Chokoloskee is the put-in for some of the best autumn kayaking in Florida. The Ranger Station at nearby Everglades City (just a stone’s throw away) is another great put-in with access to the Turner River loop, the Barron River, Halfway Creek, the Jack Daniels Loop and many others. So great South Florida kayak adventurers often start or finish here. And what adventurer can resist the rich historical story of Killing Mr. Watson, a real life wild and crazy Chokoloskee settler? Spoiler alert: The real Mr. Watson was killed right here at the National Historical Site, Smallwood’s Store in Chokoloskee.
Still on the National Historical Register and still a famous early Florida landmark, Smallwoods has been closed by developers trying to force the Army Corps into undesirable concessions. But justice has prevailed and the chain link fence blocking off this part of Chokoloskee has been ordered to come down. Developer FL-Georgia Grove was ordered to rebuild Mamie Street! Smallwood’s Store, now a local museum, will open once again!
In the 1890’s one of earliest Chokoloskee settlers, Ted Smallwood, was chosen as the postal carrier. A conch shell was blown to announce to the town that the mail had arrived by boat from Key West. By 1906 Smallwood had built a combination trading post/post office, the Smallwood’s building you see today, chocked full of museum quality memorabilia. This was the meeting place for the settlers, the Indians and the outlaws of Chokoloskee and the Ten Thousand Islands. One of those outlaws was dastardly Edgar Watson.
Hot tempered Edgar Watson was shot right here outside of Smallwoods in 1910 by a mob of angry neighbors who suspected him of murdering more than a dozen locals after running away from Fort Myers following the murder of Belle Starr, legendary accomplice of the Unger Brothers. The exploits of Watson are part of the fabric of today’s Chokoloskee community. If you haven’t read Killing Mr. Watson, pick up a copy today. Award winning author, Peter Matthiessen, later authored a revision to Killing Mr. Watson in Shadow Country, his best selling trilogy. If you want to understand the early days of Florida there is no better reading.
Once you have read Mr. Watson, your trip plans for kayaking the area will change. Now you will want to see where Watson lived and identify the waterways traveled by his contemporaries. Paddling up the Chatham River is still a navigational challenge but the notorious Watson’s farm at Chatham Bend is easily identifiable. Built on a shell mound, the 40 acre farm has returned to a natural state and once again belongs to the fierce Florida mosquito.
Pay a couple of dollars to see Smallwood’s Store memorabilia. The Chokoloskee community was hit hard by Wilma and is now stunned by the FL-Georgia Grove developer who would block the biggest tourist attraction in this battered village. Ted Smallwood’s descendants run the store. Stop and listen to the stories they tell. They will enrich your day and make your trip even more memorable.