Rick’s Blog: Special Edition
THE RUTLAND MULE MATTER
A reading before the
Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts…
MARCH 9, 2016
A very special thanks to the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts, as well as the kind folks at Stardust Video & Coffee, for providing authors an opportunity to take to the stage and promote their work, as in my case, a reading from my Central Florida mystery-history Novel, The Rutland Mule Matter.
First, setting the stage:
In 1927, then retired Rollins College President & historian, William F.Blackman, published, ‘History of Orange County’, long considered a bible with regard to the story of 19 Century Central Florida. Blackman however stated that very little was known of the region prior to 1870. Blackman did record that a William W. Woodruff had been the Orange County representative at Florida’s Secession Convention of January, 1861.
Blackman also mentioned Woodruff was one of seven delegates to vote against the State’s Secession. Blackman did not, however, mention the name Rutland.
A dozen years earlier, Clarence E. Howard published Early Settlers of Orange County, and included a biography of William W. Woodruff. Howard described Woodruff’s long mule-ride from Mellonville to Gainesville, and of then boarding a train for his final leg to Tallahassee.
Howard too reported of Woodruff voting against Florida’s Secession, and mentioned the name Rutland – but only once! Woodruff’s wife, said Howard, lived at Rutland’s Ferry prior to their marriage.
William W. Woodruff did in fact oppose Florida’s Secession, but there were two Orange County residents who served as delegates. Both men voted NO! The second opposing vote had been cast by Isaac N. Rutland. Five years later, at War’s end, Rutland, the father of four young children, was dead!
A year after Rutland’s death, Isaac’s Widow, with help from a Massachusetts Navy Officer by the name of Lincoln, was able to get her Mule returned. The Mule, stored at the Quartermaster’s stable, in Jacksonville, Florida, was shipped, by the Navy, down the St. Johns River to Mellonville.
By 1870, four orphan Rutland children had been sent to live with their grandmother in Georgia, but by 1880, two of the four siblings, a son Othman, and a daughter Sarah, had returned to Orange County, Florida.
Now, everything stated thus far is historically accurate, with some information coming from a government file, created in 1865, labeled, ‘The Rutland Mule Matter.’
Isaac N. Rutland has indeed been mentioned, from time to time, since Blackman’s history, but until now, next to nothing was known of the man, or his family!
An Orange County politician vanished. I feel certain the man’s son, Othman Rutland, would have wanted to find out what happened to his father. And that brings us to my Novel, The Rutland Mule Matter, named for that 150 year old Provost Marshals file folder.
A Central Florida mystery! Central Florida history! This Novel focuses not only on the father, but on Isaac’s family as well. A brother and sister, then 19 Century American Paradise pioneers themselves, begin a search for answers during the 1880s. During this search, a nervous Othman Rutland travels to the North, twice.
This reading is of Othman Rutland’s first journey, north to Columbus, Ohio, where he hopes to confront, face-to-face, a retired Civil War Union Colonel.
One final note, every individual mentioned in this reading are true-life characters:
The Reading, Page 83:
Thursday, July 12, 1888
Excuse my sloppy handwriting, as this is a first attempt at writing onboard a moving train. I want to update my diary before memory of events fade, but each time I go to write, the train jerks, and my pen slides across the paper. I found a seat in the lounge car though, beside a small table, and I intend to sit here until all my thoughts have been penned.
Sitting on the floor, between my feet, is a box of fresh oranges, Ezekiel’s ‘ingenious’ plan, concocted last fall while convincing me I needed to make this trip.
Already this train has taken me further north than I’ve ever been in my life. Before now, five or six miles north of the Florida line was the farthest, but a few moments ago, a conductor came through the car announcing we were arriving at Brunswick.
The further north I travel, the more apprehensive I’m becoming about traveling to the land of Yankees. For now though, I need to get back to writing.
Stewart’s Homestead last October:
Following dinner at the Stewarts, we all decided to take a breather. Obviously not wanting to discuss my father, Uncle Matt escaped to his rocker on his front porch. The ladies moved to the living room, while Ezekiel and I, we exited out the back door, searching for fresh air in the woods out behind Stewart’s home.
A part of me was still looking for where our cabin once stood. I followed a dirt trail leading down into a shallow hollow, and as I searched, Ezekiel shared his opinion of Uncle Matt’s reluctance to discuss my father.
“Folks around here have a difficult time discussing the war.” My brother-in-law reminded me of things I already knew, like the huge price Central Florida had paid in lives lost during the war. “We are stirring up memories others would prefer not revisit.”
He was right. Talk of father probably did touch raw nerves.
We hadn’t gone far on the path when our conversation was cut short. We had arrived at a small cemetery.
Thirty feet square or so and surrounded by a waist-high iron fence, the tiny cemetery looked to contain about a dozen or so graves. It was clearly an old burial ground, yet regularly maintained. Each grave was marked by a small white cross. The crosses were engraved with only initials, and nearly all ended with the letter ‘S’.
In this largely unkempt wilderness, within a stone’s throw of the Stewart family home, hiding in the midst of wild palmetto bushes and prickly scrub oaks, was this tiny oasis, set out in honor of family members.
Ezekiel and I impulsively stopped to pay our respects, standing with hands folded in prayer while not saying a word for the longest time. As I viewed each marker, I couldn’t help but wonder if one had been placed here for my mother.
We stood there in total silence until suddenly a piercing screech caused us to leap out of our skin. But then I immediately realized the source of that scream had been me, reacting to someone unexpectedly touching my left shoulder. Neither Ezekiel nor I had heard my Aunt Ella approach from behind.
My aunt waited while we each planted our feet back on the ground, and she then pointed me in the direction of that cross I had been searching.
“Your mother’s marker is that one, on the far right!”
I didn’t say a word, I couldn’t. I stared down at the worn cross, a stick in the ground, a weathered marker having three barely noticeable initials – M. M. R.
Aunt Ella then pointed to a small cluster of crosses atop a mound. “That group,” Aunt Ella paused while Ezekiel and I inspected the crosses, each engraved as well with only initials. “They are in memory of your Uncle’s two brothers, and others killed during that awful war. We don’t even know where they are buried.”
Aunt Ella continued, although doing so was obviously a struggle. “J C S is Jonathan Clay Stewart, two years younger than your Uncle. Jonathan was the Orange County Sheriff before going off to war. He died a few months after arriving in Virginia. P B S is Philemon Bryan Stewart. Bryan was an even younger brother of your Uncle Matt. K H is for Kedar Hawthorne, your Uncle Matt’s brother-in-law, husband of his youngest sister. They were all casualties of that war.”
Aunt Ella was tearing up, yet insisted on continuing. “A P M, Angus P. Malloy, my sister Sarah’s husband. So many of our loved ones lost during such a horrible war.” My aunt needn’t say anything more, although I did have a question for her.
“Angus, he was Duncan’s father?” My aunt nodded her head, confirming my suspicion that Duncan was the son of Angus & Sarah Mallory.
I clarified for Ezekiel. “Grandma took Duncan in after the war, and Duncan, Sarah and I lived together up in Georgia. Duncan returned to Orange County with us.”
I hugged my Aunt Ella while she cried, Ezekiel stood by silently, keeping his head bowed.
Then, wiping away her own tears, Aunt Ella looked at me, and confessed. “I should have never said anything about your father. Othman, please do not think badly of your Uncle, he has such a difficult time even today dealing with so much tragedy and loss.” I hugged Aunt Ella tighter.
I don’t recall how long we stood there in total silence, all three of us, staring at the Stewart family cemetery. We stood there for a sufficient length of time though for me to realize others were still enduring the pain caused by a terrible war.
I made amends with my Aunt that very afternoon, and later, I made amends with my Uncle Matthew Stewart.
We bid farewell to Aunt Ella and Uncle Matthew soon after, and I again hugged my aunt, thanked her not only for a delightful afternoon, but for sharing their painful losses as well.
Ezekiel and I slowly packed babies and ladies onboard, pausing again and again as Aunt Ella insisted on more baby hugs and kisses. Ready to mount up myself, it was Uncle Matt who then stopped me.
After first shaking my hand, he hugged me, something my uncle never did before, and he then slipped me an envelope, while whispering, “Wait until you are back at Vick’s before opening this. Understand, your aunt and me, we made a promise to your mother. And one more thing Othman, tell Miles I’m proud of him. I’m proud of you both!”
He wiped his eyes, I wiped mine, and then the Vick and Rutland families departed Stewart’s homestead.
The Rutland Mule Matter: available at Bookmark it Orlando, 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando, FL; Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, in historic Winter Garden, FL; and Amazon.com. To order online click here on the book cover.