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Sunday Favorites: Bone Mizell; the Greatest Cow Hunter in the County
Bone Mizell became the poster child for the cow hunter movement in Florida.
If you have kept up with my column, you would know that the beef business was a huge industry in Florida from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s.
In those days, “cow hunters” rounded up Florida scrub cattle, a breed that evolved from early Spanish cattle brought to the new frontier by conquistadors.
In the Florida lowlands, the expeditions of the conquistadors proved disastrous, but piney wood cattle lived on for hundreds of years.
Finally migrants began settling Florida. They rounded up the cattle and shipped them to Cuba in exchange for gold coins.
One of the most notorious cow hunters to come out of Manatee County went by the name of Bone Mizell.
Mizell was a rugged horseman with sun-weathered skin, a distinguishable lisp and a lanky six-feet-five-inch build.
He was basically born into the saddle, running herds from Orange County to Okeechobee with the best cattle men around like Ziba King and the Parker Brothers.
Bone became the most famous of the Mizell family, a lineage prominent in early Florida history, not only because of his success of his trade, but because he was immortalized in a painting personifying the “Cracker Cowboy.” Mizell essentially become the poster child of the Wild South.
In 1863, Bone was born in Horse Creek, a sparsely settled community located in present day DeSoto County.
He was the eighth of 12 children for Morgan Mizell and Mary Fletcher Tucker.
Because Bone's father admired French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, he was named Morgan Bonaparte Mizell.
Unlike his namesake, Bone grew tall, lean and lanky in the saddle. He often let his long legs dangle below the stirrups of his Florida-bred pony, Marsh Tackle.
Bone was in most traditional ways illiterate, but he memorized thousands of cattle brands and whom they belonged from all the time spent out on the range.
In fact, he was famed throughout the state for his remarkable memory for both cattle and brands.
When round up time came and cow hunters were left scratching their heads trying to distinguish which cow belonged to which rancher, Bone was called in. It only took one look for Bone to know whom a cow belonged to.
In 1885, artist Fredrick Remington visited Florida to study cattlemen. Bone became the subject of his painting A Cracker Cowboy. The rendering appeared in Harpers’ Weekly and in a metropolitan New York Weekly.
According to Jim Bennett, author of Bone Mizell; Cracker Cowboy of the Palmetto Prairies, Remington chose Mizell because of this charisma.
“The artist recognized that cracker cowboys lacked the glamour associated with the Western variety he'd helped popularize. He also recognized that Bone had a charisma all his own, that Bone's fame as a rangeland raconteur and prairie prankster was widespread and well deserved,” Bennett wrote.
Bone was married to his lifestyle, never taking a wife or building a home. He rarely slept on a bed, unless it was located in one of his favorite bordellos, which flourished in cow towns after the Civil War.
Bordellos were just one of Bone’s vices. He also loved whiskey, horses and practical jokes.
Bone had always said whiskey would kill him one day.
Once while passed out, some of his friends carried him to a nearby cemetery and laid him between two graves. The next morning when he woke up. he is said to have looked around and said,
“Here is Judgment Day and I’m the first one up!”
Another version has it that when Bone awoke, he announced: 'Dead and gone to hell. No more'n I expected.'
In the 1890s, Bone switched his career from ranching to “cattle rustling:” changing brands on cows or illegally branding unmarked livestock. In 1896, he was convicted of rustling and sentenced to two years in a state penitentiary.
Some of Bone’s friends petitioned for his pardon, but were told by state officials he must serve time in prison before that could happen. Bone said his sad goodbye's solemnly before he boarded a train headed for prison.
When he arrived, the warden gave him a tour of the facility, and then invited him to dinner. After Bone cleaned his plate he said, ”Now that I served my time can I have my pardon?”
The question reportedly tickled the warden so much; Bone was granted a pardon the very next day and sent home.
Eventually the drinking caught up with Mizell. He died at age 58 while waiting for a money order from Ziba King in the depot house in Fort Ogden, Fla.
An agent said Bone looked like death stretched out on a bench in the ticket office. When the agent asked Bone to sit up, he reportedly said, “Yeah I’d better not lay down. I might die.” The agent returned from lunch to find Bone dead on the floor.
A local doctor was called to the scene but pronounced Mizell dead without examining him. Another spectator inquired, “Don’t you need a test?" The doctor reportedly replied, “That’s Bone Mizell. If I tested him, he'd test 90 proof.”
The examiner’s office listed the cause of death as “Moonshine–went to sleep and did not wake up.”
The good life, the bad life, the hard life of a Cracker cowboy had finally caught up to Bone Mizell.
Bone was buried in the Joshua Creek Cemetery in Arcadia.
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