Last Train is available!
“Florida Cowboy” by Paul Smithson
If it wasn’t for Hollywood, we might have an entirely different perspective of the American cowboy. The first cowboys were not from Texas, but from Florida. The cattle industry dates back to Ponce de Leon introducing the Andalusian breed to Florida. It should also be noted that the Andalusian breed was the granddaddy of what would later become the Texas longhorn. Anyway, while I grew up watching and loving and still watch and love my cowboy heroes of the west, it is important to set things right. This tune is a clear nod to Willie Nelson, a major early musical influence on me, and it’s meant with nothing but respect for the cowboy, both the eastern and the western versions. It’s simply a matter of who was here first.
A History of the Florida Cracker Cowboys
“But for the Train” by Paul Smithson
The train played a significant role in the growth and shaping of Florida. The first “train,” basically a wheeled cart pulled on wooden rails by mules, appeared in 1834. This mule-drawn railroad transported cotton to waiting ships at Port Leon. The first railroad line ran from Tallahassee to Port Leon. The first steam-powered train appeared in 1836, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Canal Railroad. The train inspired hope that a great city could be developed at St. Joseph, but yellow fever and a series of hurricanes thwarted those efforts. What is today St. Joe is the site of the earlier planned metropolis. The train was instrumental in the cotton, turpentine, and phosphate industries.
"But for the Train" on YouTube
“Biscayne Bay” by Paul Smithson
This song was inspired by a story about “Crawfish” Eddy Walker, who built the first shack out in Biscayne Bay in 1933. This shack would lead to many more being built and ending up with what came to be known as Stiltsville. The driving force, or forces, behind this development was alcohol and gambling. Apparently, being a mile offshore, Stiltsville was immune from the law.
Welcome to Stiltsville, a Curious Collection of 7 Houses a Mile Off the Florida Coast
“Freedom” by Paul Smithson
Francisco Menendez was an African captured and sold into slavery in the early 1700s. After escaping the plantation in South Carolina, he found refuge in Fort Mose, an all-black settlement just north of St. Augustine. He was promised freedom after serving to protect St. Augustine and Fort Mose from the British. His is a tale of bondage and freedom, back to bondage and then again to freedom, ultimately establishing and settling San Agustin de la Nueva Florida, a small village in Cuba.
Captain Francisco Menéndez helped found the first free Black settlement in the U.S.
“Wandering Willard” by Paul Smithson and Lindsay Stroh
Lindsay, after attending my show at Winter Park Library, introduced me to this story about Willard, former Governor Claude Kirk’s dog who had the habit of escaping and strolling about town and the beach. We exchanged emails and she forwarded some information and research she had completed. I composed the lyrics and forwarded them to Lindsay for review and input. She offered some suggestions and clarification and we ended up with this final version. I set it to music, keeping it simple as I generally do, and here we have a final product.
“Turpentine” by Paul Smithson
The turpentine industry, also known as the naval stores, began in the southern regions during the time of the original colonies, and arrived in Florida in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Early on, prison labor was employed through the Convict Lease System, the same program that aided the construction of the early railroad lines. Later, however, after the Lease program was done away with in the 1920s, the turpentine industry offered employment for the working poor. Some of the largest employers, from the 1930s to the 1950s, were Sidell and Bee Ridge. Pay was not great, and what was earned was generally spent at the employer’s commissary.
Through the trees: Manatee County’s turpentine industry
A Sticky Situation: The Turpentine Industry in North Florida
“State of Confusion” by Paul Smithson
This song is the result of reading Dave Barry’s Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, T. D. Allman’s Finding Florida, and any number of newspaper and online articles about our lovably wacky state. While I am not a native Floridian, having moved here from New York in my mid-teens, I do consider Florida my home. This song means no disrespect . . . it should be taken in the same spirit as those family stories we share about our crazy aunts and uncles.
"State of Confusion" on YouTube
“91 Days” by Paul Smithson
Lawton Chiles was simply my kind of politician, right down the middle. His grassroots campaign, fueled by his 91-day walking trek down the state, still inspires me to believe that someday we will have politicians who put the people first. This song placed 2nd in the Will McLean 2019 Song Contest and was also a finalist in the 2019 Broward Folk Club Song Contest.
“When the Well Runs Dry” by Paul Smithson
This song was initially inspired by Cynthia Barnett’s book Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. Reading this book prompted me to do a little more research, and I ultimately ended up extending the concern over the water issue to other environmental concerns: responsible land development, insecticides, over-population.
"When the Well Runs Dry" on YouTube
“The Last Train Out of Fernandina” by Paul Smithson
When I first ran across this story, I knew I had to do something with it. As horrific as the Civil War was, and even more horrific the cause, finding moments of humor in it was refreshing. This is a silly tale about confederate troops on a train outrunning union troops on a boat.
The Last Train from Fernandina
“Mr. Disston” by Paul Smithson
Hamilton Disston was a visionary, businessman, and land developer. He basically created south Florida out of swampland via creating canals and draining land. He played a major role in reshaping the Everglades, never realizing the longer term damage as a result of his work. Some of his land deals with the government were questionable, especially when could get a deal for a quarter on the dollar from the state. He also worked with Henry Flagler to finish building the railroad lines down the coast. This song takes some liberties in the interest of artistic license. One report read that Disston later committed suicide, but another states he died of a heart attack. I don’t take a position on this either way, but I include it only because the suicide, as a metaphor, works for what a state sometimes does in the name of progress and development.
Disston's Reported Suicide in Doubt
“The Ballad of Cedar Key” by Paul Smithson
In 1889, William Cottrell became mayor of Cedar Key. I wouldn’t call the election suspect, but the fact that his father was a senator, his brother owned the only store in town, and his later behavior only proves his ineligibility to govern anyone, the election may not have been an election after all. Votes were not private either, so one might surmise that simple peer pressure played a role. Anyway, he ran the town like he owned it, through abuse of power, violence, threats of violence, etc. One citizen, a Ms. Bell, finally having had enough, wrote to Washington for help. President Benjamin Harrison utilized military intervention to remove Cottrell, who escaped and fled to Montgomery, Alabama. He died of gunshot during an altercation with the law.
Florida Man Terrorizes Town, Forcing Federal Government to Step In