The Killing of the Cooley Family
Fort Lauderdale’s first industry: How to prepare coontie starch
“Cooley was reported to be growing coontie (arrowroot), and he had a mill to make it into starch, the manufacture of which appears to have been the area’s first industry. By 1835, coontie starch was bringing eight cents a pound in northern markets.”
The following text is exactly as it appears in the original:
FROM THE CHARLESTON COURIER
SKETCHES OF THE PENINSULA OF FLORIDA — By Dr. Strobel.
When about half way between New river and the Miami, our water suddenly shoaled, and we were under the necessity of getting out, and dragging our canoe over. This place is called by the people the Dividers, the water south of it running towards the Miami, whilst that on the north empties itself at New river. It appeared to be nothing more than a sand bank running from east to west
As we approached New river, the land upon our right consisted of the same sandy pine barren as I have already described. The Indian arrow root, called coonte, is found here is great quantities. We landed, and collected several roots, which were very large, weighing several pounds. This is the Indian’s principal bread stuff. It is met with in most of the pine barrens in this section of Florida, but it grows in such profusion in this neighborhood, that they come from considerable distances to procure it. Mr. Cooley (whose wife and children were so inhumanly murdered by the Indians a short time since) was engaged in the manufacture of this article, and had brought it to great perfection. The following is the manner of preparing it: A sufficient number of roots being collected, they are peeled, washed, and grated, in the same manner as potatoes, and thrown into large tubs of water. After remaining in soak for a certain length of time, the water is stirred and strained: by this process it is greed of the feculent matter. The coarser portion, thus separated, may be given to hogs, whilst the finer portion, which passes through the sieve, is allowed to settle. The farina, which is almost insoluble in cold water, subsides at the bottom. The water is drawn off, and the yellow portions which remain on the top are removed. The white arrow root, which from its specific gravity, is found at the bottom, is collected, and repeatedly heated with fresh water, until it becomes perfectly pure and white, of a granular, glistening, crystalline appearance. I am inclined to think that , when thus prepared, it is very nearly, if not quite equal, to the Bermuda arrow root, not only as a starch, but also as an article of diet. And here I may as well mention the circumstances attending the murder of Mr. Cooley’s family, as they are calculated to illustrate the treachery of the Indian character. He had resided among them for many years, spoke their language well, and treated them with uniform kindness and hospitality. Indeed, such was his friendship for them that he named his sons after two of their chiefs. Standing in this relations, and confiding in their profession of friendship, which had led him into a fatal security, he left his home for a few days, and returned to find it desolate. His wife and children had been murdered, and the smouldering ruins of his house lay before him. It is a remarkable fact, that the villains who did this deed had not the hardihood to scalp the poor wife and her three innocent children. Was it the recollection of former friendship that induced them thus to spare? Or were they conscious that their own savage colleagues would have blushed for the chivalry of those warriors who could find no work more becoming their tomahawks and scalping knives than the cruel butchery of women and children? The unfortunate schoolmaster shared a different fate; to him they owned no obligation of friendship: he was a man, and, as such, capable of resistance; his scalp was, therefore, torn from him, and borne off as a testimony of their cruel and savage triumph.
It should be borne in mind that, in their devastation of his other property, Mr. Cooley’s manufactory was spared. This, no doubt, will be serviceable to them hereafter, in preparing their food. I have no pretensions of being a military man, but it appears to me that it would be well to place a sufficient body of troops between Cape Sable and New river, to cut off the supplies of the Indians from that quarter, and to prevent them from escaping into the everglades, from whence they may readily pass to the Florida Keys. If they once cut down into the everglades, they will scatter like a covey of partridges, and each one will have to be hunted up separately, which will be an interminable task.
Towards night we came up with several Indian hunters, who were lying around their fire. We went ashore, with the determination of joining them. On our approach, a dog sprung out, and uttered a noise between a yell and a bark, which echoed and re-echoes through the woods. In an instant the Indians were on their feet; but a whoop from JOHN soon brought them down upon their haunches. We went up and seated ourselves around the fire
They at first seemed to take no notice of me, as they sat on the opposite side of the fire, their dusky faces partly obscured by the current of smoke. Occasionally they eyed me sulkily and by stealth. A few words, chiefly monosyllables, passed between them and JOHN, but they did not enter into any length conversation. A silence of some minutes having elapsed, which induced me to believe that I was not a welcome guest, I concluded that something must be done to conciliate. I therefore told John to inform them that I had something to eat, and some fire-water, and that we must be good friends. This information acted upon them like a charm. They began to snuff the air like a parcel of hungry dogs, become more sociable and conciliatory, brought out some fresh venison, which they placed over the coals to broil, having first run a stick through it. To keep my word, I produced my cold ham, and biscuit, and gave each (they were in number three) about a gill of gin; the instantaneous effect of which astonished and alarmed me. It was almost miraculous: from being silent and demure, they became talkative and forward. They insisted upon having more whiskey, and endeavored to possess themselves of the bottle by force, and I was obliged to conceal it. They were now unable to repress their flow of spirits, and began to sing, and dance, and to make the more horrid faces, thrusting their tongues out of their mouths, and rolling their eyes in every direction. As they reeled, and danced, and yelled around the fire, throwing themselves into the most ludicrous attitudes, they resembled a parcel of infernal spirits, or the furies. This sport they continued until perfectly exhausted, when, one by one, they sank upon the ground, and fell into a sleep. I place my buffalo skin on the opposite side of the fire, covered my head with a cloak, and slept soundly until morning. The Indians were up betimes; they rose from their lairs, shook themselves, kindled up the fire, and ate a scanty meal. Upon the subsidence of the effect of the liquor, all their former reserve seemed to have returned. Having collected some coonte, they placed it along with their venison in their canoe, paddled rapidly up the everglades, and were soon out of sight. It being now time for me to think of returning, John and myself took the opposite direction, and paddled back for Cape Florida, and, as we had nothing to delay us, arrived at the Cape about 3 o’clock in the afternoon: there, according to agreement, I found Mr. Dubose’s boat in waiting for me. So that I was enabled to reach the Light-house about six o’clock in the evening.