The Ashley Gang 100th anniversary – First in a series

A criminal clan

The killing of Seminole DeSoto Tiger thrusts pioneering Ashley family on wrong side of law

Today, exactly a century after John Ashley, Hanford Mobley, Ray Lynn and Clarence Middleton were killed at the Sebastian River bridge, the shootout and the gang’s activities still stir the public imagination. Books have been written, a movie filmed and, more recently, the Elliott Museum in Stuart has established a permanent Ashley Gang exhibit. Above all, two questions remain. Were John Ashley and the three others with him on that November night in 1924 executed by the law officers apprehending them? Did John Ashley’s lover, Laura Upthegrove, tip the law officers about his whereabouts that fateful day?

Enns of an Era

They traveled from the valleys of Prussia to the steppes of Russia, the wheat fields of Kansas and, finally, to the citrus rows of Florida.

The precise reason for the Enns family’s move to Florida is lost to the memories of those who have long since passed, but it resulted in the creation of a citrus grove, construction of a development called Maravilla and the purchase of the local newspaper.

R.N. “Pop’’ KoblegardSunrise Visionary

When the 1,300-seat Sunrise Theatre opened in downtown Fort Pierce exactly a century ago, the city had a population of just 2,000 people. The theater’s size meant that it was big enough to fit the town’s entire population, with more than half being seated.

Today, as the Sunrise prepares to celebrate the centennial of its opening on Aug. 1, 1923, the theater stands as a testament to the vision of its founder, R.N. “Pop’’ Koblegard. While Koblegard’s name is a familiar one and his descendants are plentiful on the Treasure Coast, just who exactly was Pop Koblegard and why did he build the Sunrise on such a grand scale?

The Cow Creek Chronicles - A series

The Cow Creek Chronicles

The Cow Creek Chronicles is the story of a pioneering family and the vast ranch they established.

The Cow Creek Chronicles - Part 1
Frank Raulerson creates Cow Creek Ranch and develops his granddaughter, Jo Ann, to take it over.

The Cow Creek Chronicles - Part 2
Jo Ann and her husband, Tommy, take over the ranch in 1954 when Frank Raulerson dies.

The Cow Creek Chronicles - Part 3
Tommy and Jo Ann buy an old farmhouse in North Carolina while the family undergoes tremendous change. Kathy gets married and has children and Tommy reveals another extramarital relationship. Tommy’s free-spending ways continue, putting Cow Creek Ranch at risk.

The Cow Creek Chronicles - Part 4
Financial problems persist for TL and Jo Ann Sloan even after they sell their beloved Cow Creek Ranch.

The Cow Creek Chronicles - Part 5
Cow Creek Chronicles writer Gregory Enns retraces his steps writing the story of loss and love and returns to the ranch where it all started.

Blessed lessons

A bright light was shining on a group of black school children along North Eighth Street in Fort Pierce in the days before school integration in the South. That light emanated from Blessed Martin de Porres Catholic School for Colored Children, a light of learning that led the way to professional and lucrative careers for many of the school’s graduates.

Awash in memories of Cow Creek Ranch

Splashing around in the waters of Cow Creek swamp is one of my earliest memories of childhood. I was about 4 years old and my dad loaded my two older brothers and me in a Jeep for a ride around Cow Creek Ranch in the heart of Florida cattle country. As we drove down a lane along various pastures we approached Cow Creek crossing, a narrow swath where cypress trees and their knees had been cleared so you could drive through the creek....

William Tecumseh Sherman and CoacoocheeDivided warpaths

Everyone has heard of Osceola, but how about the Seminole warlord who replaced him during the Florida War? Coacoochee was his name and the safest prison in the peninsula couldn’t hold him. Not for long. He was just as dangerous, just as dashing, just as fiercely brilliant as Osceola — even more so. As the chief opponent of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, no place in Florida was safe for soldiers and white settlers while Coacoochee was running free.

He and his devoted warriors could be lying in ambush within every thicket, along any trail, behind any clump of trees. It is one of history’s ironies that...

aerial shot of the new Fort Pierce Inlet

100 years and counting

It was the biggest party the young city had ever seen.

Almost the entire population of Fort Pierce [fewer than 2,000 people] took to the streets on May 12, 1921, to celebrate an achievement that had been more than 10 years in the making: the cutting of a new inlet that “married the ocean and the Indian River.”

The daylong celebration included the city’s first parachute jump, boat rides, parades and speeches, a community fish dinner, a big local baseball game, concerts and a street dance.

Aunt Madeline

Fort Pierce daredevil thrilled crowd at inlet celebration a century ago

While the new inlet was supposed to be the center of attention on May 12, 1921, 24-year-old Madeline Davis stole the show.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of locals gathered to watch the daring young woman board a seaplane at Cobb’s Dock and take to the air over the water, gradually reaching a height of about 1,400 feet. Davis then slipped off the wing and floated gently to earth, tethered to her canvas chute only by a circus trapeze.

Spectators held their collective breath as Davis slid off the wing...

Lt. j.g. Karida Harris

On guard

Most women in their early 20s are just figuring out what to do with their lives. But Lt. j.g. Karida Harris, 24, was recently promoted to commander of the USCGC Ibis stationed at the Fort Pierce Coast Guard Station establishing her as one of the youngest commanders and only the second African American woman to achieve such an honor.

“I knew from a very early age that I wanted to join the armed forces, but I wasn’t sure which one,” Harris explained. “I had the desire to do something that had nothing to do with money and everything to do with helping others. I considered the Navy, but when I learned about all the opportunities that the Coast Guard offered and the duties they performed, I knew it was for me.

The right prescription

If the walls of Corey’s Pharmacy could talk, oh, the stories they would tell. They’d tell of days of old when the quintessential corner drug store was the hub for island visitors and residents. And they’d tell of all the secrets that unfolded at the soda fountain when area businessmen met for lunch. Some came for the fresh sandwiches, but others were there to catch the eye of the beautiful young waitress by the name of Vangie Smith.

Vero’s elite from John’s Island sat on stools next to barefoot kids stopping in for a soda after a day on the beach. Cartoonist Fontaine Fox whose comic strip, Toonerville Fox, ran in hundreds of newspapers nationwide, often sketched on a napkin while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry.


John and Laura

Defiant to the end

Anyone familiar with Treasure Coast history certainly knows the story of the notorious Ashley Gang. It was a group of despicable outlaws — murderers, rum-runners and bandits — during the 1910s-20s led by John Ashley, whose parents lived in Fruita, near Gomez and Hobe Sound, in what is now southern Martin County. John’s girlfriend and gun moll, Laura Beatrice Upthegrove, perhaps not as well-known, was nevertheless an important member of the gang.

Her life was mostly one of unhappiness and tragedy. Afraid of no one, she had the grit, determination and spunk of a frontier woman, probably better suited for a life in the Wild West of the 19th century.

flag marking the 19th century Breconshire

Saluting a man and his cause

On the Fourth of July, an American flag will seemingly rise from the depths of the ocean just offshore from Vero Beach’s popular Sexton Plaza and fly proudly above the crest of the waves. Its origin and purpose are often questioned by oceanfront diners and hotel guests and locals who walk the beach daily. But few know that the history and legacy of the mysterious flag is just as spellbinding as what is resting on the ocean floor.

Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge on South Hutchinson Island

Beacon of romance

In Martin County, there is a historic, scenic, coastal setting that has been a beacon to lovers for more than a hundred years. Situated on a bluff of strikingly picturesque rocks at the southerly end of Hutchinson Island, the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge looks out over a vast expanse of aquamarine water that melts into the horizon. A soothing rhythm of white-foamed waves splashing is heard on the rocky coast, while a cool sea breeze calms the senses.

Nuestra Señora del Carmen y San Antonio, originally HMS Hampton Court

When pirates scoured the Treasure Coast

One man. One crew. One ship can take on the entire British Empire without a hiccough or regret. However grandiose Bellamy’s assertion may sound today, it was not without sincerity.

Engaging as their legends are, the true story of the pirates of the Treasure Coast was even more captivating; it is a long-lost tale of tyranny and resistance, a maritime revolt on the seas. The foundation of the British Empire was shaken by these rogues.

The Vero Theatre

A region divided

After much debate and quite a bit of rancor among citizens and politicians alike, Indian River County was born in 1925 through state legislation that carved both Indian River to the north and Martin to the south out of St. Lucie County, leaving three separate counties in the place of one. Local legend has it that the forced Sunday closing of the four-month-old Vero Theatre (later the Florida Theatre and now Theatre Plaza) on 14th Avenue in 1925 was the reason many Vero Beach citizens and officials demanded the creation of a new county.

Bud with camera

Enduring legacy

In the last half-century on the Treasure Coast, nobody was more liked, more loved, better known or more respected than Alto Lee Adams Jr.

Stephen N. Gladwin

‘Our Soldier Boy’ of World War I'

The name Stephen N. Gladwin was a familiar one to me growing up in Fort Pierce. I first saw the name etched in the World War I memorial monument on the grounds of the St. Lucie County Courthouse, undoubtedly after seeing a movie at the Sunrise Theatre across the street.

Waldo in chair

Waldo, we hardly knew ye

As Vero Beach prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, no one figure stands taller in the city’s history than Waldo Sexton. He is Vero Beach’s most iconic figure celebrated and written about more than any other.

Hunting grounds

German U-boats wreaked havoc in shipping lanes off the Treasure Coast during World War II

Iris Wall

Life on Florida’s last frontier

Florida’s Cracker culture is alive and well thanks to Indiantown’s homegrown celebrity Iris Wall. The 87-year-old cowwoman proudly promotes and enjoys speaking around the state about the Cracker lifestyle.

She understands firsthand about adventure because she lived in South Florida when it was one of the last frontiers. Awarded Woman of the Year by the Florida Department of Agriculture and inducted into the Florida Cracker Hall of Fame, the fifth-generation Floridian talks in an animated, down-home manner about the people in her native state.

sunrise theatre

Celebrating 10 spectacular years

Built in the era of vaudeville and silent movies, the Sunrise Theatre this season is marking its 10th anniversary since reopening as a performing arts venue providing an economic catalyst for downtown Fort Pierce.

The vision of impresario Rupert “Pop’’ Koblegard, the Sunrise originally opened in 1923 during Florida’s land boom, with 1,300 seats plus an organ and orchestra pit that provided musical accompaniment for the silent films and vaudeville acts popular at that time. The theater showed the first talking movie, Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, when it was released in the late 1920s.

Spirited Excursion

Vero Beach’s Ocean Drive has its share of things that go bump in the night.

Want to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or a hand brush your shoulder as you listen to ghostly tales of long dead pirates, bootleggers and an eccentric pioneer of Vero Beach?

Ralph Evinrude with the legendary Chanticleer

Laid-back speed wizard

Mention the name Evinrude, the famous outboard motor, and you imagine the thrill of speeding in a Boston Whaler, intoxicated by the wind blowing through your hair, the cooling mist of the sea spray, as you skim across sparkling, turquoise waters.

To locals along the Treasure Coast, the name Evinrude conjures up memories of the yacht Chanticleer, the Outboard Marine testing center and singer/entertainer Frances Langford. While much attention has been given to his wife, Frances, we know little about her husband, Ralph Evinrude, the boating titan, who preferred to live away from the public eye. He lived quietly in his laid-back way, relocating his business, boating in local waters and ruling a boating empire on the shores of the Indian River.

A diorama of the future Historic Railroad Village in Fellsmere

Steaming ahead

Once a boom town on the cusp of becoming one of Florida’s biggest communities, Fellsmere history credits its stunted growth to a two-day, 8.8-inch downpour and a lack of drainage canals. This engineering flaw dashed the hopes of developers looking to get rich from those who sought a new life on the state’s popular east coast.

Now a sleepy, close-knit town, Fellsmere is hoping to revive an interest in its past glory days with a recreated historical village anchored by the last Foremen’s House that has stood for the past century next to deserted railroad tracks — a remnant of a bustling real estate investor’s dream town.

Ribault’s Landing by Lee Adams

An epic tale of survival

Of all the ships that foundered off the Treasure Coast through the centuries, the one remembered best is the Reformation. After it ran aground on Jupiter Island 320 years ago, a survivor wrote a book that became an early American classic: God’s Protecting Providence. We know it better today as Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal. An 11,500-acre state park in Hobe Sound was named in honor of the author, but it was an elderly evangelist’s story that made the shipwreck famous. Robert Barrow’s quest to survive Florida’s unforgiving wilderness captured a bygone public’s attention.

The Tommie family

A few of our favorite stories

In the 10 years we’ve been publishing, readers have been quick to tell us which stories they like. Even several years after a story has run, many of our readers readily recall the details of their favorite stories.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we are sharing here some of our staff’s favorite stories over the years. You can find the complete versions on our website at, where you can also vote for your favorite stories.

Schlitt family of Vero Beach

A legacy of family and faith

It’s a catchy family motto that embodies the numerous branches of the Schlitt family that reach into every facet of the community. Since 1918, the Schlitts have worked, played and supported Vero Beach.

More than 100 members of the entrepreneurial family live in Indian River County, and if they’re old enough to work, they probably have some kind of business related to the home industry. Their names grace buildings, are signed on thousands of architectural blueprints and appear as signatures on checks that make things happen. Many Vero residents have dealt with a Schlitt, even if the name was Barth, St. Pierre, Gonzalez or others.

St. Lucie is the patron saint of the blind

Our St. Lucie Connection

The Treasure Coast, which seems so new to us, is really rich with ancient history. Some clues have always been in front of our eyes. We just overlooked them. Take the name St. Lucie, for instance. You hear it everywhere. St. Lucie County, St. Lucie River, St. Lucie West, Port St. Lucie. All are derived from the name of the patron saint of the blind — Saint Lucie. But why would her name loom so prominently among us? The story goes back exactly 450 years ago.

How we became the Treasure Coast

Long known for our world-famous citrus, St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties became known as the Treasure Coast after the discovery of riches off our shores in the 1960s

There was a time when our three counties had no special name other than, perhaps, Indian Riverland. St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties were defined by their principal towns, which also served as their county seats – Fort Pierce, Stuart and Vero Beach. There were no other towns of any consequence in the region. Fort Pierce, Stuart and Vero were distinct, mostly self-contained communities linked mainly by U.S. 1 and high school football rivalries. Vast amounts of undeveloped land lay between each city, and since the turnpike and I-95 were still...

300 years ago

A hurricane destroyed a fleet of 11 ships laden with riches, killing hundreds and spilling much of the precious cargo along our shores — the rest is Treasure Coast history

In a single night more than 300 years ago, Spain’s entire fleet of treasure ships suddenly went down, scattering untold millions of dollars worth of silver and gold along our shores. After treasure hunters regularly began to bring up great caches of lost riches in the early 1960s, our region was dubbed the Treasure Coast. But the glitter of that shimmering nickname is only a half-told tale. The storm scattered people, too...

treasure ship illustrationSea keeps doomed fleet’s secrets

With all the latest technology in modern day maritime engineering, it’s difficult to imagine what it was like for crew and passengers sailing halfway around the world in 1715 onboard wooden ships bound for the New World. A combination of excitement, the unknown, and danger drove these people of the 18th century on a voyage of possibility and peril.

Three hundred years later, we are still learning about the ill-fated Spanish Plate Fleet that sank off the east coast of Florida because of a horrific July hurricane. Nearly half of the 2,500 lives onboard the 11 ships were lost, as well as several hundred millions of dollars in treasure. Only one ship managed to escape that deadly morning...