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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Florida Keys & Everglades

By Rick Ferren

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Florida Keys & Everglades > Sidebars > The Story of Ed Watson

The Story of Ed Watson

The following version of how Edgar Watson came to a violent end is based on the publications Man in the Everglades, by Charlton W. Tebeau, and The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Tebeau's version was in part related by C. S. "Ted" Smallwood. Watson's life is also chronicled in noted novelist and naturalist Peter Matthiessen's Everglades trilogy, Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone. Ed Watson was a redhaired, blueeyed Scotsman who purchased a 40-acre, shell-mound island, 17 miles south of Chokoloskee and began farming this claim in 1892. He grew winter vegetables for the Key West New York produce market, and sugarcane, which he processed into syrup. By 1910 he had organized the most successful farming operation in the Everglades.

Watson's notoriety isn't a result of his success as a farmer, however, but comes from a life of violent acts that he either committed or, at least was accused of committing. Originally from central Florida, he headed to the Midwest after shooting a farm hand on his family's farm. Somewhere in Arkansas or Texas he hooked up with the Belle Starr gang. At some point things went bad and he is suspected of killing the famous lady outlaw. That was apparently followed by an episode in Oregon a few years later where he killed a man in a dispute and fled to Florida.

Next came another killing in Arcadia, Florida, a throat cutting in Key West, and suspicion of at least four other murders. Things came to a head in the summer of 1910 when a series of murders occurred at the Watson Farm. Although Watson laid the blame on another man, suspicions were strong. Some versions say Watson was long in the practice of hiring drifters who had wandered to this remote land to work on his farm. Then when it came time to pay their wages, he killed them instead.

The hurricane of 1910 interfered with an official investigation of the murders. A few days later, when Watson pulled his boat up to the docks at Ted Smallwood's Store he was confronted by an armed group of citizens. When asked to put down his gun, he refused and either shot or attempted to shoot into the crowd. (Some versions say he fired his shotgun but the shells were wet from the hurricane and they didn't fire.)

In any event, the townspeople fired back, and Watson fell dead.

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Published (print): 1999, Published (Web): January 2003, ISBN: 1-56352-543-7
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