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American Handgunner Jul/Aug 2011 Digital Edition - Page 20
Massad ayoob The Lessons of edgar WaTson situation: In a hard and dangerous place where you have to take care of yourself, deadly force is sometimes necessary. But, for a certain type of man, it can become too-attractive a problem-solver. Lessons: When you develop a reputation of being too quick to resort to the gun, people will fear you. Fear breeds hate, and can lead to you being seen as the problem needing solved. On Oct. 24, 2010, the Brave — one of the finest state-of-the-art boats in the Florida Gulf Coast region (known as Ten Thousand Islands) — dropped anchor near the badly damaged dock of the hamlet of Chokoloskee. Only days before, the area had been savaged by the most powerful hurricane in the memory of any living resident. The boat’s owner, perhaps the most successful plantation owner and businessman in the islands and sometimes scornfully called “Emperor” by those who envied him, stepped off. He was wearing a revolver in a hidden shoulder holster, and carried a tattered hat in one hand and a double-barrel shotgun in the other. Awaiting him, already gathered at the nearby store and post office when they heard the distinctive sound of his powerful boat’s motor, were some 20 men of the town. All of them carried rifles or shotguns. On the periphery were even young boys armed with single-shot .22s. The man from the boat spoke to the men who led the crowd. They reminded him disapprovingly he had promised to bring back the head of a murderer. He replied he had brought back the killer’s hat, riddled with buckshot, after he shot down the murderer and the waters swept the corpse away. Not good enough, said the townsmen. They were going to hold him for the sheriff, because they thought he had committed the murders himself, and they demanded he surrender his shotgun. Instead, he swung the double barrel up at them. The guns erupted in a stunning volley, bullets and buckshot alike slamming into the plantation owner’s body. Some said the gunfire continued when he fell helpless to the ground. By the time the shooting stopped, the man from the boat was motionless, and dead. The strange life of Edgar Watson had come to an end. The year was 1910, and the century-long legend of Edgar Watson had begun to crystallize. The Backstory Peter Mathiessen wrote in 1991 that we know little of Edgar Watson “from the few hard ‘facts’ — census and marriage records, dates on gravestones, and the like. All the rest of the popular record is a mix of rumor, gossip, tale and legend that has evolved over eight decades into myth.” Mathiessen should know, because he spent many years researching the Watson story, and wrote four books about it. Good news and bad news there. Some of the good news is pioneer families of Southwest Florida cooperated with him enthusiastically and shared oral family history about the case, and more good news is Mathiessen, one of the best novelists of our time, wrote four fine books on the topic: Killing Mr. Watson (1991), Lost Man’s River (1997), Bone by Bone (1999) and Shadow Country (2008). It is some of the best “faction” — fact-based fiction — you can find. The bad news is, it’s exactly that: fictionalized. 20 20 Continued on page 76 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • JULY/AUGUST2011 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • JULY/AUGUST2011