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.