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Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Visit to Bagdad - and Munson too!

Our antiquing trips took us the thirty or so miles north to Milton several times during our stay here.  You can't help but notice that while Milton lies on the north side of U.S. 90, the town of Bagdad lies on the south side.  Just the town's name is intriguing.  But the signs announcing that we had arrived caught our interest too:
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Wikipedia isn't much help.
"Bagdad is a census-designated place (CDP) in Santa Rosa County, Florida, United States. The population was 1,490 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Pensacola–Ferry Pass–Brent Metropolitan Statistical Area."
There must be more to the story.  A little driving around the town takes you past a very nice old home dating from 1847 with a historical marker out front.
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Remember that  George Snow Hill painting in the old Milton post office?  The one I blogged about here?  This one:

It turns out that Bagdad was the real center of action in the area back in the 1800s.  A very large sawmill was established there in 1828 that operated  until 1939.  A lot of change occurred in those 111 years.  A civil war, the rise and fall of railways as major transportation.  Operated initially with slave labor, one part of the mill specialized in very long dimension lumber.  A glance at the trucks headed down U.S. 90 suggests the tall trees are still being harvested.

A good bit of the timber for the mill was harvested along a rail line that ran to the north from Bagdad to Munson.  While Bagdad is thought to be named for its position between two rivers, like Baghdad Iraq  between the Tigris and Euphrates, Munson was named for C. M. Munson,  the General Manager for the Bagdad Land and Lumber Company.

Well I must die, too!

The town of Munson achieved a certain level of notoriety on December 5, in 1916 when  R. E. Collins and Lee Thompson killed each other in a gunfight there.  Let's check the Milton Gazette for some of the details:
Both men were evidently expecting trouble, for practically at the same instant, each drew his revolver and fired at the other. Thompson’s shot it is asserted having been fired an instant sooner than was the shot from Collins gun.
At this juncture Lewis Collins, a son of R. E. Collins, rushed into the fray and grabbed Thompson from the side and around the neck, and in scuffling with him thought to keep him from shooting at his father. Thompson struck him several blows over the head with his revolver and by some it is said to have fired at least one shot over his shoulder in an effort to relieve himself of the young man. Evidence differs as to the number of shots fired by Thompson at R. E. Collins, some saying he fired but one shot, while others declared he fired at least three shots.
Charlie Sullivan fired several shots during the battle, some declaring that he fired one or more shots at R. E. Collins’ back or side from slightly back of him. After firing several shots and apparently having emptied his gun, Sullivan made a dash for the horse shed, and soon came back shooting again. Several others seem to have had a hand in the shooting, it being declared by spectators that there were as many as twenty-five shots fired.
After the first few shots were fired Collins was seen to turn partly around and fall to the ground. Thompson walked out past the oil house, and stood on the wagon scales a few moments, when some one took him by the arm and sought to lead him out of the range of possible shots, when he reached the street, but a few steps, he said he wanted to lie down. He was eased down by one or two who were standing near, and saw that he was in a dying condition. When asked if he was badly shot he is said to have replied that “I am shot through and through.” He asked if “Bob” was dead and when told that he was said, “Well I must die, too.” He survived fifteen or twenty minutes after the shooting.
There is a good bit more to the story and you can read the whole thing at this link.

With that as background, you can imagine that I wanted to visit the scene of the crime in Munson.  So yesterday, we drove up through Milton and followed the Munson Highway some twenty miles north to Munson.  Sadly, not much remains of the town.  The cemetery is only accessible by appointment.
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Ruth's Deli is there, squarely at the corner of highway 4 and county 191 (Munson highway.)  We didn't stop in but after finding this video on the Internet, I dearly wish we had.

The drive is a very pleasant one through some pretty land along the Blackwater river and we spent some time at the Munson Recreation Area where there is a trail-head for some interesting looking hiking around a nearby lake.
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The rising moon, visible through the surrounding pines offered a very peaceful contrast to that violent day back in 1916.

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