By Steve Richards
Is this musket ball the oldest firearm artifact in South Florida?
Can the history of South Florida be told through one tiny artifact? A single musket ball?
Looks like. So much so that we could easily dedicate an entire film to tell the stories it inspires. Stories that cover more than 300 years, from Ponce De Leon in 1513 to the sacking of the Cape Florida Lighthouse in 1836 – and the pirates in between.
It all starts in Key Biscayne with Ponce De Leon stepping foot on the island just across the Rickenbacker Causeway from Miami in 1513. Looking for gold, the Fountain of Youth, and easily enslaved natives – none of which he found - he didn’t stay long. But we can assume he brought Matchlock Muskets with him. (Ponce was on Columbus’ second expedition to the New World). That being said we have no surviving artifact(s) from the visit.
Or do we?
We are in the process of identifying and documenting the oldest guns from South Florida’s history for our new documentary So Flo Guns.
This musket ball was found near the Cape Florida Lighthouse at the very tip of Key Biscayne. Built in 1825 it is the oldest structure in South Florida and the site of a Seminole sacking in 1836 – a major event of the Seminole wars of Andrew Jackson’s day.
In research for the film I knew that Key Biscayne and Cape Florida were huge to the story. So out I drove one afternoon and was directed by the guardhouse rangers to Art Levy, Park Services Specialist at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. He is the keeper of the archives, and the stories. He’s also about to retire and is organizing the materials which have been collected over the years so he can pass them down to the next keeper of the flame before he leaves in October.
When I told him what I was up to he quickly pulled from deep in an old filing cabinet the musket ball he is holding. It had apparently been dug up by a beachcomber with a metal detector back in 1981.
This is likely a very important artifact given its provenience, a fancy word that basically means we know when, where, and even who found it. And given that Art has tucked it away all these years we can also assume it’s not forgery, not that anyone would bother.
Certainly old musket balls aren’t uncommon. But the only known musket ball dug up on Cape Florida? Now that’s fascinating and could fill a film or two on its own just from all the imagining it generates.
Like what? Well, it comes down to not really knowing what this musket ball is, when it was presumably fired, who fired it, where it was made, etc. All of which is the purview of archaeologists, scientists, and others that dig into such things.
There seem to be several possibilities which include:
I suggest we treat it with the respect it deserves and bring in scientists. Because while it is perhaps most likely that this musket ball is from the 19th century, we really don’t know. So we will be reaching out in the course of filming So Flo Guns to historians, archaeologists, metallurgists, gun experts, and the like.
For instance, we can perhaps determine the source of the lead in the ball with lead isotope analysis and other research methods to know whether the ball is of American or Spanish origin. Or somewhere else. This might also help determine who shot it – assuming it was shot at all.
A fascinating study of lead artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition goes into tremendous depths along these same lines and presumably gives a road map for how to research our little ball. Elemental analysis of nineteenth century lead artifacts from Lewis and Clark and Hudson's Bay sites of the Pacific Northwest (umt.edu)
We can also examine the caliber and structure of the ball itself and match it to others that exist in musket ball databases.
Who cares? Anyone who is interested in guns in America and how we got to our present-day gun environment.
Is it 16th century Spanish or 19th century American? Was it fired by a Seminole or one of two lighthouse keepers fighting for their lives. We may never know. But It certainly shows how such a little thing can get us asking the right questions.
A potential next step? The Geochron Laboratories / Krueger Enterprises Isotopic Analyses (geochronlabs.com) outside Boston. They are the ones that can tell us what there is to be known about the metallurgy and chemical makeup of the ball if Art and the folks at the park on Cape Florida would allow.
We had a major celebration on July 4th with three bands, three food trucks, three security guards, and one stage.
Which is kind of a miracle given that Elsa was chugging towards us and rain in July is not exactly uncommon around here. But skies cleared the day before and we had sunshine all day long allowing a nice mix of folks from the neighborhood, the broader community via our online promotions, and friends old and new.
It was hot though with temps in the 90’s and a cloudless sky for most of the afternoon. Which meant our performers were baking in the sun, but they all performed with great energy on the stage on St. Luke’s lawn with a sound system that Frank the soundman made sound awesome! The performances by Pangea, PJ Aviles, and The Real Deal Band were all top notch as we knew they would be. Fortunately for the rest of us shade was plentiful under the trees and by the time Pangea went on around 6:30 the temps had dipped a bit and the full promise of the event showed itself with folks gathering from the community to see what was going on.
There was also melancholy in the atmosphere as we remembered the Surfside tragedy unfolding as we went with our flags at half-staff. This also meant speaker(s) bowed out, which we understood. We had rethought whether we were going to move forward at all given the circumstances but decided to move ahead as we felt this July 4th in particular needed to be celebrated given the year we all just lived through.
This was the first attempt at an event like this at St. Luke’s and while we were sure we would pull it off we had our share of issues. Like where the stage would go exactly, how long it would take to set up and get going given that we didn’t want to interrupt morning services, where the food trucks should park, how many security guards were needed, how many portable toilets, etc.
It was a great way to kick off our fundraising effort for So Flo Guns (SoFloGuns.com) which begins in earnest next week. I am still struck that another Miami mass shooting happened less than two miles from our office at St. Luke’s in Kendall just weeks ago. (Deadly mass shooting near Miami area college campus | Miami Herald) This continues to be a poignant reminder that the issues our documentary addresses affect all of us. None of us are immune to these risks in our midst. Our events going forward will focus on gun violence and 2nd Amendment issues – with elements from the film’s musicians, music, experts, and footage to forge engaging events.
So Flo Guns is the new feature documentary from TheoEco about guns in South Florida past, present, and the future. From Ponce De Leon’s arrival on Key Biscayne in 1513, to pirates in the Keys, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, to Seminoles and Soldiers in the 1800s, to gangsters in the early 1900s, to the Cocaine Cowboys, to Parkland, we have a long and tangled relationship with guns, and their evolving lethalness.
For this event we departed from the So Flo Guns theme. July 4th is meant to be celebrated as those that came can attest given all the dancing going on. Thanks very much to Ariel Eva, Dorian Reyes, Raymond Daniel, Pangea, The Real Deal Band, Jim Cribb, Lyle Lingle, the food trucks, Eddie Baez at Professional Security, Moe’s Rental, the Ladies of St. Luke’s, and all the rest.
And if you haven’t yet donated we would greatly appreciate any size donation to help defray our costs of the event. We have extended the date to July 31st and have so far raised about $1,500 of our $6,800 breakeven goal. To donate click here.
We are very pleased that State Senator Annette Taddeo will be speaking at the 4th of July Celebration at St. Luke’s in Kendall. We are also very pleased to have the former Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Cuba Bishop Miguel Tamayo kick the day off with a benediction.
An original emphasis for the event was to celebrate this very special July 4th and also talk about gun violence in our midst. Especially since we are less than two miles from the Hookah Lounge shooting just a few weeks ago. A crime still unsolved. With that in mind we reached out to several community leaders and are very happy that Senator Taddeo will be able to talk with us and take questions. Obviously, we have more on our minds than community violence, not least of which is the tragedy unfolding in Surfside, lingering Covid concerns, etc.
But most of all we are planning a festive day with bands, food trucks, and fun. We are expecting hundreds of neighbors throughout the afternoon and are honored to have both the bishop and senator join us.
Music, Food, Speakers, and Fun! And Fundraiser for the feature documentary film So Flo Guns.
We are planning a major celebration with our community on this very special Fourth. It will be one to remember and a bit of surprise that it is possible at all given the CDC guidance just weeks ago. But we have it organized, Miami’s top band Pangea and other artists are booked, and much more is in the works.
I am struck that another Miami mass shooting happened less than two miles from our office at St. Luke The Physician in Kendall. (Deadly mass shooting near Miami area college campus | Miami Herald) Three dead and five injured in our neighborhood. This is a poignant reminder that the issues our event and documentary addresses are all around us. None of us are immune to these risks in our midst. However, I believe we are not helpless to affect gun violence in our community. This event is a way to help.
So Flo Guns (SoFloGuns.com) is the new feature documentary from TheoEco about guns in South Florida past, present, and the future. From Ponce De Leon’s arrival on Key Biscayne in 1513, to pirates in the Keys, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, to Seminoles and Soldiers in the 1800s, to gangsters in the early 1900s, to the Cocaine Cowboys, to Parkland, we have a long and tangled relationship with guns, and their evolving lethalness.
TheoEco’s goal is to have hundreds of thousands of South Floridians, and millions more worldwide see the film by the end of 2023. Clearly, we need a lot of repeated screenings to all corners of South Florida - a role community organizations can uniquely provide for their neighbors in addition to the awesome local cinemas throughout our area. They have screens and venues that can be put to good use in off hours, while also offering fundraising opportunities and the chance to increase the flow of visitors and regulars alike.
But first we have to make it! Our co-hosts can get on board now and be a part of it from the very beginning. Which is what these fundraisers are all about. We have a budget of just over $200,000 and have spent a little more than $60,000 so far. We are reaching out to foundations for grants, wealthy donors for donations, crowdfunding campaigns, social media, etc.
For more go to SFG Co-Hosts (theoeco.org)
So Flo Guns – Musketeers, Pirates, Indians, Soldiers, Gangsters, and Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” Rifle
So Flo Guns - A new documentary for release early 2022.
South Florida’s entangled gun environment begins right here more than 500 years ago. So too America’s gun culture.
Last week we visited museums from Key West to West Palm Beach in search of the oldest guns in South Florida’s museums as we begin to build a timeline of guns over the 500+ years they have been here at the core of our very colorful – and often notorious history. Here’s a list of the museums we visited and the artifacts we found:
First to the Lock and Load Museum in downtown Miami. This is likely the most complete collection of guns in South Florida though I’m not sure how many original South Florida artifacts are in the collection, so I look forward to going back and digging in a bit further. Regardless, it is an awesome place for gun aficionados. Where else can you dig into gun history and then go fire fully automatic machine guns in the same place?!
Next up was West Palm Beach and the Palm Beach County History Museum. Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays and I forgot to look ahead of time. But we found a wonderful representative outside the front steps (Casey I believe it was) and he talked about the gun owned by gangster John Ashley (and the rifle of the Sheriff that gunned him down) circa 1911 on exhibit. This is the oldest artifact we have found so far from the early 1900’s and has a terribly colorful history.
Later in the week we made it down to Key West where we came across some tremendous items. First was at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum from a 1700 shipwreck, the slave ship Henrietta Marie which sunk off the southern tip of Florida. This flintlock pistol is the oldest true artifact/gun we have found in our research and it definitely looks like it was under water for more than 200 years. It is however not actually a gun ever in use in South Florida – it just happened to sink there. That being said it tells the story of the types of guns around at that time and is part of our history. It is the kind of gun used by the Pirates that roamed the Caribbean and Florida Keys for the better part of two centuries from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries.
But South Florida can go back even further with its gun lineage, reaching all the way back with artifacts and reasonable extrapolation (thanks Professor George) to the time of Ponce De Leon and his first visit to South Florida at Key Biscayne in 1513 and then again to the Southwest coast near Cape Coral in 1521. Regrettably, while we are unlikely to find an actual matchlock musket artifact from the 16th century we found a wonderful exhibit at the Collier County Museum in Naples back in 2019 of a Spanish Musketeer with a matchlock replica and full uniform and armor! For more about the guns in this period – and those that used them – check out From Matchlocks to Wheel-Locks in Early America -- 1500 to 1740 https://youtu.be/IBak7kgevaw.
The history of guns in South Florida gets another big notch on the timeline when the Cape Florida lighthouse is built in 1825 where presumably the keeper had a gun as we conclude from the Seminole sacking of the lighthouse on Key Biscayne in 1836. There was definitely a gun battle, hence our confidence that guns were there, though I am not aware of any actual artifacts from the time, though we are still early in our research. For a glimpse of what a battle with Seminoles might have been like, and the Springfield rifles around at the time, check out the trailer from the 1953 Rock Hudson movie Seminole (https://youtu.be/WJaGp4cJLNM) starring Anthony Quinn as Chief Osceola. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy and likely out of touch race relations wise, but in no other movie have they depicted the realities of trudging through the glades in woolen uniforms, dragging canons through waist-high waters, all as hell rained down from the same types of guns the Indians likely brought with them into South Florida. We hope to dig deeper into this aspect of So Flo Guns’ story in the coming months.
But the most exciting discovery on last week’s trip was at Key West’s Fort East Martello Museum finding what we believe may be the oldest museum firearm in South Florida. One that is actually from the period and was in use then and there in 1865. The Spencer Carbine (along with a shotgun) from the Civil War is under glass as soon as you enter the gallery. Western movie fans will remember the Spencer, it was used by Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) to great effect in the movie Unforgiven https://youtu.be/X5Vb_FUuRDE. Please note that this is not a “light” scene so consider yourself warned.
Thanks to all the awesome guides and representatives at all these museums. This kind of work is impossible without these places and the people who love and work for them.
So Flo Guns - A new documentary for release early 2022.
South Florida’s entangled gun environment begins right here more than 500 years ago. So too America’s gun culture.
At the core of our documentaries is a historical documentation of the past. This requires lots of time in museums, libraries, collections, etc. Just as importantly, we require the goodwill of supporting organizations and individuals who open up their archives and help guide the process with their expertise. We are indebted to them.
Research for So Flo Guns began in 2018 with an interview with Dr. Paul George and will continue through the early summer. Here’s a list of some of the museums we are looking to:
We plan to finish our shoots by October 2021. Though Covid restrictions are still a consideration it looks like most things should be available to us in the relatively short term. Many museums are open already.
For an idea of what we do with all this research please take a look at the Old Floods segment from our 2017 film So Flo Floods. It provides a good look at the kinds of elements we will bring to So Flo Guns including interviews, graphics, historical archives, even an animation. In the new film we will upgrade all of these elements with improved lighting and sound, better graphics, improved animation(s), etc. The new film also has something So Flo Floods did not - a more engaging subject that lends itself to visual storytelling with lots of supporting media and artifacts. Floods by their nature leave little behind for examination. Guns are the opposite in that there is so much to be examined including the guns themselves.
Here’s a link to the 15-minute Old Floods segment:
We are very fortunate to have Dr. Paul George’s involvement in both films and feature many excellent photos from HistoryMiami’s archives of the 1926 Miami Hurricane in the Old Floods segment. Similarly, we received a great deal of help from the LEW Museum of the Glades in Belle Glade remembering the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane that devastated the region.
Dr. George is Miami’s premiere historian at HistoryMiami Museum and we look forward to his contributions to the new film. For a taste of what we can look forward to we include the following brief clip in which he discusses the Cocaine Cowboy era and Miami’s gun culture.
We owe much to the keepers of our history and look forward to getting “back in the stacks” over the coming months. We plan to reach out to other repositories, collections, and aficionados we find along the way who might be willing to perform live-fire demonstrations of their firearms and interviews.
If you can think of additional museums and collectors we should contact please contact us.
Including clips from:
While not a trailer people can begin to get a feel for where we are and what we are going for.
About A.J. Niilo and Gunz
We are very fortunate to have Miami’s own A.J. Niilo compose the theme song for the film: “Gunz”. Coming out of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School A.J. was classically trained throughout high school receiving the Silver Knight award. A.J. currently performs with Taylor Dayne and Debbie Gibson, having performed and toured with David Lee Roth, Shakira, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Joss Stone and many others. He writes music for television and currently has music on the cable network Epix on the show "Get Shorty" and on Hulu's "The Handmaid’s Tale." He pursued learning the musical craft by playing in the local Miami clubs with the popular band Pangea. Here’s what he had to say about Gunz:
“In this song I wanted to express the two sides of the gun issue. Those that feel threatened and want to guard their right to own all guns and those that want responsible gun ownership with strict gun laws to stop the persistent loss of life on a daily basis. The tension of both ideologies come through with a scream. I express the different emotional shades of the American culture of guns today.” - A.J. Niilo
South Florida’s entangled gun environment begins right here more than 500 years ago.
So too America’s gun culture.
For release early 2022.
Guns and South Florida go together like palm trees, sand, and art deco hotels. They’ve been here since before anyone can remember and are more numerous than people. It’s clear they are not going anywhere and are also a scourge on its citizens. We love them, and we hate them, and our politics can seem twisted by them with South Florida (So Flo) especially stained by them in the national psyche.
Filming for So Flo Guns began in the immediate wake of the Parkland shooting, February 14, 2018. A month later we documented the March for Our Lives protest on Miami Beach. Later in the spring we interviewed the organizer of a gun show and documented its goods. Additional interviews, including Dr. Paul George, resident historian of HistoryMiami, took place over the summer. October’s Line in the Sand demonstration on South Beach in which members of Florida Carry took their rifles and sidearms to South Pointe was the last shoot to date. 2019 found us with other priorities it seems and 2020 was taken up by the pandemic.
Paul George on the Cocaine Cowboy Era.
2021 brings a renewed passion to finish the film even before the most recent mass shooting epidemic. Assuming COVID-19 is enough in the rearview mirror to allow shooting in the summer of 2021, with three months of post-production in the fall, we will be ready to roll out the finished film shortly thereafter.
Ten shoots are planned over the summer and include firing a matchlock musket like Ponce de Leon in the 16th century, as well as a Kentucky long rifle like troops had in the Seminole Wars. Coincident with a stop at Al Capone’s house in Miami Beach, we will feature a Tommy gun. Next we’ll focus on the Cocaine Cowboy era that will bring us up to the modern day AR-15. Plans to visit Liberty City will bring in civic leaders to discuss the everyday shootings that occur in their neighborhoods and the handguns that are such a neglected part of the story.
One shoot is planned outside of South Florida with a gun manufacturer in New England where we intend to document, buy, and shoot a new Kentucky long rifle working replica. Why New England? Because Florida produces few of the guns it uses. New England has always been a big supplier of guns. Why this particular firearm? Because it is the same kind available at the time the 2nd Amendment was adopted -- and a big purpose of our film is to illustrate the evolution of the guns themselves. And to show how far we are from what the Founding Fathers could ever have imagined when they gave us the right to bear arms.
Gadsden Flag circa 1776.
The fourth quarter of 2021 will find the footage in Kathmandu where our editor Amit Nepali and his studio are located. Our trans-world post-production habits are well honed with this being our fifth feature documentary.
At the moment we are logging footage, preparing a trailer, working with the music creators, and beginning to scour museums from Key West to Naples to Belle Glade to Miami, digging through archives, identifying the guns, artifacts, press clippings, locations, and fascinating interviewees for the film.
A.J. Niilo - Composer of So Flo Guns theme song Gunz.
So Flo Guns speaks to the various points of view of the gun discussion and helps people understand that the gun situation here is historic and intractable – but not hopeless. Perhaps it’s not about eliminating guns, but de-risking them. Get it back to what it was when the Kentucky Long Rifle was state-of-the-art, back when the 2nd Amendment was written. Because it doesn’t take a genius to see that Daniel Boone’s rifle bears little resemblance to an AR-15.
For more click here.