Tales of pioneers who paved the way

-A A +A
By Pat Wellington

Many of us transplanted from the North tend to dismiss Florida history, thinking it refers to a few Seminole raids, Henry Flagler’s railroad, and the creation of Disneyland. But in Patrick Smith’s A Land Remembered we are given a rich history predating trendy beaches and cheap souvenirs.

The novel chronicles three generations of the fictitious MacIvey family, beginning with Tobias MacIvey, a Georgia cracker who first pioneers in the Florida wilderness in 1858 at a site that is today Alachua. He and his wife, Emma, face many hardships and deprivations, often surviving solely on raccoon meat and poke greens.

In time they move farther south and discover a deserted cabin and barn and even a small garden. But just when life is looking up, Tobias is drafted by a state marshal into rounding up cattle for the Confederate Army.

However, the experience is not wasted, and Tobias will finally have his first taste of prosperity raising cattle. With cattle, though, come cattle rustlers and violence. At the same time he had also been purchasing land for his cattle, but believing as his Seminole friends did that the land belongs to everyone, he does not exploit it.

Whereas Tobias saves his money for future security, his son, Zech, spends enormous sums buying up the wilderness. Like his father his friendships with Seminoles, including a love interest, have taught him to preserve the land, but to preserve it, Zech believes, one must own it.

As Tobias ages, the cattle drives become too arduous and father and son turn to lucrative orange groves. But at every turn is nature’s fury – in fires, ice storms, insect swarms – and emotional hardships in loss, sacrifice, doubt, and loneliness.

Third generation Sol MacIvey buys up property in the Miami area. His motive is justifiable. The population is growing and people would need food which his vegetable farms can provide.

What Sol did not anticipate was an exploding real estate market that would spiral him into becoming a multi-millionaire – but at a cost that appalled him. Here he is, returning to Miami Beach in the 1970s from his rural retreat in Punta Rassa:

“As they crossed the causeway they could see cruise ships making their way into port, their masts decorated gaily with multi-colored banners. Then they made their way onto Collins Avenue and moved slowly up South Miami Beach. The streets here were lined with shabby, rundown apartments and hotels, porches filled with old people sitting in cane-bottomed chairs, staring at nothing, some asleep and others perhaps dead and as yet unnoticed ….”

To Sol it was a walking cemetery. Farther up Collins Avenue palatial hotels shut out the ocean view to all but those who could afford a room with a balcony.

As the last of the MacIveys, Sol is ashamed of his part in this glass and concrete canyon. And he vows to turn the land he still owns into a preserve “where the animals can live again as they once did.”

Don’t read this book for elegant prose or character development. Read it for Smith’s vibrant, authentic stories about the hardy pioneers with simple values who developed our state.

Pat Wellington is a retired English professor, freelance writer, and faculty member of On Top of the World’s Master the Possibilities, who shares her passion for books with others.