Monday, November 23, 2015

Florida frontier justice: execution by alligator

Two gators in search of a meal, picture courtesy of Steve Kantner

According to a New York Sun Times news story datelined Fort Lauderdale, Jul. 23, 1897, Florida Seminoles* acknowledged two capital crimes in the late 1800s: theft and adultery. The newspaper published an account given by Seminole James Jumper that underscored the negative views held then about one of those crimes.

It was reported that Tiger Cat, a member of an Indian camp near Tamiami Trail, ran off with the chief’s wife, enraging their entire community. A group set out to find the law-breaking couple; two weeks later they were apprehended and brought back home to face justice. For more than two days the governing council debated punishment. They settled on execution … by alligator.

The convicted pair was brought to Little Gator Key (perhaps an Everglades hammock; there is no Florida key by that name). The two were stripped of their clothes and tied to the ground about 50 feet apart. A dog, which was to initially attract feeding gators, was attached between them. The couple waited all day in the blazing heat until sundown, when a gator emerged from the water and quickly devoured the dog. Other gators joined the dinner frenzy and finished off the errant couple, who were by then most remorseful.

*Note: It is not implied that this group was part of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has its own constitution, police department and modern and humane due process of law.  

 Tags: Florida in the 1800s, Jane Feehan film researcher, Everglades, alligators

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