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Steve Robertson

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The Cowboy, 'Gators and the Florida Boy
By Steve Robertson
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Several years ago one of my best friends, Doug Marcy, and I were allowed to cut firewood for sale from the Dee Dot Ranch. We also purchased hogs from their hog division to butcher for our tables. Doug grew up on a huge ranch in Nebraska. Not wanting to spend his whole life without seeing anywhere else, he escaped to Florida where he lived for several years. We are very much alike and became fast friends—a friendship that lasts to this day.

The Dee Dot Ranch, at the time, was owned by the now deceased J. E. Davis who, along with his family, also owned the Winn Dixie Grocery chain. The ranch still exists and consists of several thousand acres of prime Florida wilderness that borders the Intra Coastal Waterway on the east and Beach Boulevard on the North. Although small portions of the acreage is cleared and developed, through J. E.’s design, most of it is untamed and pristine. Among other things, there is a very modern hog operation. The animals never touch the ground and are fed and watered by machines. He imported a whole herd of absolutely huge American Bison that roam about freely. Deer, black bears, Florida panthers, wild hogs and a host of other wild Florida animals live in the forests. Practically every species of Florida birds are in residence and the many lakes and ponds are filled with fish and alligators. The Dee Dot Ranch is a wonderful place.

Doug got a job working there and that is how we got permission to cut the firewood. The trees had already been felled to make room for the buildings necessary to house the hog operation. In a pond near by, lived a giant old alligator. Actually, there were several and when a piglet would die; they were fed to these ‘gators. Doug and I both had chainsaws and we would race to see who could cut the most, fastest. Of course my long bar Stihl gave me a decided advantage. We would load Doug’s pickup truck with the logs and deliver them to customers all around the beach area where we lived outside of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a lot of fun, good money and great exercise. At the same time, we were helping the Dee Dot Ranch get rid of the trees.

Doug is also a very accomplished artist and J. E. had commissioned him to do some work for him. That granted Doug access to J. E.’s house that he kept on the site. Of course he actually lived in another grand house somewhere in Jacksonville, but this was his “getaway” place. One time when we were returning following a delivery of a truckload of wood, Doug asked me if I would like to see it. Of course I did, and we followed the trail that led to it. As we got close, an utterly magnificent fox squirrel pranced by and, in a flash of orange, disappeared up a tree. Fox squirrels are as large as a dog.

When I got my first glimpse of the house, I knew right off that it was a unique place. The large, ranch-style house was surrounded by a roof overhang that was supported by tree trunks, limbs and all. It sat in a spacious, cleared lot and there was a lake in the back that sported a long wooden dock. A huge copse of trees ran along the eastern side that formed a rookery for dozens of different species of birds. Most notably, there were wood storks, snowy egrets, egrets, giant blue herons and little green herons. A red-shouldered hawk sat in a tree nearby the house. The long dock had a boathouse on the end of it. This was a pretty nice place.

We got out and looked around. No one was home so we didn’t go inside. Doug and I walked out to the end of the dock. Characteristically for a Florida lake, there were grasses growing around the edges, some cattails grew over to one side and there were lily pads floating on top of the water. I could see little bream, minnows and bluegills and, a couple of large-mouth black bass were swimming around the pilings of the dock.

I was born and raised in Florida as was my mother. My grandparents and their family members had moved to the state when they were very young. Florida was pretty primitive when my grandparents were young, and they learned a lot of local yore that they passed on to me. Of course, I had been as wild as a Seminole Indian growing up and spent a lot of time in the natural settings. When I was a boy, my Uncle Freeman, who was married to Granddaddy’s sister, taught me how to “grunt” up alligators. The sound emanates from deep in the back of the throat. It starts off relatively high-pitched and rapidly falls deeply in tone—sort of like: Eeeeeuuunnnkkkk, Eeeeeuuuunnnkkk. Over the years, I tried it many times, and it really works. Supposedly, it imitates female gators with which the bulls want to mate and/or juveniles, which they would like to eat.

Anyway, Doug and I were standing on the end of the dock as I looked out over the water and grasses. There were most certainly alligators nearby. I turned to Doug. “Hey, man, you ever see anybody grunt up ‘gators? My uncle taught me how years ago.”

Doug looked doubtful. “Yeah, sure, and I got some property I wanna’ sell you east of the jetties.”

I grinned and turned back to the lake and let go with a whole barrage of ‘gator grunts. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Alligators came from everywhere and with slowly undulating tails, began swimming towards us on the dock, making V-shaped ripples in the water as they came. Doug the Nebraska Boy’s eyes took on the look of a hoot-owl as he turned and sprinted off the dock. “They ain’t trappin’ me out there!!!”

I slapped my thigh and laughed so hard I got tears in my eyes. Hell, anybody knows ‘gators can’t climb. Well, I was mighty proud of myself. I had some success before, but this time was outstanding. As usual, I got immense pleasure from eliciting a response from my cowboy buddy—something I did many times over the years. The flora, fauna and territory in Florida were light years apart from those in Nebraska.

I had certainly made a believer out of Doug. Then, sometime later, there was an article in the Florida Times Union about J. E. and his wonderful ranch. The story talked about the Dee Dot and his home that he kept there. It also contained a passage about how J. E. would grunt up his alligators and feed them. Oh, Well.

       Web Site: Ranch Boy Books

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Reviewed by Sylvia Knapp 5/19/2009
Hi, I was raised on Dee Dot Ranch and my Dad Donald Knapp Sr. ran the hog Orp. The foreman was Mr. Bennett and the lake you are talking about is named Florence Lake after Mrs.Florence E. Davis, J.E.'s wife. My sister Florence Knapp's God Mother is Florence Davis. I was bitten by a rattle snake at 5 years old in 1968 on the ranch it was 6 1/2 foot long. Me and my 7 brothers and sisters have plenty of good stories about the Ranch.I loved reading yours. Great Story. The Davis Family was the best, always caring & loving. We had a great life living on the Ranch. Thanks for your story it bought back great childhood memories. Sylvia :)
Reviewed by Carolyn Kingsley 7/7/2007
Another great story. This brings back a lot of memories. Keep writing em!

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