Memories of Yankeetown: Not a Drowning

A. Frank Knotts

Now for a murder, one with a moral dilemma. This story gets a little sketchy because it comes from hearsay by a boy with big ears who didn't get to hear the whole conversation. One day in the late nineteen-thirties, maybe thirty-seven, a body was discovered in the river near Florida Power's Inglis Plant. Word got around that a man whose name I don:t recall had drowned. I don't know of any investigation that followed. People did drown from time to time.

About a week later on a quiet summer afternoon I happened to be hanging around at the side of of the lodge as Dad sat on the porch reading when along came the most knowledgeable man in town, Mr. Watson. Watson typically spent most of his waking hours gabbing with people wherever he could find them--on the streets, in the stores, at the post office, at the lodge, and, of course at the garage. He gathered all the information and gossip available and then turned around and distributed it all over. We had no need for a newspaper.

On that Sunday afternoon, however, Watson did not seem his usual cheerfully garrulous self. He looked worried and I remember him nervously rubbing his forearms. He asked Dad if he could talk, and Dad said, "Sure." It turned out that the town's leading gossip had news which he couldn't share.

He related that a few days earlier he had been on the riverbank near the Inglis power plant when he witnessed a fight on the oil barge. The barges at that time had a little steel house on them, required by the either the Coast Guard or the Navigation Service, and that house had to be manned while the barge was at sea. The idea was that if the barge became detached from the tug, the man could at least drop an anchor and/or give warnings to other craft. Apparently the man on the barge had invited a pal over for a few drinks and they got into a fight. Watson said that he watched one guy knock the other one down, stomp him vigorously, and shove him in the river.

Just at that point, darn it, Dad noticed that I was listening, turned my way and told me to go take care of my chickens. So I didn't get to hear the rest of the conversation and am left to wonder to this day how the two of them dealt with Watson's obvious dilemma. Let me add that the man who did the stomping was widely feared as a great bully. On top of that there would have been no evidence, and little chance of anyone in enforcement finding any. It appears that this time the information man kept something to himself. At least, I never heard of any arrests or legal proceedings.

Mr. Knotts may be contacted at knotts@yankeetown.com

November 2010

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