Arts + Culture

Pirates and Pyramids: The Folklore of Southwest Florida

Dive into the legends of Southwest Florida—colorful tales that might even have some truth to them.

  What makes a region distinct? Well, the accents, of course, or the colloquialisms (right, y’all?); the funky traditions (Mango Queen? Mullet toss?); the attire (year-round flip-flops); and, our favorite, the stories. Every place has them—folktales and legends that blur truth, half-truth, hint-of-truth, and the totally-no-way-that’s-true. We’ve dug up some local lore for you—lest you think our great subtropical suburbia sprung from the swamp along with Disney World circa 1971. There’s your first myth—debunked. Our disclaimer: We’re no historians. We’ve culled various books and websites and, in a few cases, called on those in-the-know to pull together these Southwest Florida tales, some very old, some more recent. So fry up some gator tail, pour a sweet tea, and enjoy stories from the state weird enough to sustain Twitter by itself should it ever be called upon to do so. Gasparilla The biggest clues to a region’s past are in its names: Collier County, Hendry Street, Manuels Branch, Wiggins Pass—stalwart pioneers of Fort Myers and Naples. But behind other names lies a darker legacy. Like Captiva. The infamous Jose Gaspar reportedly held women captive on this barrier island until their ransoms were paid. Gaspar, who was swashbuckling in the late 1700s and early 1800s, is our best-known pirate, and the force behind many of Southwest Florida’s more scurrilous episodes. Short of stature and outsize
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