|Judd dedicated property for a schoolhouse, but the postmaster said the location affected his route.|
PALMETTO - A man doing geneology research stumbled upon a story about a distant family member and eventually reached out to me because I had featured his relative in my book, "Images of America: Palmetto".
It was a surprising call, and Roger Hinkley, of Ohio, was a delight to talk to and happy that his family had been featured in the book, which told the story of George H. Judd and his efforts to build a school on Snead Island for the children, who, at the time, were using a washroom for classroom and had no proper place to learn.
What Hinkley told me, though, hinted at a larger story about Judd, who died a horrible death after a long standing feud with another man. While the dispute was mentioned the the book, Hinkley was able to provide more detail into the events that occured.
On October 6, 1919, two shots rang out across Snead Island, an unpopulated frontier where Judd owned a large tract of land.
That day he had gone to see the postmaster, J. S. Hosserten, and the two argued about the delivery of Judd's mail. The two had a history of hatred of each other that culminated in a rifle shot blowing off half of Judd's face.
It was a violent end for a man who had come to Florida from Grand Rapids, Michigan in hopes of a better life. The son of a war hero, Judd had headed south to make his fortune and prove himself as a man.
He served as the circulation manager of the Tampa Times newspaper, working several years before "retiring" from the newspaper business to tame the wilds of coastal Florida after setting his sights on Snead Island. He lived in the area for ten years, becoming a farmer and a fledgling fertilizer visionary, who also served as president and manager of the Snead Island Dock, Fruit and Packing Company.
Judd had lived several lives by the time he met Hosserton and like all great rivalries, it was hate at first sight.
The two quarreled for years about property rights as rumors swirled that Hosserton was travelling across Judd's land to deliver mail without his permission. In turn, Judd donated a portion of his land to build a new school, which was being constructed next to the post office, angering Hosserton.
Their dispute became so intense, Judd had his mail delivered to Bradenton, known as "Bradentown" at that time, travelling miles to retrieve itl, all while there was a shipment of mail that came into Snead Island by boat on a regular basis - mail that Hosserton controlled. Judd's donation of the school enraged Hosserton even more; he said the placement of the building inteferred with his mail route.
Juddd continued to travel to Bradentown and get his mail, and the quarrell died down as contact between the two men dwindled.
But, a mistake sent some of Judd's mail back to Snead Island one day into the arms of Hosserton, and the old rivalry fired right back up.
Judd entered the post office and demanded his mail. Hosserton told him there was no mail. Judd, enraged, accused Hosserton of destorying the letters and like all gentlemen of the age, invited Hosserton outside for a duel.
Facing each other a mere 16 feet apart, Judd fired at Hosserton with a .41 caliber double barrel Derringer, missing him by inches. Hosserton returned fire, barring down with a shotgun loaded to the brim with buckshot, blasting Judd's head.
Half of Judd's skull was scattered around on the ground in front of the post office. Calmly and cooly, Hosserton went inside and called the sheriff, reporting the death. The sheriff would later determine Judd had come to the post office expecting trouble, saying that a man who comes to the post office armed had other things than mail on his mind.
For Hinkley, a law officer, both stories were surprising - but he was happy to learn more about his family and history. Hinkley wasn't disappointed to hear about his relative's past.
"It was the one man's word against the other's," he said. "And the other man was dead."
For me, it illustrated a larger idea that history is often subjective, fleeting and impossible to truly know.Was Judd the aggressor? Did he choose a location for the schoolhouse that he knew would anger Hosserton? Or was it Hosserton that wouldn't let sleeping dogs lie? Hinkley didn't seem to care and really, neither did I. All I really know is it's a good story and in the end, isn't that what history is all about anyway?
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