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“The Latest from Florida”

April 18, 1885


artist unknown

“The Latest from Florida”
 

Business, Clothing; Endangered Species;
 

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.
 

Florida;


No caption


This small, unsigned cartoon points to the fashionable use of alligator skin as boot or shoe leather.  In 1877, Harper's Weekly reported that American boot and shoe manufacturers used almost 20,000 alligator skins annually.  While the original source of the product had been Louisiana, the news item (like this later cartoon) identifies Florida as the new chief provider for the tanneries.  Although the journal quoted an alligator hunter in 1884 complaining that prices were "way down" because of competition from imitation alligator-leather, the skins continued to be popular for shoes and other products.  In the mid-1880s, Harper's Weekly carried advertisements for an alligator shopping bag, a book of sacred verse bound in either cloth or alligator, and a clothing outfit made of imitation alligator. 

During the late-nineteenth century, Florida remained sparsely populated, particularly in its southern region.  Among the scattered hamlets of the 1880s, there were only three cities--Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Key West, all of which had fewer than 10,000 residents.  Only 257 people lived in Dade County.  Yet, the state's population more than doubled from 1870 to 1890, and the 1870s saw the beginnings of the tourist industry.  Famous visitors in the early 1880s included President Chester Arthur, former president Ulysses S. Grant, and financier Jay Gould.  Some of the tourists came to Florida for health reasons (although the state was still plagued by malaria and yellow fever), but most were sportsmen eager to hunt or fish the diverse and exotic wildlife available.

One of Florida's major tourist attractions during the third-quarter of the nineteenth century was alligator hunting.  Harper's Weekly, Scribner's Monthly, Forest and Stream, and other publications began reporting on the phenomenon in the mid-1870s.  Many of the adventure-seekers were amateurs, but even the experienced hunters often had difficulty adjusting their skills to the unfamiliar sport.  The excursionists would charter a steamboat and hire a guide to take them down Florida's inner waterways.  As the vessel chugged along, the men would stand on deck and open fire at the alligators they sighted.  As game populations dwindled by the late 1870s, some ship captains began prohibiting firing from the deck.  

The sportsmen, however, simply moved to other areas.  As a Florida newspaper admitted in 1882, alligator-hunting by tourists "brings big money to Florida every year."  Harper & Brothers publishing firm paid the pastime more attention in the 1880s, with illustrated articles in Harper's Weekly (1883,1884) and Harper's Young People (1888).  In 1887, the former told its readers:  "The alligator, which has been nearly exterminated in many localities, exists in vast numbers in the Everglades and environs."  With time, the hunting of alligators for profit or sport led to their eradication in regions where they had previously flourished.  Legal limitations on the hunting season and catch as well as other conservation measures in the twentieth century allowed the proliferation of alligators in Florida and the Mississippi delta once again.

Robert C. Kennedy




“The Latest from Florida”
April 18, 2014







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