If you haven’t made plans for this Saturday, why not take a journey of sorts back in time, to an era when this part of Southwest Florida was being settled by brave men and women who withstood the withering heat and wildlife to carve a life out of palmettos and pines?
Pioneer Day is what I’m referring to.
This began 15 years ago by the DeSoto County Historical Society as a much smaller gathering, and was located at the Tree of Knowledge Park. When it outgrew that spot, it moved to McSwain Park for a few years, and eventually was relocated to its current location—Veterans Park, out near Peace River. The gathering has grown not only in size and popularity, but in fun as well.
Older folks (such as myself) can enjoy artifacts and old-time music, while the younger generation can learn all about and participate in games from generations ago that very few play any more. There’ll be a working cow camp demonstration, working artisans who demonstrate everything from weaving to churning butter, and even antique engines. And who doesn’t like good barbeque? On hand will be several teams, preparing the meats and fixings to give attendees at taste of a genuine down-home meal.
The DeSoto County Historical Society was founded in 1986 after the disbanding of the Peace River Valley Historical Society, and during the two-year centennial celebration of DeSoto County and Arcadia. I am proud to have been a member of the former, and a charter member of the society we have today, and have served as its president for two terms myself.
Ever since then, I have been hungry to learn all I can about this part of Florida, its people, and its heritage. For a county and town that’s not that old, it’s amazing just how much history has taken place here. We were part of Manatee County before DeSoto was created in 1887, and the Civil War left its mark here, with some residents enlisting and others supplying beef for the soldiers. There were bloody range wars over land and cattle, and when the railroad came through in the mid-1880s, this region of Florida began growing a lot.
Phosphate was mined from Peace River at the turn of the last century, two airfields were established here to train pilots to fight in both world wars, local inventors gave the world such things as the rotary mower and the train car coupling device, cattle and citrus boomed, as well as some truck farming, the rodeo was founded and is still going strong, the Chautauqua organization founded a great amphitheater along Peace River, the Florida Baptist Children’s Home began here in Arcadia, where it remained for many years before relocating to Lakeland, a state hospital was established and operated for over 50 years, and many other organizations and events made DeSoto County their home over the years.
I like how the descendants of DeSoto’s pioneers still live here. I’m proud to see the cattle and citrus industries still thriving. And I think it’s great that some locals saddle their horses every morning to work ranches here, just like their forefathers did, well over a century before. I have five generations of my family buried in one of our local cemeteries, and this will always be home to me.
Pioneer Day is great family fun, where everyone can relax as they step back in time to learn about and appreciate what our ancestors went through to establish what we have today. Arcadia was founded on the Florida prairie, and has grown in size and character ever since. I hope to see you at Pioneer Day, which will last from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Bring your sense of adventure, your curiosity, your camera ... and by all means, your appetite!