Old Man Hamilton

This is a story about Old Man Hamilton, we call him that with the deepest respect. A respect that he has earned by his many years in the Big Cypress Swamp. We, (in his eyes) were the boys of Six Pack and we met Hamilton when he was in his eighties. Camp Six Pack is right next to  Hamilton’s camp .  Its not a stones throw, but it you threw a stone and went and picked it up and threw it again and then once more, you would bounce it off the roof of his cabin. That's pretty close out in the Big Cypress Swamp. Hamilton had been visiting the Big Cypress since the early 1940’s. Most of his visits that we were aware of, were made alone. This is a pretty good feat for a man in his eighties. It’s a trip that I have not taken alone, more then just a few times, he did it regularly.

Old Man Hamilton was a very independent person. Everything that was to be done was to be done his way. Some would describe him as stubborn, but I think by the time we are all eighty, we will be just like him in that respect. Whenever we went to camp, we always went by Hamilton’s to see if he was in camp and if he was, to see if he was OK. He always greeted us with the expression, “Howdy ……. Boy’ssss!”, and soon followed with “Could….. you ……Boy’ssss ….help… me…… with ……something”. This is how we came to know how stubborn he was, everything he asked us to do, had to be done exactly his way and no other.
It was on one of these visits to check on Hamilton that we decided to ask him over for dinner. It was hunting season, so we told him to come over right at dark. We would be preparing dinner right after the afternoon hunt. We had planned on barbecuing chicken and some wild hog ribs we had from a previous hunt.
Old Man Hamilton drove a huge swamp buggy that was an old orange colored, electric company line truck. He had removed the back bed of the truck and the doors off the cab, but the rest of it was still there. He had put large tires on it, but it was still a very heavy machine. It probably took a 200 feet radius to turn that thing around. He at that time probably weighed only ninety pounds and this buggy had standard steering, no power steering for him. Any how, about dark we heard Old man Hamilton come crashing through the palmettos, we heard him before we actually saw him as he seemed to hit as many trees as he missed. He parked his buggy and climbed slowly down and slowly walked over saying “Howdy ……. Boy’ssss!”, and sat down in the kitchen. Now Old Man Hamilton did everything slow, even talked slow. So as we talked and occasionally asked him a question or two to include him, he would answer in his slow drawl. Ten words out of his mouth took as long as twenty did coming out of our mouths. We were new comers in the swamp compared to Hamilton, so we were eager to ask him questions about the area. Hamilton though was very secretive. We asked him how he drove to camp. His answer was “By …….. Goose ………Grease”. We, not being familiar with that name, said where is that? He said “ ……Yep!”, and that was the end of the discussion about that.

Well dinner was served, and we eat pretty well at camp. Old Man Hamilton was passed everything, beans, corn, chicken, ribs, bread, etc. and he took a little bit of everything. As he was eating his wild hog rib, he said “You…all……must….of….gotten….this…rib….from….some…bodies…..mule…”. Now I admit wild hogs have pretty lean and mean ribs and we cooked them a little fast that night, making them tough, but a mule? Well, that was old man Hamilton for ya! Old Man Hamilton started to tell us a story and as it went he said “ and…..I……cut…..down…..that………………………………………………………………………

………………………………………………………………………” (In mid sentence his chin slowly lowered to his chest and he kind of leaned against the table, his head barely above his plate. We all looked at each other and then back at him and as we were just about to see if he was still alive, he kind of revived and said) “ Well…..Boy’s…… I….think….I…..will…..head…for…..camp” With that he got up and slow walked to his buggy and slowly climbed in. Now his buggy was headed away from the way he had come and there wasn't room to turn in around so he headed off out the back gate. From there it was a hundred yards and a right turn and then two hundred yards to his camp, almost a direct shot. We heard him as he headed off, occasionally hitting a palmetto bush or brushing a tree, and the sound of his motor fading in the distance.

We all finished dinner and cleaned up, each of us taking a turn at camp washing the dishes. We were all tired from the days hunt and exercise of working around camp, so we started taking our showers and getting ready for the sack. After an hour or so, everyone was in their bunk, so it was lights out. As we started to dose off, out of the dark, we begin to hear the faint sound of a buggy driving through the swamp. The noise was getting louder and louder and soon we could hear the occasional palmetto bush being run over. Headlights appeared at the gate and drove on in to the building. It was Old Man Hamilton, he said, "Are….you…..Boy’..sssss…still….up…..?”…….“I…..can’t……find……my…….camp!”

Jon and I got up and agreed that Jon would drive Old Man Hamilton back to his camp and I would follow in my buggy to bring Jon back. Hamilton had gotten out of his buggy and we explained to him what we were going to do and he agreed. As Hamilton tried to get back in his buggy, he was struggling to get his leg in. Jon grabbed his leg to help him get in and Old Man Hamilton said “ Care….full….Boy…….Ya…..trying…….to…..rip…..my….leg…..off”, that was old man Hamilton. Jon drove Hamilton to his camp and helped him up the stairs into his cabin and we said “Goodnight”. As we drove back Jon and I talked about the ruggedness of this old man and the spirit of the Big Cypress he must have to be out in it, at his age and physical ability. We have commented many times that we hope we are able to still enjoy the Big Cypress Swamp when we reach his age.

Old Man Hamilton passed several years ago, and Wayne now owns his old camp, but to us that camp will always be Hamilton’s and that is what we still call it. If you were to go by it today you would see the pond that he made, by mixing his own explosives out of diesel fuel and fertilizer. You would see the old rusted out hulk of a drag line and bulldozer that must be the 1930’s version of this equipment. And you can still see the cabin he built board by board, mostly alone and an old irrigation pump near the pond to irrigate the fruit trees he had planted on the property. We still marvel at the effort it took to get that equipment out into the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp and the spiritual drive it took for him to make the effort to do all that work.

Each and every camp owner in the area could tell their own stories about Old Man Hamilton. Calvin Stone also owned a camp nearby Old Man Hamilton and a chapter in Calvin Stones book “Forty Years In The Everglades” is devoted to Old Man Hamilton. We all had respect for him and his love of the Big Cypress Swamp.

This story is written from remembrances provided by Jim

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This page created November 1, 2000 by Steve