Centennial Speaker Series highlights pioneer family

OKEECHOBEE — Did Okeechobee’s first settler, Peter Raulerson, prevent what could have been a fourth Seminole War?

On Oct. 2, Magi Cable, president of the Okeechobee Historical Society and a member of one of the county’s founding families, regaled a crowd at the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse on Oct. 2 with stories about Peter and Louisiana Raulerson and their descendants.

Louisiana Chandler and Peter Raulerson.

“I do have insider information,” said Mrs. Cable. “After my mother passed away when I was in the eighth grade, Marie and C.L. Box became my guardians.” At that time, they were living in the home that had been built around the original Raulerson log cabin. Marie Box’s grandparents were Peter and Louisiana Raulerson. The home is still owned by family members.

Peter Raulerson was born in Bartow in 1857, she said. His family moved to Basinger in 1874. That’s where he met and married Louisiana Chandler.

“At the ripe age of 39, he decided Basinger was getting a little too crowded for him,” said Mrs. Cable.

Peter Raulerson

The mural on the gymnasium of the Okeechobee Freshman Campus shows the Raulersons traveling by oxcart to the area southeast of Basinger known as “The Bend” in 1896. It was named for a bend in the Onoshohatchee River (later renamed Taylor Creek.)

Peter Raulerson was the first official settler who staked a claim in Okeechobee, said Mrs. Cable.

Records from the time indicate he chose this area because it was high and dry, with water nearby and soil of good quality.

“Peter was a cowman. When he came here, he fenced from Onoshohatchee River all the way to the Kissimmee River, some 30 miles of fencing,” she said.

Peter Raulerson’s cabin. First home in Okeechobee. Photo courtesy Okeechobee Historical Society.

When the family first arrived, they did not build a home. They built a barn to protect their livestock from panthers, bears “and other critters.”

For three years the family lived upstairs in the barn, she said. At that time, Peter and Louisiana had six children at home; their oldest daughter was already married and stayed in Basinger.

When the time came to build a home, friends came from Basinger and they built a log home, constructed in 3 days.

That log cabin still stands, she said. It is inside the white house the corner of Ninth Street and Southwest Second Avenue. Over the years, the original logs were paneled over. The Historical Society is currently raising money to preserve the historic home as a museum, with plans to expose the old log walls again.

This is the Raulerson home now enclosed in a newer home in Okeechobee.

In 1901, Cornelious Vanderbilt Raulerson was born — the first white child to be born in what would become Okeechobee. Legend has it that Louisiana would put a cowbell around the little boy’s neck when he was outside in the yard to keep the panthers and bears away.

Peter Raulerson had plans for the area and he knew that a community would need certain things. He started by establishing a school.

“Peter started a school in a palmetto shack but he didn’t have enough children of his own that were school-aged to establish a school. He borrowed five children from Platt’s Bluff,” explained Mrs. Cable.

“Peter would go on Sunday in his wagon to pick up these five children and bring them to the bend. They lived in the barn with the family,” she said. Then they hired a teacher, Dr. George Hubbard, who also lived with the family in the barn.

The Raulerson cattle crew in photo.

The new community needed a post office. The first post office was established in 1901 and Martha Raulerson (known as Mattie) was the first postmistress.

“The first post office was a suitcase under the bed,” said Mrs. Cable.

The area was renamed “Tantie” in honor of Tantie Huckabee, a popular school teacher.

Peter started putting in place all of the things that make a community strong, said Mrs. Cable. In 1909, they built the Tantie School, which was School #14 of the St. Lucie County School System. The original schoolhouse is now on U.S. 98 as part of the Okeechobee Historical Museum.

First school in Okeechobee

In 1911, when it was announced that a railroad station was established here, they decided that “Tantie” was not a proper name for a town, and changed it to “Okeechobee.”

In 1916, the Raulersons built what they called “the big house,” Mrs. Cable said. (That property is now the site of Jeanette’s Interiors.)

Peter Raulerson remained active in building the new community. He served as a St. Lucie County Commissioner. When the City of Okeechobee was chartered in 1915, he served as the first mayor. He was instrumental in the establishment of Evergreen Cemetery. He donated the land for the Primitive Baptist Church.

The Raulersons had a total of eight children and like their parents, these descendants would go on to serve the community.

The first general store in Tantie was built around 1905, owned by Peter’s son Lewis. At that time they moved the post office (from under the bed) to the store. Staples for the store came from Fort Pierce by wagon or from Fort Myers by steamboat, said Mrs. Cable.

Lewis Raulerson started Raulerson’s Department Store in 1915. The building, which still stands, was made of metal and they bricked over it, explained Mrs. Cable.

Okeechobee Hardware, the first commercial building in town, built in 1915, also has a Raulerson connection. The store was owned by Ellis Meserve, the first passenger on the first train to arrive in Okeechobee.

“When he got off the train, the conductor asked ‘are you really sure you want to get off here?’ And he did,” said Mrs. Cable.

Ellis Meserve married Faith Raulerson, and they lived above the store.

L.M. Raulerson was the first banker. The first bank was on the site of the Masonic Lodge.

William Lee Coats, Okeechobee’s first state representative, was married to a Raulerson daughter. Known as “Okeechobee Bill” in Tallahassee, Bill Coats also ran the first hotel.

While Peter and Louisiana Raulerson and their descendants made many contributions to the Okeechobee community, the family treasures the little known story of how Peter Raulerson helped prevent a fourth Seminole War.

The story includes the death of medicine man Tom Tiger, and the theft of his bones that caused Little Chief Billy Smith to threaten an uprising.

The settlers in Okeechobee were very friendly with the Indians, said Mrs. Cable. The settlers and Seminoles had mutual respect. There are stories that several Seminole girls were named after Raulerson daughters.

Chief Tom Tiger was a medicine man. One day, while he was working on a dugout canoe, he was struck by lightning. The Seminoles turned the unfinished canoe into a makeshift coffin and buried him, along with his possessions in an Indian mound.

In 1907 a man named James Flournoy arrived in Tantie, he claimed to be an archaeologist, gathering information and artifacts for the Smithsonian Museum. He learned of the story of Tom Tiger and hired a trader named Barber to show him the mound.

When they reached the mound, Flournoy started picking up the bones, although he was warned not to do it, Mrs. Cable explained.

Flournoy took the bones, claiming they belonged in the Smithsonian Institute. He packed the bones in a box for shipment and left the area.

It wasn’t long before Chief Billie Smith came into Tantie and announced a white man had stolen Tom Tiger’s bones. He threatened to lead the Seminole Tribe in an uprising if the bones were not returned within “one moon.”

Peter Raulerson took the chief to Fort Pierce to inform the sheriff of St. Lucie County of the grave robbery.

After contacting officials at the Smithsonian, it was determined Flournoy did not work for the museum. Tom Tiger’s skeleton was found on display as a sideshow attraction in Philadelphia.

Officials there made arrangements to send the stolen bones back to Florida.

“Flournoy was charged and war was averted, thanks to Peter Raulerson,” said Mrs. Cable.

The final speaker in the centennial series will be Rick Smith, son of “A Land Remembered” author Patrick Smith. The presentation will be at Osceola Middle School on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. Historic bus tours are planned for Oct. 7 and Nov. 4. The Settlers Celebration dinner-dance will be Dec. 2 at the Okeechobee KOA. Tickets for all of these events are available at the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse, 304 N.W. Second Street, Room 103.

Editor’s note: The First Seminole War was 1816-1819; the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842; and the third Seminole War 1855-1858.

Peter Raulerson making cane syrup.


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