As So Flo Guns moves into the production phase we revisit where South Florida’s – and the USA’s - gun history began.
On December 8th we went to the Cape Florida Light to begin shooting (no pun intended) for So Flo Guns. There we stood in the footsteps of Ponce De Leon, sea robbing pirates, early settlers, Indians, Army soldiers, and two lighthouse keepers that battled 50 or so Seminoles from the lighthouse on a fateful July day in 1836. Aaron Carter, an African American, died in the battle.
Ponce De Leon’s landing on Key Biscayne in 1513 marks the beginning of guns in South Florida. Unfortunately, he left no artifacts. Pirates that presumably visited the island over the following centuries similarly left little to mark their passing.
It is however the location where Brian Newberry dug up a musket ball in 1981 with his metal detector - the oldest firearm artifact we have found in our research. And the occasion for our shoot.
The sacking of the lighthouse as laid out in the firsthand account of John W. B. Thompson marks the earliest written description of guns in South Florida. It is a gripping tale in which he survived rifle shot injuries, a fire engulfed lighthouse (the wooden stairs were set ablaze), and a massive explosion when he threw a powder keg into the fire from the top of the lighthouse where he and Carter had ascended with their rifles. We are planning to include an animation of the event in our film. It really deserves an entire film as it encapsulates the issues surrounding the Second Seminole War and its attempted forced relocation of the Seminoles. It is also a war in which several advances in firearm tech and tactics developed, including Samuel Colt’s first big sale of repeating rifles to hold back the Seminoles who had learned to attack while troops reloaded their muzzleloaders.
Park Ranger Shane Zigler enabled access to the keeper’s house, the lighthouse itself - all 109 steps - and grounds, where we got spectacular footage inside and out. Accord Productions provided the Sony FS7 4K camera package with lighting and audio, all in the hands of Accord’s Chris Lindabury. Thanks also to the park’s Heather Smith and Accord owner Max Wyler for getting it all together for us.
We interviewed the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park’s resident expert/historian on all things related to the 2nd Seminole War and the Army’s activities post lighthouse sacking, Steve Mack. He is a firearms expert of the period. In addition to the interview he also provided a non-fire demonstration of the firearms used by those stationed at Camp Bankhead (the Army camp on the lighthouse grounds back then).
One of these was a 1816 Springfield smoothbore musket which was the weapon US Army infantry troops were issued. The musket ball fit very nicely in the .69 caliber barrel.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Steve Mack also brought a much rarer weapon: a Halls Carbine which represents a real evolution in gun tech which would revolutionize warfare leading up to the Civil War. Its percussion cap technology, a European innovation developed in the 1820’s, would begin to replace the flintlock that was standard after Ponce’s 16th century matchlock and had prevailed for centuries. In short, a percussion cap provides the spark to ignite the powder in the barrel rather than a piece of flint against a steel frizzen. It allowed much more reliable firing in all weather. The Halls Carbine was an elite weapon and would have been in use by Dragoons and cavalry at the time. The M-16 of the day Steve said.
Our footage includes awesome panoramas of the Atlantic, Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne, Miami, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove, and closeup documentation of the musket ball itself.
Under the bright lights the ball looks like it might be from outer space. Unlikely. Steve Mack thinks it probably fell out of a soldier’s cartridge bag and simply left on the beach back when the army occupied the area. We want to take it to a lab to be sure.
Perhaps the most fun of the day was when we decided to try the number on the pill bottle that Brian Newberry had returned the musket ball in. To our surprise he answered.
And that’s a subject for another interview and shoot as we continue our journey to track the history of South Florida through its guns. Stay tuned.
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