By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I came across a gift fruit brochure for Pioneer-Chester Groves, which had an interesting story on the inside cover regarding the history of the company. The story, by Dr. Bob (Schlernitzauer), is as follows:
“Back in the days when the land along the Indian River was nothing but jungle, and the white settlers were few, a young man named Gardner Hardee settled in what is now Rockledge. As a boy he had served as a courier to General Lee, and after the Civil War his family’s Georgia plantation was confiscated by the Carpetbaggers.
“He cleared the land that he thought he had been granted by the government — then he discovered that he had cleared someone else’s tract. So, the next morning he left Rockledge for Sanford — some 70 miles distant — hiking through virgin pine groves and hammocks and swimming the Saint John’s River with his papers in his mouth, he at last reached Sanford, had his papers changed, returned to Rockledge, and began clearing land all over again, and at last had a sizable clearing for his garden and citrus grove.
“One day, soon after he had built his cabin and laid in the winter stores, Gardner and Emma, his bride, were doing chores in the garden. They were approached by a stately Indian Chief who was followed by 12 silent braves. Since it was rumored that the Seminoles were still hostile to the white settlers, Gardner motioned his wife inside the cabin, then stood waiting for the Chief to speak. Slowly and with great dignity, he placed his hand on his stomach and spoke. ‘Me big Chief Tiger Tail — heap hungry — braves hungry — Hardee feedum.’ So, bringing the winter provisions from the cabin, Hardee and Emma spread a feast of ‘sofka,’ boiled Indian pumpkin, and smoked mullet before the Indians. The chief and his braves left the larder empty when they strode majestically into the forest.
“When the cool of winter approached, Hardee began harvesting his first crop of citrus. Suddenly — just as silently as before — Tiger Tail appeared with his braves — each carried a saddle of venison which they placed before Hardee’s cabin. Then the chief addressed him. ‘Me Tiger Tail good friend. Indian hungry — Hardee feedum … Now Indian bring food — Hardee keepum.’ Thus was the beginning of the lifelong friendship between a beloved pioneer and a famous Seminole chief. And this is the story of the founding of the Indian River’s famous Pioneer Groves.”
Although it’s a good story, Wikipedia shows that Gardner S. Hardee (1842–1926) was the founding settler of Rockledge, a member of the Brevard County Board of Commissioners and a member of the Florida Senate from 1889 to 1892. Tiger Tail was one of the Seminole leaders during the Second Seminole War and died after all remaining Indians were “forcibly migrated” to New Orleans in 1843, a year after Gardner was born!
Marketing madness? Since the company started in 1923, customers at that time would have definitely been intrigued by the “pioneer” story. Here we are, 100 years later, and it certainly intrigued me!
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.
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