Significant historical events, cultural portrayals and old-fashioned fun are part of a day-long event on Saturday in Arcadia.
A feature of the 15th annual Pioneer Day & BBQ is the DeSoto County Historical Society’s 100-year commemoration of American Legion K Post 11, part of its salute to the heritage of southwest Florida. Family friendly, this festival runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at DeSoto Veterans Memorial Park on State Road 70 just west of Arcadia. The American Legion Post, which recently re-opened from Hurricane Irma damage in 2017, is at Veterans Memorial Park.
Congress in 1919 chartered the American Legion as a patriotic veterans organization, and Post 11 was named for the Arcadia National Guard “Company K” unit that was mobilized into federal service in 1917. Post 11 sponsored the first Arcadia Rodeo in 1929 to fund construction of its clubhouse. The renamed Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo just ran its 91st edition in the Mosaic Arena. This history and more will be on display at Pioneer Day & BBQ.
Festival menu goodies on Saturday will include a bodacious barbecue and pulled pork, cane syrup and local honey, homemade jams and jellies, strawberry shortcake, swamp cabbage and other foods relating to cultural fare in central Florida.
Saturday’s festival opens with the DeSoto County High School’s JROTC Color Guard, under the direction of Lt. Col. Ron Baynes, presenting the flag. Arcadia City Manager Terry Stewart sings the National Anthem, and Mayor Jaccarie Simons offers a welcoming prayer.
According to tradition, the city of Arcadia decades ago was named for Arcadia Albritton Coker. Miss Coker will “share” her stories at Saturday’s festival. She will be joined by another legendary character—Acrefoot Johnson. A large man in size 14 shoes, James Mitchell “Acrefoot” Johnson walked a mail route in the 1870s between Fort Ogden and Fort Meade—65 miles a day, twice a week. Historical Society volunteers will be in other period costumes to help recreate Florida’s frontier—when the cattle roamed freely and people lived behind fences. Working and retired cowboys also set up a traditional “cow camp” and share stories about their way of life. Whip crackers show off expertise that gave rise to the name “Florida Cracker,” and the “Cow Cavalry”—the local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans—will demonstrate and display period weapons.
Festival visitors can also expect music from the Civil War era and forward throughout the day by the B-sides, John Bois, Dennis Mader, Keith Mathys, Barney and Nancy Miesee, Johnny Shannon and Vgo. There will also be demonstrations in pioneer skills of wood carving and crafting, thread spinning, tatting, soap making, quilting, pine-needle basket weaving, butter churning—with biscuits to sample the butter—and more.
The “Discover History” area features hands-on activities for children, such as candle dipping, cane-pole fishing, dip-pen writing, orange juicing, washing clothes with a scrub board, plus plenty of old-fashioned games. In addition, Pine Level Methodist Church puppeteers will revive an old-time gospel music “sing,” and DeSoto County Fire-Rescue will detail how a fire destroyed downtown Arcadia in 1905—long before the fire department existed.
The festival also showcases animals such as alapaca, goats and miniature donkeys. And there will be carriage rides, vintage automobiles, antique and flywheel engines, a classic firetruck, Florida authors/artists, historical exhibits by area churches, neighboring historical societies and other organizations. There is no charge for admission. www.historicdesoto.org, 863-266-5774
Acrefoot JohnsonElias E. and Elizabeth Keen Johnson moved to Fort Ogden around 1866 with their teenage son, James Mitchell. Johnson had been born in Georgia in 1818 and married his wife in Columbia County in 1846. James Mitchell was born in 1850. During the Civil War, Elias served as second sergeant in the Confederate Army Reserves. Their son employed his size 14 feet and enormous stride as postman during the 1870s. His impressive stature soon earned him the nickname Acrefoot, and time weaved into lore the stories that live on even today. Tales grew, boasting that Acrefoot could outdistance horsedrawn buggies and that he had outran locomotives. It is also said that he chose not to become a rider for the pony express because he felt the horse would only slow him down. Perhaps the most popular of these claims was that he resigned his job as mailman because tha postal service refused to let him carry passengers along his treacherous route through the swampy Florida wilderness. To prove his point, it is said that he strapped a wooden chair between his broad shoulders and effortlessly carried a man for several miles. The truth stretched to match his enormous stride.