Early Portuguese Settler Juan Gomez a Legend of the Everglades (Florida)

Portuguese Links

Juan Gomez of Panther Key, Florida

In the Book called Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen, I was surprised to hear of a Portuguese living in Florida In the Everglades, in the region of the Ten Thousand Islands in the nineteen century. He lived in Panther Key is name was Juan Gomez. In 1885 there was a boat called the Bonton , they stopped in the island and met this old man. “ we came to an island that had a palmetto shack on it where lived an old Portuguese named Gomez with his cracker wife. Mr Chevelier had known Gomez some years before.” (Bonton Log)

The author also mentions that “this is Gomez or Panther Key, from which Gomez guided them in on a hunt for roseate spoonbills (or “pink curlew”) the next morning.”

He goes on to say that “ Juan Gomez, like Mr. Watson, was a local legend in the Islands Still celebrated for the claim thatin his youth he had been addressed kindly by the emperor Napoleon in Madrid, Spain and had later sailed with a buccaneer named Gasparillo. By his own calculation, Gomez was 108 years old at the time of Bonton’s visit, and he was still there in 1900 (That will have made him 123 years old???) when a visitor described this region as “ that maze of intricate channels … a place that was once the refuge of pirates, and even now retains the flavor of bloodthirsty tales.” (page 46)

According to the author Panther Key was named by Juan Gomez “because one time a panther swam across and ate his goats, and that place is still called Panther key today.”(page 74)

I am not sure if this is fiction or not but Henry Thompson says that he cooked them some Florida Lobster. Locals called him Johnny Gomez. While he was there he never stopped talking and never once took that broke-stemmed old clay pipe he called his nose-warmer from between his teeth.(page 74)

He goes on to say “ Mister Watson had planned this feast with him on the way north, so’s his kids could listen to the old man’s tales, how old Nap Bonaparte bid Juan godspeed in Madrid, Spain, and how he run off for a pirate and sailed the bounding main with Gasparilla. Mister Watson got some liquor into Johnny, got him so het up about them grand old days that he got his centuries confused, that’s what Mrs Watson whispered in my ear. She was a schoolteacher, you see , she had some culture to her, and she advised me to take Old Johnny with a grain of salt.”

“ One thing there ain’t much doubt about, that man were old. Claimed he fought under Zach Taylor at Okeecheebee, 1837, way back in the first Injun War. And that could be, cause one day there at Marco, I heard Captain Bill Collier’s old daddy tell the men how he knew that rascal Johnny Gomez up to Cedar Key before the War between the States, said Johnny was a danged old liar even then.”

He died when the net he was fishing with wrapped around his feet and he fell overboard and drowned. His death is also described in the book.

In the book:The Mangrove Coast: History of Southwest Florida. You can find tales of this legend. Here's a quick resume found in Amazon.com "More engaging than the pirate stories of Jose Gaspar, are the true-life details of Johnny Gomez, who lived to be 119 years old. Gomez's tall tales of pirates and buried treasure were never proven to be true. But these stories lighted the imaginations of many tourists passing through the area."

Here's some sites with interesting documents written about Mr Gomez.
Demystifying the lives of Juan Gomez: from Pirate to Pilot by Carrie Caignet

The Juan Gomez Story