Chokoloskee Island was established in 1874. However, indigenous peoples inhabited this area for at least 1,500 years before European explorers first recorded the island. Chokoloskee Island sits 20' above sea level, a higher elevation than the mainland. Why? Because Chokoloskee Island was built up by seashells discarded by mound-building native peoples that occupied this land for over 2,000 years. These people, called the Calusa, also created wide, shallow canals for their dugout canoes. Their canals were used for transportation into the 1700's.
Smallwood Store - Established 1906
The Smallwood Family
Ted Smallwood moved to Chokoloskee Island in 1897. Five families lived on the island at the time. He built the Smallwood Store in 1906. The post office was moved into the store & Ted Smallwood served as the Postmaster until he retired in 1941. His daughter then became Postmaster & the Smallwood family continued to operate the store until 1982. When the store finally closed it still contained 90% of its inventory & fixtures. In 1990, Ted Smallwood's granddaughter reopened the store as a museum. Her grandson was working the museum the day we visited!
Chokoloskee Post Office at Smallwood Store
The Smallwood Store Museum
Life on Chokoloskee Island
The Seminole People
Chokoloskee Island was originally inhabited by the mound-building Calusa peoples. In 1763, when the Spanish transferred their land claim to Great Britain, the area was mostly uninhabited. It remained unoccupied into the 1800's. The Seminole people resettled the area before Europeans arrived to do the same.
Chokoloskee - The Land of the Walking Trees
We purchased a copy of the "True Tales of the Everglades." It's a short read full of interesting facts & photos. My mom bought me the "Little House" series when I was a girl & I've often imagined what life was like as an early settler. This was the first time I had ever considered life as a settler in the Everglades. I'd like to think I'm a tough little farm girl but Lord knows, I am not tough enough for swamp life.
Smallwood Store's Haunted History
The Story of "Bloody" Ed Watson
"Bloody" Ed Watson was originally from South Carolina. His family relocated to northern Florida where Watson found trouble as a young man. He left Florida for the Indian Territory in Oklahoma and later fled Oklahoma after allegedly killing a female outlaw named Belle Starr. He eventually settled in the Chokoloskee area and began a sugar cane plantation. Watson ventured to the Smallwood trading post every Tuesday to stock up on supplies and laborers to work in his cane. The workers he engaged would never be seen again. Legend has it, Watson killed the workers on pay day. There were rumors & speculation but no proof for 15 years until 1910 when a hurricane exposed the body of Hannah "Big Six" Smith hidden in the mangroves.
When Watson returned to the Smallwood Store the following Tuesday, he was met by a posse formed by the community members. There was a brief standoff before Watson attempted to fire the first shot on the posse. However, Watson's ammunition was wet which caused his shotgun to misfire. The posse unloaded on Watson with the first bullet striking him right between the eyes. Thirty additional rounds struck Watson's body. They say, when the autopsy was performed on Bloody Ed Watson a coffee can full of lead was taken out of him!
The killing of "Bloody" Ed Watson was a community project!
Many believe Watson haunts the Smallwood Store to this day.
Ok, I'll admit. I am a huge skeptic. I try to keep my mind open to all possibilities but that being said, ol' Mr. Watson would have to tap me on the shoulder & holler "Boo!" to get me on board with a ghost story. We found the museum extremely interesting but we saw, heard and felt no trace of Watson.
Another couple entered the museum as we were making our way out. The lady was barely through the doorway when she asked excitedly about the ghost she'd heard about on TV. I had to chuckle when I heard Ted Smallwood's great-great grandson's answer. "He's only here on Tuesdays."
We made it out of the Everglades safely & headed toward our last stop on our Florida tour. We were expecting a low key visit with our dear friends in Englewood. Little did we know, we were about to fall in love with life on Manasota Key.
Nature lovers, you won't want to miss our upcoming blog posts!