Lydia Oregon (Hendry) Blount

Lydia Oregon (Hendry) Blount

was the wife of Cow Cavalryman, Benjamin F. Blount. She had three brothers: Francis A. Hendry, George W. Hendry and William M. Hendry, and two brothers-in-law, Edward G. Wilder and Jehu Jacob Blount who also served in Munnerlyn's Battalion.

[ SOURCE: McKay, D.B., "Story of Mrs. Blount Recalls Early Days,"Tampa Sunday Tribune, September 26, 1948. ]

Mrs. J. H. Humphries, of the state during his long service, wrote to me recently in very kindly vein concerning my "Pioneer Florida" stories. I am grateful for the hundreds of similar assurances of appreciation that have come to me, and for the generous cooperation of many friends among pioneers and their descendants in the effort to make the stories interesting and reliably informative.

Mrs. Humphries is the daughter of a Bradenton, widow of a newspaper publisher and a political leader who was held in the highest esteem throughout distinguished pioneer woman--Mrs Lydia Oregon Blount, who in 1931 was acclaimed the ideal Florida mother. Her thrilling story of pioneer life has been told and retold, but it will always justify retelling. In May, 1931, the Atlanta Journal sent a member of its editorial staff to the home of Mrs. Blount in Bartow to interview her on the occasion of her acclaim as the ideal mother on Mother's Day. The Georgia paper was particularly interested because Mrs. Blount was a native of Georgia, although she was brought to Florida when only four years of age by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Hendry. The paper devoted a full page of its magazine section to the story. Mrs. Humphries enclosed with her letter a copy of the Journal's article from which I quote:

"Sitting in a wheel chair to which she has been confined for nearly thirty years, Mrs. Lydia Oregon Blount, a little sweet-faced woman who was born in Thomas County, Georgia, but who moved to Florida eighty years ago when the [Third] Seminole War was still in the future, received tribute at her home in Bartow, Fla., as one of the state's outstanding mother in the recent celebration of Mother's Day.

"Tribute was paid both to her own experiences as a real pioneer and as a mother who had contributed outstanding children to the development of the State of Florida. Yet as the facts were recounted one found it hard to believe that this gentle lady had seen the Florida Indians pillage and burn; had heard packs of the red Florida wolves, now believed extinct, howling nightly about the home; had been chased into her very dooryard by a panther; and, most of all, had lived so independent of the outside world that her family were fed and clothed and furnished practically without store purchases.

"Mrs. Blount's father, James E. Hendry, was a south Georgia cattle owner of the days before the War Between the States. As that country turned more to the development of large plantations with slave labor his range became restricted and he sought a new location.


"After surveying the unsettled regions of south Florida he selected a site on the Alafia River east of Tampa. He had plenty of room there, for the nearest cross-roads community was 25 miles away. So the heard of cattle he had brought with him were turned on the range and he went back to Georgia for his family.

"Three weeks were required for the return journey of over 300 miles with his wife and children. They rode in a covered wagon of the type that had become famous on the overland trails to the west. Oregon Hendry, who became Mrs. Blount, was but a ...[line missing]...of the trip except the nightly camp fires in the dark woods, and the constant riding and jolting over the rough trails. Occasionally they had to build bridges across small deep streams, and sometimes had to swim the horses across wide rivers.

"A log home was built near the Alafia River and the family soon adapted itself to the pioneer life which then did not offer a great change from what they had been accustomed to in south Georgia. After a year in the new place the father returned to the old home for the rest of his cattle. He was gone for a long time. The mother and children grew anxious. Mail was infrequent. Finally word came that the father had died of diphtheria while in Georgia. He had been buried three weeks before his family learned of his death.

"Oregon's mother bravely carried on the work of the ranch with the help of her sons. She later married again and the primitive life in the wilderness went on. They raised their own corn and ground it by hand into grits, and into meal for bread. Baked sweet potatoes were a staple dish, but sweet potato custard was a luxury for great occasions. At times they roasted field corn until it was dark brown, ground it, and used it for coffee. Clothes were made homespun woven from cotton grown in a patch near the house, or shipped to Tampa from Georgia and carried overland to the ranch in lint form.

'Girls learned housework in those days,' said Mrs. Blount. 'I remember one time my sister shot three wild turkeys, but as a usual thing we didn't hunt or fish or ride in the woods much. There was always a lot to do in keeping the house up. We swept and cooked, wove cloth and did the thousand and one things to be done in a home where nothing came from a store.'


"When Oregon was 8 years old word came that the Indians had declared war again. Oregon had never seen an Indian until then. There were lots of their camps scattered through the territory, but since the first Seminole War the Indians had rarely mixed with the whites.

"Finally Billy Bowlegs had led his tribe from Tampa where the government had been attempting to force them to go aboard ship to be transported to the west. Osceola's old war cry was raised and the white settlers fled to the little block houses located in the scattered communities.

"Oregon, with her brothers and sisters, mother and step-father, went to Fort Meade, where a company of United States regulars was occasionally stationed.

"Life at the fort was lots of fun for the little girl. She had plenty of companions to play with and everything was exciting and new. But one morning [June 14, 1856] she suddenly noticed everyone running within the barricade. And as she listened she heard the sound of guns firing, people screaming and the shrill yells of the Indians in the distance. A group of cowboys who had formed themselves into a military company during the temporary absence of the regular soldiers came dashing out of the fort on their little ponies and disappeared down the [missing]...

"Leading them was Lieutenant [Alderman] Carlton, uncle of Mrs. Blount and great grandfather of Doyle Carlton, present governor of Florida, who also came of South Georgia stock.

"Those left at the fort barricaded themselves in and waited anxiously. The sound of firing continued down the road.

"Eventually the cowboys returned. Their slow pace told that the Indians had been driven off, but their solemn faces and the limp burdens they carried told of death in their ranks.

"Lieutenant Carlton and two of his men had been killed [William Parker and Lott Whidden] and another [Daniel Wilson] Carlton, grandfather of the present governor, had been wounded. Several of the Indians had also been killed and an Indian girl captured. The villagers looked at her, curiously while she was held a prisoner waiting to be transported to Tampa and the west.

"The attack had occurred at the Willoughby Tillis home, a short distance from town. The Indians, as was their custom, had slipped around the house in the night and waited until daylight to attack. A slave woman, going out at daybreak to milk, had noticed that the cows seemed to be nervous, and then saw a file of Indians hiding behind the rail fence. She had run screaming to the house, taking the children who had followed her to the cowpen. An Indian bullet struck the negress as she reached the kitchen door, but the wound did not prove fatal.


"The children were placed in the middle of the living room and bedding was piled around them. The men, luckily re-enforced by cowboys who had been spending the night in the corn house just outside the kitchen, fought the Indians off and kept them from setting fire to the place until help arrived from the fort.

"Billy Bowlegs surrendered the following winter [actually 1858] and went west with his tribe. Oregon Hendry and her folks returned to the Alafia River.

"Life went on much as before. The river was full of fish and forest full of game. Deer meat was so common the family seldom ate it, but fed it to the dogs.

"The cattle multiplied. Savannah, nearly 500 miles away, was the big beef market of that day and Oregon's step-father and brothers were often gone for months on a drive to that city. Later the Cuban trade developed and shipments were made from Punta Rassa, near Fort Myers.

"The Civil War period was a trying time in south Florida. The federals blockaded all the ports and the few scanty goods the settlers had been buying were cut off. The men volunteered in the Southern army and were sent north for the campaigns in Virginia and Tennessee and later in Georgia. More than half never returned.

"When she was 18 years old [Feb. 1, 1866] Oregon Hendry married Ben F. Blount, son of another pioneer family. Her husband was 20. Six years before he had been attending an academy at Gainesville, Fla., when raiding Federal soldiers broke up the school. [The Union attack on Gainesville didn't occur until 1864.] The boy came home and enlisted. Oregon had had brief schooling. To be able to attend classes she had moved from the Alafia to a married sister's home that was only four miles from a schoolhouse.

"While walking late one afternoon near her home, she had heard a panther scream. She ran to the house and was safe. Next day they found the tracks where a panther had come along the trail for some distance.

"Her marriage was part of a big event in the isolated section. Two other girls who curiously enough were the same age, same height and the same complexion were married on the same day in a triple ceremony that was the biggest social event of her generation. [The marriage was performed by the Rev. J. M. Hayman, Baptist minister. Polk County records show two other marriages performed the same day, by Methodist pastor W. C. Jordan: Lewis H. Parker to Lydia E. Starnes, and Francis J. Wilson to Caroline Starnes.]

"Life after marriage proved eventful. One night her young husband, coon hunting with a friend, treed a panther and fired on it with small shot before he know what it was. The panther dropped from the tree almost on top of the hunters and there was a wild tangle of dogs, panther and men.

"Young Ben Blount had no time to reload his old muzzle-loader, but he drew his knife and at every opportunity stabbed the big cat. It struck his hand with its claw and the knife flew away. But the work was done and the panther died a moment later. The skin of the beast measured nine feet from nose to tip of tail.

"As the country settled up the family became more prominent. A brother, Captain F. A. Hendry, established the town of LaBelle, county seat of Hendry County, named after him. Mrs. Blount's children and grandchildren became leaders in business and public life in various parts of the state.

"In 1900 Mrs. Blount began to suffer severely from rheumatism brought on by the exposure and hardships of her earlier pioneer life. In 1902 she was forced to take a wheel chair. [In its Nov. 17,1911 issue the Fort Pierce Saint Lucie County Tribune reported: "Mrs. Lydia Blount, a Polk county lady, has entered suit in the United States court for $12,000 damages against the Atlantic Coast Line for damages. Mrs. Blount is a sufferer from rheumatism and is forced to use an invalid chair. In helping her off the train the employe[es] let her drop to the track breaking both legs."]

"In the 29 years that have since elapsed she has remained in the chair. With never failing cheer she serves as an inspiration to thousands of friends. With clear mind and a good memory she recounts the early days when the settlers battled with the wilderness and its allies. Five thousand people now live in Bartow where she resides. Her husband's family once owned all the land of that region and he plowed the corn in a field where the $300,000 courthouse now stands. She has seen Tampa grow from a village of 300 people to a population of over 200,000."

Mrs. Blount died at her home in Bartow November 12, 1933, aged 86.

Provided courtesy of Kyle S. VanLandingham
Florida Cow Cavalry's Main Page - Contributed by Norita Moss


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