Cracker Cowmen – The History of Punta Rassa


Punta Rassa

, Florida is now known chiefly as a popular boat ramp for boaters coming to Ft. Myers Beach and the site of the luxurious Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa. But among old Florida families, whose roots run back to the days when there were more cattle in southwest Florida then people, the little strip of land that juts into the Caloosahatchee River at the foot of the Sanibel Causeway is remembered for what it once was: a thriving little town where Florida cattle were driven to be shipped to Cuba. On Saturday afternoon, April 5th, that historical significance was finally officially recognized when a plaque was installed at the site. In a ceremony attended by members of the Cattlemen’s Association, “Cowboy Poet” Hank Mattson, representatives of old Cracker family the Hendrys and Margaret England, the plaque was unveiled.

Little remains of the town that once stood at the site, or the building that once housed the southern terminus of the International Ocean and Telegraph Company (IOTC) line – which ran underwater from Punta Rassa to Key West and then underwater again to Havana, Cuba. The town also served as a steamship port for people wishing to go to Key West. Former director of the Fort Myers Historical Museum Patricia Bartlett is quoted as saying, “For a long time Fort Myers was merely a freckle on the face of the earth, and Punta Rassa was the far more important of the two.”


The Donna Letters

            On September 10, 1960, Hurricane Donna slammed into Fort Myers Beach with winds estimated at 140 miles an hour. It is widely regarded as the most destructive storm in our state’s history – causing 15 deaths in Fort Myers.

            During the time of the storm Jane Hyatt Upsal’s mother, Kay Hyatt, lived in Fort Myers and owned a cottage at 5664 Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach. The family had moved to Fort Myers from the Beach two years earlier because it was easier for the kids to catch the bus from there, but they returned to their cottage as much as possible. She wrote several letters to her mother-in-law, Leila, immediately after Donna had passed, detailing what she went through. The following story is taken directly from those letters and further interviews with Jane Upsal.




Published in: on May 31, 2008 at 6:01 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: ,