He was someone who sought out new lands in search of a new life like most of the people in southwestern Florida in its early years. Brave as he was, he was not without flaws. He tried living a life of quiet and peace but the fires of rebellion in his heart burned until he was ultimately consumed by it. Man, pioneer, outlaw; his name – Edgar J. Watson.
Edgar J. Watson was born on November 11, 1855 in South Carolina but spent his childhood in Florida. At a young age he already exhibited a thirst for violence; a thirst that he could never quench and a compulsion that would subjugate him for the rest of his life. As a young man, he got into a knife fight for reasons unknown and was able to kill a man. He fled to the Oklahoma territories where he got into more trouble and left a trail of dead men. In 1889 he was suspected to have killed another infamous outlaw by the name of Belle Star, a woman. He was put on trial but nothing came of it. Such was the times of Edgar Watson, the “Lawless Years” as it was known. There were state laws but there was not much enforcement on them and thus, people like him were able to thrive.
And so, he fled back to Florida then killed a man in self-defense, allegedly. He pushed further south to the Ten Thousand Islands area and bought 40 acres of land near Chatham Bend River and began raising crops. On one account, he got into an argument with a man and Watson slit his throat. The victim survived but it cost Watson $900 as fine and settlement. Soon after, a man only known as Tucker squatted in his property and would not leave. Tucker and his nephew were soon found dead, murdered, by the river and the suspicious townsfolk believe it was Watson’s doing.
Watson was that kind of person who always seemed to attract bad company and he was getting the bad kind of reputation around Chatham Bend. And his trip at Fort White which left another two men dead certainly did not help. In any case, he went on to plant sugarcane in the area and became quite successful with it, or so it seemed. Mysterious reports of his workers going missing by the time they asked for pay spread quickly amongst the people and it got them very wary of Mr. Watson. Bodies would be washed down the bloody river every now and then, all workers from Watson’s field. These laborers were outsiders and not many locals knew their identities so it was difficult for local authorities to know exactly who these victims were. One time, Watson went away from his property and went to Chokoloskee, but upon his return, he found out that a few of his people were murdered in his property and Watson had a suspect so he went to Lee County to ask for the Sheriff to investigate but the Sheriff from the nearby county refused to investigate, saying Chatham Bend was not under his county’s territory. And to the locals, this was the final straw and they thought of putting matters in their own hands.
On October 24, 1910, storm clouds were brewing and a huge hurricane was at hand. The people’s fear of Watson was at its height. They believed he was responsible for all the murders and when it was clear to them that the authorities wouldn’t help them, they knew they had to take action. So, a mob of angry townsfolk, armed with rifles and shotguns, from the nearby Chokoloskee looked for Edgar J. Watson’s in a store owned by a local named Ted Smallwood. A fatal confrontation ensued, with Watson surrounded by more than a dozen angry townsmen. Watson tried to fire his pistol first but it misfired.
Then he was killed. 33 bullets from the townsmen, in retaliation for his misfire, riddled his mangled body. Thus, ended the life of one of Florida’s most notorious outlaws – Edgar J. Watson; his grave can still be found in a graveyard in Everglades City standing sturdily; perhaps only a fitting consolation, for a life so filled with trouble and restlessness.