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Indian Murder Launches Criminal Career

On Dec. 29, 1911, one of the sons of Mary and Tom Tiger was killed. The victim was De Soto Tiger (Snake Clan), who lived in one of the Creek-speaking camps near Indiantown. Jimmie Gopher, his uncle, was one of the last people to have seen him alive.

De Soto's body was churned up two days later by a suction dredge working in the North New River Canal between Lake Okeechobee and New River (in Fort Lauderdale). Gopher told the authorities that the person who had been with his nephew was a local man, John Ashley.

De Soto had been taking a bundle of otter hides to a trading post somewhere to the south to sell. It was a large bundle that represented the work of himself and other hunters in the camp. Ashley had asked for a ride in De Soto's canoe as far south as the dredge, and De Soto obliged.

De Soto's relatives and others left immediately in their canoes to go after Ashley. They headed to Fort Lauderdale, the closest trading post, thinking that Ashley had taken the bundle of hides there. They probably sailed their canoes down the coast or inland waterway, but even so, it would have been an exhausting trip, trying to catch up with the murderer who had a two-day start. But, at Fort Lauderdale they learned that Ashley had taken the train south to Miami.

Again, they sailed south, doubtless going up New River from Stranahan's Trading Post. Once in the Everglades, they turned south, then, they turned southeast into the twisting coarse of Little Snake Creek, lowering their sails and poling with the current, they finally emerged into Biscayne Bay. The trip was a grueling test of time.

They reached the mouth of the Miami River and sailed past Henry Flagler's fine Royal Palm Hotel, past gaping tourists up to the canoe landing at the foot of Northwest 1st Street. They quickly tied the canoes to the pilings, leaving a dog or two behind, and rushed to Girtman Brothers Trading Post.

J.D. Girtman moved south to Miami with his family in 1894. With his brother, he opened a trading post in 1910. Because there were a number of grocery stores in Miami, it was the Indian hide market which kept Girtman Brothers in business. He did $100,000 worth of trade in a single year. Well liked, there were numerous Seminole children named after him.

De Soto Tiger's avengers were in for a disappointment. Ashley had already left before they arrived, hitching a ride north with a man and two women who were driving to West Palm Beach. But, the prime evidence was there. A large sack of cased otter hides which were definitely the work of Indian tanning! They had brought the murdering John Ashley $1,200.

The Palm Beach County Commissioners voted that a reward be offered for the apprehension of the murderer of De Soto Tiger. There was no provision for such a use of county funds, so they sent a resolution to Gov. Albert W. Gilcrease to fund the reward.

Ashley's parents and brother lived in West Palm Beach, while another brother maintained a small trading post at Hungryland. Until the death of De Soto Tiger, John Ashley had a clean record.

On April 10, 1915, five years after the murder, John Ashley was sentenced to hang for the murder of De Soto Tiger. But his life would go on in a series of jail breaks (during one, his eye was shot out) and robberies which launched the sons of this family on a course of destruction.

The saga ended on Nov. 1, 1924 in a well-laid trap at the Sebastian River Bridge. The Ashley Gang was stopped by a chain placed across the bridge.

But, in a mystery which has never been solved, somehow a shootout began. During the fight, Ashley and his band were killed, supposedly as they attempted to flee.

Whatever caused the fight, it was justice for the murder of De Soto Tiger.

- Reflection Number 167.

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