Punta Gorda Chamber Guide 2022

Punta Gorda Chamber Guide 2022

2022 Members and Visitors Guide for the Punta Gorda Area

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Page 99 of 143

Page 100 2022 Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce Members & Visitors Guide BY CHRISTOPHER MEYERS Valdosta State University Valdosta State University Theodore Roosevelt has a well-earned reputation as a big-game hunter and natu- ralist/conservationist. He is most closely identified as a hunter of animals that roam the prairies, plains, forests, and jungles of North America, South America, and Africa, but is not known as a fisherman and rarely hunted animals of any kind in Florida. His 1917 expedition to Punta Gorda was Roosevelt's first significant foray as a hunter of the big-game of the sea and more closely identified him with the state of Florida. The devilfish (manta ray) that Roosevelt wanted to hunt could be found off the gulf coast of Florida, in Punta Gorda. The leading expert on devilfish, or Manta birostris, in 1917 was Danville, Virginia resident Russell J. Coles, who the New York Times called the "king of devil-fishermen." Devilfish grew to enormous sizes and could quite easily swamp a well-sized boat in the struggle of catching one. Devilfish gained a reputation among fishermen as being the most difficult creatures in the world to kill. Despite this, Coles had mastered conquering even the largest of devilfish. In the fall of 1916 Roosevelt, read the entertaining article Coles wrote about his expe- dition to capture a devilfish for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He contacted Coles and the two planned the trip to Punta Gorda. HIS ARRRIVAL Roosevelt set out from New York on March 23, 1917 and arrived in Punta Gorda on March 25. After eating lunch at the Seminole Hotel with Coles, the local Dixie Orchestra serenaded the two. Roosevelt responded with some patriotic remarks to the several hun- dred residents who remained, and then they set off for the waters of the gulf. The former president described their base, or floating camp, (near Captiva Island) as "a one-room house aboard a flat scow." The crew spent the night of March 25 on board the boat and woke at dawn to search for devilfish. The weapon of choice in hunting devilfish was a harpoon, which practitioners called the "iron," and before boarding the launch Coles instructed Roosevelt on the construction and proper use of the instruments. The Roosevelt expedition had six harpoons and three lances. The lances were in fact specially made for Coles based upon his own design. SPOTTING A RAY It was not long before they spotted a large dark spot just below the water's surface, a manta to the experienced men but indistinguishable to Roosevelt. Both Coles and Roosevelt stepped to the front of the boat with their harpoons, side-by-side ready to hurl their sharp weapons at the devilfish. As the target swam swiftly close to the boat Roosevelt threw his harpoon into the sea, but alas the manta was Teddy Roosevelt came to Punta Gorda to hunt devilfish Charlotte County Historical Society President Theodore Roosevelt and Russell Coles with their devilfish.

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