Rush Hughes interview with Carroll Dunscombe:
It is Friday, May 6, 1960, the time is 10 minutes to eleven, and we're in the office of Mr. Carroll Dunscombe, a Stuart attorney, who has lived in this part of the country?
Q. How long, Mr. Dunscombe?
A. A little more than fifty years.
Q. Over 50 years ? where did you come from?
A. New Jersey.
Q. There aren't very many original Floridians down her, are there?
A. No, I was working down Wall Street.
Q. How old were you when you first came here?
Q. What was Stuart like, fifty years ago?
A. Well, there were no paved streets or anything. When I got off the train people were walking around with lanterns, it was night and they were walking around with lanterns to see where they were going and, I suppose, to see a snake if it was running around..
Q. Was there a big crowd at the station when you got in?
A. No, no, it was a cold day ? a norther.
Q. Didn't you have a relative whose name was Stuart?
A. Yeah, I had an uncle who bought this land across the river there, they called it Gosling and Gosling was the son of a German baron and they sent him down here ? he couldn't talk English, and they thought he could pick up English down here better than he could in a large city. And, they were supposed to be hunting alligators and they built a shack over there, it was up on posts, about eight feet high.
Q. This was on the other side of the river? ? The north shore?
A. The St. Lucie River then was sort of a Dead Sea. It was full of alligators and manatees, and it was down below, you know, and the inlet hadn't been opened and he said that those alligators would be crossing back and forth and getting to fighting in front of the house and slapping with their tales. They never knew when they would knock the thing down, but they had good strong posts. And he said the alligators ? the hides weren't the thing at that time ? they would simply kill them for their teeth.
Q. For the teeth? And what in the world would they do with the teeth?
A. They'd sell them for elk's teeth.
Q. Is that where all those elk's teeth came from? My goodness! There must have been different grades and sizes; did they get different prices for different sizes?
A. Well, he didn't tell me that, but that's what they were after those gators for and he said that, um, they were stewing up a bunch of gators for the oil, and the preacher came down and they said, well, sit down and have lunch ? and they hand him some of the gator meat.
Q. Did he enjoy it?
A. He spit it out when he tasted it; he didn't know what it was.
Q. What does gator meat taste like?
A. Well, they tell me the tail of a young gator isn't bad to eat, but the old fellows get awful strong and musky and you know ? tough.
Q. This was on the north side of the river ? how many different names do you know for it?
A. Well, they originally called it Stuart.
Q. After your uncle?
A. Yeah. Then they brought the railroad down and started to build a bridge they had to unload on that place
Q. What year did they start building the bridge and the railroad?
A. About 1896 or seven, I guess it was.
Q. And that side of the river was called Stuart after you uncle? The reason I asked you was because there are a number of different versions of how Stuart came into being. This side was called Potsdam, wasn't it?
A. It was called Potsdam. You see, Ernest built a homestead, and Otto and those fellows, and Ernest platted it as Potsdam. He platted it before the railroad came through that's why it cut right through on that angle ? the brakemen, they would call out "Potsdam, Pots, Potsdam, Pots ?and the people, I understand, didn't like that so when the railroad cut across they changed the name and made this Stuart and then they called that Gosling over there.
Q. After the baron ? the son of the baron who came down with your uncle?
A. Yeah, my uncle, he quit and went north, but Gosling stayed here and the Indians called it Wa-wa. There were quite a lot of Indians around here then, and wa-wa was "little goose."
Q. "Little Goose" ? they called it wa-wa after Gosling?
A. Yeah ? and the other people called it Gosling. Well, then I had a packing house up here, I had a side track over at Gosling, a packing house there for the pineapples, but I moved into this big old freezer plant that later burnt down and the railroad called it "Oka."
A.. O-K-A. That's where the radio station is now, but they called it Oka.
Q. Now, Mr. Dunscombe, you must know something about that little cemetery that's over in that area.
A Well, the only thing I could say is it is possibly some people that old T. J. DeSteuben buried. He was acting as sort of a foreman manager for Gosling after he left. Gosling, he had a job as a distributor for champagne, er, imported champagne, in Texas and Arizona, and California. So he left and left DeSteuben over there to take charge of the place and DeSteuben tried to get a tax deed on part of his property, but he was living there, and it might be that those graves might have belong to some of his family.
Q. It was the custom in those days to bury people right on their property.
A. Yeah, they didn't have any cemetery.
Q. You were in the pineapple business too?
A. Yeah, that's what I came down her for ? the pineapple business. There were probably three reasons why we had to quit. In the first place, our stock kept running down and we had to get new stock from Cuba. And they thought that if they could prevent us from getting new stock, why we would have to stop growing pineapples. As a matter of fact we didn't bother them much because their rains are down there in June, about the first of June, and they couldn't ship the pineapples, and ours didn't start to come in until about that time. Of course the fall crop ?
Q. You had two crops a year?
A. Oh, they were all the year round. I had a gang that picked pineapples, never did anything else, year round. You see the old field they'd be bearing, the young fields would come in all at once, the old fields would ? stagger and they'd pick all through there and sometimes the fall crop would be almost as big as the summer crop. But nematodes got in ? we didn't know what was causing the trouble ? they called it red rot. These fellows were ready to replant the land, but they wouldn't grow. The nematodes today, all those old pineapples growing around Stuart, they're full of nematodes. These people plant stuff and wonder why it dies. It's because of the nematodes, but you could avoid that by taking new land ? and good slips from Cuba on new land would last 12 or 15 years and of course that land was all right to plant citrus trees and mangoes or stuff like that.
Q. You had to have a special kind of land for pineapples, didn't you?
A. Well, um, it would depend on the variety we were growing. We grew Red Spanish mostly and they wanted fairly high ground ? but this flat-woods they'd make very good fields for the smooth cajean and Red Spanish For instance, a California packing company, they were in Hawaii there, and they leased their land, with a five year lease, five year renewal, from this Dole bunch who owned practically all the land in Hawaii and they built a million dollar canning plant there in Honolulu. And they renewed their lease, and after it had run a couple of years, they asked what about getting a further renewal and Dole told them "no", they wouldn't do it ? they couldn't grow those pineapples for what Dole was asking, they had a million dollar factory in Honolulu ? they had a man name Young O'Neil and he went all around the world trying to locate land to grow pineapples in. And he found out that there were very few areas in the world where you could grow pineapples. He went to South Africa and he went into Australia and the East Indies and he went through Central America and the island down here ? and he stopped and showed me, and I said we grow those smooth cyams, they're all right we haven't grown them because they didn't ship well. We had to have a pineapple that would ship, red Spanish, for instance. I would ship pineapples out as far as ? took them eight weeks to get there, but they arrived in perfect condition ? had to have lasting quality ? would buy two or three crates and put them down in the cellar and they turn black on the outside, but they'd just get sweeter, and they just kept them here all summer. But you see by that way, well we could avoid getting into competition with Cuba because their pineapples couldn't ship that distance. But our real trouble was that in the Depression, why, they were selling these canned Hawaiian pineapples so cheap and Friday, Fourth of July came on a Friday one year and we tried to get all our stuff up to Canada to avoid the 4th of July market in this country, but I always kept a government inspector in the house and he had a certificate and all these cars were up for grading and in good condition and that Monday morning there was no market. The buyers stopped buying on Thursday or on Wednesday, they didn't buy Thursday, they just wanted to get the stuff and sell it Thursday before the 4th and there wasn't any market then until Monday. Well, that Monday morning in Pennsylvania and I had 18 cars of pineapples. So I went north to find out what was wrong, and the fellow said, "Here's your trouble, they sell two or these 2 and a half pound cans for a quarter ?well you could buy a gallon can for 35 cents. And, he said, women don't want to be bothered to prepare these fresh pineapples when they can buy these Hawaiian cans and know how many slices are in it. And, he said, the canner gives 'em a guarantee so they have no loss ? well he said they want to make 100 percent on the fresh pineapples. Well, I said according to that, why, a 24 would practically be the same as a 2 and a half pound can would have to sell for 6 ¼ cents up there. I said I can't even pay the freight on them.
Q. What had they been selling for?
A. Well, of course, they'd vary in prices but ordinarily a 24 would sell for maybe three or four dollars a crate ? but at 6 ¼ cents that wouldn't even pay the freight.
Q. Freight would be on 80 to 90 pounds?
A. Well, they were billed at 80 pounds and um, but er you see ? those two factors, I would say, the inability to get new stock, and our stock running out kept , and the low prices of pineapples, they just had to walk off and quit it. Of course, going back to Young O'Neil, he sent me some slips, plants, from Hawaii? took them three months to get here and I told him, I said, "I'll plant half of these on the paper. I said we don't need paper here; you use it to keep weeds down and to keep your soil from cracking. I said our sand don't crack and I said, new ground the weeds don't grow on it and when they were a year old they sent a fellow over here from Hawaii to check it. A fellow named Dodey who was in charge of the Experiment Station there. And he said, "Well, we haven't got anything in Hawaii that even touches this stuff," and they told me to get them 10,000 acres.
Q. That was a large order, wasn't it?
A. Unfortunately, the trouble was it was right in the boom of '24 and '25 and I couldn't tie up 10,000 acres for him. I tried to get it from ?they had a lot of land out there, some of it might have been suitable but ? a person going into the pineapple business down here today he'd almost have to have a canning factory ? and then of course if the local fresh market for fresh fruit was high he could sell it.
Q. The pineapple business was quite a gamble, wasn't it? Didn't cost a lot just to plant an acre?
A. No, it wasn't so expensive because land was fairly cheap then and I suppose it cost maybe $75 to $100 an acre.
Q. Well, I heard somebody told me, I thought it cost as much as $1200 an acre.
A. No, if they put up sheds it would cost more but, I don't think? we didn't have enough front damage. This location here probably has the most equitable climate of any place in Florida. I mean it's warm in the winter and it's cool in the summer and I check temperatures all over the state. And you take the old pineapple area here; go ahead past this side of Vero down to Delray. Now right down in Miami, down below there, it's colder ? coconuts, Australian pines ? get down to Homestead, temperatures get very cold, goes right down ? of course we get some frost once in a while that would hurt them. But it didn't kill the plants, it might lose a crop.
Q. Now after the pineapple business petered out, what did you start to do?
A. Well, most of my land around Stuart here ? they extended the boundaries ? I started to subdivide it because that's about all we could do with the stuff then. It was old pineapple land, it was all right for subdivision and we started out with that St. Lucie Estates and that area in there. But the city came in and said ? they took the land in and my tax bill and my city tax bill was $80,000.
Q. Oh golly! You were supporting the City of Stuart!
A. And I told them, I said listen, "If I could made $80,000 on this land, which I can't do, I certainly wouldn't turn the money over to you guys." I said, "You're not doing a damn thing for me, well, we had a suit over that thing. It went on for about 15 ? 17 years. We compromised and they agreed to take 25% of what they claimed. But it killed the subdivision because nobody would build there with those sort of taxes ? There was nobody living on it and St. Lucie Estates lay there for 10 or 15 years nobody every built a house out there.
Q. Were you a lawyer when you came here?
A. No, I studied law during the Depression. I didn't like law but I didn't have anything special to do in the Depression, so I just studied law in the Depression and took my bar exam.
Q. How old were you when you took your bar exam.
A. Well, let's see, that was in '32 and that would mean I was, I guess, about 40 or 42 then.
Q. Where did you go to school?
A. You mean law school? I didn't. I just studied at home.
Q. Well, that's most interesting and you've been in the law business ever since?
A. Mmm, well of course, I farmed during the war but ?
Q. Of all the periods in your life ? of all the things you've done during your life, which was the most satisfying to you?
A. Well, I tell you, of course, pineapple was a very satisfactory crop and I had an income all the year round. It didn't have much disease. Take the citrus in this area here, and these darn hurricanes you know would tear the crop off the trees and tear the trees out of the ground, so there was practically no citrus growing here anymore.
Q. Pineapples would withstand the hurricanes?
A. Oh yeah, it didn't bother them any ? the frost wouldn't kill 'em, a freeze wouldn't kill them, it would set the thing back a few years but put the fertilizers on and they'd come right along. But, I thought that in those days ? why pineapples were one of the most satisfactory crops man could grow.
Q. You don't think the pineapple industry can be brought back to Stuart?
A. Well, I think eventually; why there's a lot of this land, this flat wood land out here that could be used. You just put in water control in it so it won't get too wet or too dry and of course after you get through using it for pineapples you can always farm it or do something else.
Q. Mr. Dunscombe, of all the more than 50 years that you've spend in this part of the country do you have one experience, personal experience that stands out vividly in your mind?
A. Well, I don't know ?er, I suppose, you know when I wanted to get married and I was put on the jury that was trying John Ashley for murdering that Indian and so they had trouble getting a jury, and I didn't have any trouble with the Ashleys, so I told the judge I said, "Well I'd like to be excused." I said, "I am going to get married and I wouldn't vote to convict this man anyway," and I said, "If he pulled me I'd disqualify myself." And he wasn't doing nothing and I went back at him, and he said, "Well, why don't you go home?" So I just went home and got married and we were leaving on the train that night and I got on the Pullman and the Deputy Sheriffs got on the front end with a warrant for my arrest.
Q. Ha, ha. So you had to serve on the jury?
A. No, no, you see as soon as the train got across the county line, why, I was out of the county, and he was out of luck. I was later talking to the old man, and , you see, I had a saw mill and I was scooting around with timber and one thing and another and, er, they had a place up there at the north end of the Gomez Grant and , um, I went in there one day and just walking in the sand and stopped to get a drink of water and old John Ashley was fixing the pump and he didn't hear me, I just came walking through the sand you know, and the first thing I know he has a big old blue balloon 45 on me and I just talked to the old man, pretended I didn't see him. But um, the old man, I could understand that position in a way because you see they grew up in the reconstruction and they hated these Yankees and he asked me, he says, "Why do these people object when we rob a bank up there?" and he said, something or other about some northern insurance company got to put the money back and he say, we just spend the money around there.
Q. He thought it was perfectly all right?
A. Sure he was pumping money into the place and he couldn't understand ?in the first place and I said, "Listen, in the first place I never chased you guys. I'm not working for any damn insurance company." But the way they'd generally work that thing: they'd steal a car, maybe tie the guy up to a tree so he couldn't squawk and then they'd cut slits in the back of the car ? the getaway car and have a couple of guys in the back there with rifles. Well, they dress up as women or something else and disguise themselves. You would be chasing them those rifles would out distance a damn pistol so why take a chance that the money was insured? Let the insurance company detective run them down if they want. But I never bothered with them and they knew it, they know who their friends were ? you'd be surprised how they had these guys marked ?
Q. Best to be neutral, huh?
A. Neutral? I was out in the woods ? why the hell did I want to get in a squabble with them? I didn't care whether they robbed a bank or not, and I wasn't going to get in trouble with them over nothing. Now you take the sheriffs and if they arrested some of the fellows they'd turn them loose when they found out who they were. See they went down there in Miami and had a jail break, killed three of the damn jailer, and the sheriff over in Sebring, he caught John Ashley ? found him sleeping under a tree, when he found out who he was instead of arresting him, he just opened the door and let him go ? he didn't want any of these damn guys coming and shooting up his damn jail ? and Baker, and the Sheriff in Palm Beach County and he sent some deputies up there and they just shoot around, line em up and shoot them alongside the head you know wouldn't kill em you know just chase'em around the woods all the afternoon, just for fun and Baker, he was going by there, he had to come up to Stuart or something, why he had the fellows riding about 70 miles an hour and he'd get down in the bottom of the car so they wouldn't know it was him.
Q. It wasn't safe for him to be out loose?
Q. Well thank you very much Mr. Dunscombe, it's been most interesting to talk to you and I'm sure this will be quite a contribution to the files for the Historical Society.