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Watson's Place

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The DoFloridaRight motley crew headed out of Everglades City and into the Everglades National Park to find the former homestead of Ed Watson, a man shot to death by 20 god-fearing neighbors because of his alleged bloody past.

 

Click to read the blog post following our journey to Find Mr. Watson

Step 1: Read Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (or the three books series starting will Killing Mr. Watson). This is not essential, but it will greatly add to the overall experience as you will be able to identify on a much more personal level with the larger than life character that was Edgar J. Watson

Step 2: Gather the crew. While it isn't impossible to do on your own, it not advisable to head into the Everglades alone unless you have copious prior experience.  Set up dates and times carefully—making this trip in the summer, especially if you plan on spending the night, is a big NO. The mosquitoes, rain, and humidity are enough to drive even the toughest individuals nearly mad. The best time to visit is from November through April when you are just about guaranteed cooler weather, much less rain, and drastically improved insect conditions.

Step 3: Procure a seaworthy vessel. If you have your own, make sure it can run in shallow water. If not, ask around for a shallow running boat like a skiff, flats boat, or bay boat. Much of the waterways between Everglades City and Watson’s Place and are only a few feet deep, and with any sort of low tide (which are more dramatic in the winter) a boat without a shallow draft will find itself stuck in no time. DoFloridaRight rented from Mark Lamphere of www.everglades-wilderness-watererways.com who was very reasonably priced and willing to work flexibly with our plans to stay overnight. The distance can certainly be paddled, but it may end up being a 3-4 day trip if attempting to paddle.

Step 4: Study the maps, charts, and weather. If you are unfamiliar with the area, make sure you gain a familiarity, and fast. Once you are out there, it is nearly impossible to tell one island from another unless you have a working understanding of which islands are where. It is best to go with someone who has experience navigating back there. Be sure to study the tides and the weather as well. A low tide might mean that most of the backwaters will be too shallow to run in, while windy or stormy weather will make taking a flats boat into the gulf unwise.

Step 5: Prepare your gear. The website http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/backcamp.htm and the “Wilderness Trip Planner” from the National Park Service offers a comprehensive list of essentials and other items you won’t want to go without.

Step 6: Pick up your Wilderness Permit. All camping in the Everglades requires a Wilderness permit to be obtained. If leaving from the Gulf Coast, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (link) in Everglades City is the easiest place to pick one up. It will cost $10 plus $2 for each person on the trip. It can only be picked up 24 hours prior to your departure, but I would recommend getting it as soon as possible because the popular campsites can fill up quickly. You will need:

  •          Names of all people on expedition
  •          Tag numbers of all cars parked in area
  •          Boat registration numbers
  •          Campsite selection (Watson’s Place, New Turkey Key, Turkey Key, Pavilion Key, Mormon Key are all close). Watson’s Place is very grassy and overgrown, so unless there is a strong wind it may be very buggy.

Step 7: Navigate to campsite. With a boatful of gear, everything is more difficult. Set up camp as soon as you can.  Navigate carefully and use landmarks and check your progress frequently. If you decide to stay in the backwater, you can follow the Wilderness Waterways markers to the Chatham River. 

Step 8: Find Watson. Head up (or down) the Chatham River. About 2 miles in to the west, you will see a dock with a blue porta-potty on it (see video). There is a sign denoting Watson’s Place. Once there, some of Watson’s old homestead is immediately obvious. The cistern, boiler, and cornerstone of his house are all in the clearing. If you do some exploring, you can find a 3-walled cistern, old farming equipment, and even the remains of Watson’s Ford automobile—the first in the 10,000 Islands. The Everglades rangers do regularly light prescribed fires to clear the area of brush. Depending on how long it’s been, the area may be all but impassable. Bring heavy clothing and footwear if you plan to do some trailblazing back into Watson’s plantation.

Step 9: Fish, eat, drink, and be merry. As awesome as exploring Ed Watson’s property is, being in the Everglades begs you to fish and enjoy a campfire (below the high tide line on beach sites only, of course) and a primitive meal. Be safe and make sure to clean up very well—the raccoon and the rats are fearless little creatures that will happily sneak into your campsite while you are sleeping. Or even before. the crafty buggers even made their way into our boats to eat beef jerky stored aboard.

Step 10: Clean up and head home. However long you are there, make sure you pack out all trash. Keep our Everglades beautiful!
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