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Dr. Gilbert Lafayette Key

By Spessard Stone

Gilbert L. Key, a pioneer settler of Fort Meade and Fort Ogden, Florida, was a physician and cattleman, who, due to tragic family encounters, removed to Texas.

Gilbert Lafayette Key was born March 27, 1834 in McDonough, Georgia. At the beginning of the Third Seminole War in 1855, Gilbert came to Hillsborough County, Florida as first lieutenant and surgeon of the field and staff officers of the volunteer companies. Capt. E. T. Kendrick at the Camp at Fisheating Creek on February 17, 1857 wrote to Major Francis N. Page at Fort Brooke (Tampa), "You will find enclosed a Certificate of Dr. G. L. Key M.D. a graduate of a regular Medical College whom I have employed as a physician for my company." Dr. Key was mustered out January 13, 1858, but from February 18 to May 20, 1858 he held a contract for medical attendance at Fort Meade with the War Department.

Dr. Key settled at Fort Meade where he practiced medicine and also maintained a farm. On September 11, 1856 at Fort Meade, he married Rachel Brooker Brown, born July 28, 1837 in probably Spalding County, Georgia. Rachel married (1) Eden Brown on September 27, 1854 in Hillsborough, Florida. Vital statistics on him are unavailable.

The 1860 census of Hillsborough County showed the Keys at Fort Meade. The Slave Schedule did not list Dr. Key with any slaves. With the creation of Polk County from the division of Hillsborough and Brevard counties, they became Polk County residents.

A civic minded citizen, Gilbert L. Key, along with F. C. M. Boggess, Francis M. Durrance, Louis Lanier, and John C. Oats, represented precinct # 5 at the Hillsborough Democratic meeting at Alafia in September of 1858. On October 1, 1860, he served as inspector at Fort Meade in the election for governor. At the first election of Polk County officers on April 13, 1861, Gilbert was inspector at the Fort Meade precinct.

During the Civil War, Dr. Key served the Confederate cause at Fort Meade. Capt. Henry A. Crane of the Second Florida Cavalry, U. S. A., in April 1864 in a planned raid on Fort Meade singled out Dr. Key as a Confederate leader and instructed Lt. Green: "On your arrival at Bowleg's Creek, detach Sergt. Brannon with 5 men, -- Corpl Arnold with 3 men & Corpl Hay [?] with 3 men for the capture of Dr Key, Boggess, & others, while your force takes possession of the Cabbage Hammock on the left." Although a skirmish occurred at Bowlegs Creek on April 7, Dr. Key was not captured.

After the war, Dr. Key continued for a time to live at Fort Meade. On September 1, 1866 Gilbert received $500 from Francis A. Hendry for a tract of land near Pleasant Grove Church. In April of 1869, he was a grand juror for the spring term of the circuit court of Polk County. The Key family was enumerated in household no. 217 in the 1870 census of Polk County.

After October 1872, Dr. Key and family resettled at Fort Ogden, then a booming cattle town. He continued his medical practice and grazed his cattle on the open range. The 1880 Manatee Tax Book listed him with 360 head of cattle.

Rachel Brown Key died July 24, 1874.

In Manatee County on on March 15, 1877, Dr. Key married (2) Celia Ann Garner, born May 13, 1851. The 1880 census of Manatee County recorded G. L. and Celia A. Key and family in the Fort Ogden precinct. Included in the household were eight of Dr. Key's children by his first marriage to Rachel, i.e, Oliver, Olive, Mertis, Ann, Julia, Gilbert, James, Mira, and two children by his second marriage to Celia Ann, i.e., John and Otto.

John and William F. Key, nephews of Dr. Key, had earlier met with tragic deaths, and Oliver Key was soon to experience a similar fate. (Ron Metz in a call to this writer on January 25, 2002 stated John and William F. Key were nephews of Dr. Key. Rose Myers in an e-mail on April 30, 2005 also confirmed it. ) Accounts vary slightly of their deaths, but what follows is believed to be a true account based on contemporary newspapers.

John's death was related in the Savannah Morning News of Tuesday, October 1, 1878, page 1, column 3:

"Key West Key. Since the last gale we have had much sickness and a number of deaths in our city...The second death is that of John Key, a native of Pease Creek, who arrived here before the late storm on the schooner Bona Adventura. He exposed himself daily, and dissipated to a great extent all the time up to his death which took place on the morning of Thursday last. His physician, Dr. Harris, pronounced his case malignant bilious fever..."

William F.'s death occurred in the following manner according to Sunland Tribune of Saturday, January 4, 1879, page 3, column 4:
"On last Monday week, the 23d ult., W. F. Key was killed at Fort Ogden in Manatee County, by a young man named James Driver under, as we learn, the following circumstances:
"Key and Driver were joking about some trifle when Driver became offended; Key apologised, but D. was not satisfied. Key then said to Driver, 'If you are not satisfied, arm yourself with a double barrel shot gun and pistol and I will meet you.' Driver left and went a mile, got his gun, and returned to where Key and others were engaged in making eggnog, said, 'Clear the way,' fired and Key fell dead.
"Driver was arrested, but subsequently escaped."

Dr. Key hardly had time to accept this further loss when 22-year-old Oliver was slain. At a party at the home of his neighbor, John Daughtrey, 19-year-old David Yeomans, who had become slightly drunk, asked Ann Key, Oliver's 15-year-old sister, to dance with him. Refusing the inebriated would-be-swain, Ann was defended by Oliver, who was obligated by Yeomans to meet him the next morning at the edge of a pond on the property of John Williams.

Sunland Tribune of Saturday, January 15, 1881, page 3, column 2, reported succinctly:
"Fatal Stabbing
"A young man named Key was stabbed by another young man named Yeomans at Ft. Ogden, on the 26th ult. from the effects of which Key died the following Sunday. It seems that Key and Yeoman had some falling out the day before and met on the day of the difficulty to fight it out, with a fatal result to Key who was a son of Dr. Key, an old resident of South Florida."

Sunland Tribune of January 22, 1881, p. 3, col. 1, reported, “Mr. O. H. Dishong, Deputy Sheriff of Manatee County, with Messrs. Filmore Mizell and James Hollingsworth, brought up and lodged in jail David Yeoman who fatally stabbed Oliver Key at Ft. Ogden on the 26th, day of last December.”

The Bartow Informant of December 3, 1881, page 2, column 1, stated, "The trial of Yeomans for the murder of Key, in Manatee circuit court resulted in his conviction for manslaughter in the third degree, and he was sentenced to the penitentiary for two years." At this time in Fort Ogden, James Yeomans (1810-88) had a large family living there, but, perhaps, precipitated by the slaying of Oliver Key, many in the same decade left for Fort Myers. David had been living with James Yeomans (also spelled Youmans), who was his grandfather.

Overwhelmed, Dr. Gilbert L. Key and family, less the two oldest married daughters, Olive (married Thomas Charles Boggess on June 22, 1881) and Mertis (married Walter S. Barley on November 6, 1881), departed Fort Ogden for a kinder and gentler country in Texas. When Dr. Key left Florida, he sold some property that was referred to as "the docks," for which he was paid in Spanish gold $5,000, which was sent to him by boat to Indianola, Texas, at which time he was located in Dewitt County. Dr. Gilbert Lafayette Key died April 8, 1898 in Waco Texas and is buried in Burns Station Cemetery, Dewitt County, Texas. Celia Ann Garner Key died May 18, 1933 in Dewitt County, Texas. She is buried in Burns Station Cemetery in Dewitt County, Texas.

Dr. Gilbert Lafayette Key and Rachel (Brooker) Key had the following children:

1. Francis Oliver Key, born April 7, 1857, Fort Meade, Hillsborough Co.; died December 31, 1880, Manatee Co.; never married.

2. Mary Olive Key, born May 15, 1859, Manatee Co.; died August 21, 1937; married on June 22, 1881 in Manatee Co., Thomas Charles Boggess, son of F. C. M. Boggess.

3. Mertis Cuthbert Key, born March 5, 1861, Hillsborough Co.; died 1957; married on November 6, 1881 in Manatee Co., Walter Scott Barley.

4. Ann Margaret Key, born February 1, 1863, Pear Creek, Polk Co.; died July 24, 1939, Cuero, Dewitt Co., TX; buried Salem Cemetery, Lavaca Co., TX; married on October 31, 1889 in Lavaca Co.,TX Robert J. Hogan.

5. Julia Isabella Key, born March 15, 1865, Lake Bufforn, Polk Co.; died December 23, 1893; buried Salem Cemetery, Lavaca Co., TX; married on March 19, 1890 in Lavaca Co., TX, Tom Hogan.

6. Gilbert Lafayette Key, Jr., born May 4, 1867, Bowlegs Creek, Polk Co.; died November 11, 1936 in Port Lavaca, Calhoun Co.,TX; married (1) January 1, 1891 in Lavaca Co., TX , Mary Miller; (2) January 24, 1901, Dewitt Co., TX, Lucy Alice Strown.

7. James William Key, born October 19, 1870, Bowlegs Creek, Polk Co.; died October 4, 1956, Port Lavaca, Calhoun Co., TX; married on August 20, 1890 in Victoria Co., TX , Ora Lee Meeks.

8. Rachel Mira Key, born May 27, 1872, Bowlegs Creek, Polk Co.; died 1899; buried Burns Station Cemetery, Dewitt Co. TX; married on October 11, 1893 in Dewitt Co., TX, Newton Squyres.

Dr. Gilbert Lafayette Key and Celia Ann (Garner) Key had the following children:

9. John Tandy Key, born March 26, 1878, Hunter's Creek, Manatee Co.; died December 6, 1948 in Victoria County, TX; buried Port Lavaca, TX; married on September 28, 1899 in Willis, Montgomery Co., TX , Susie Lee Miller.

10. Otto Zibe Key, born April 5, 1880, Hunter's Creek, Manatee Co.; died March 1970; buried Burns Station Cemetery, DeWitt Co., TX; married on October 16, 1906 in DeWitt Co., TX , Myrtle Elma Milligan.

11. Caleb Watts Key, born January 1, 1883, Chicolete, DeWitt Co., TX; died June 14, 1971, Houston, Harris Co., TX; married on August 18, 1904 in DeWitt Co., TX , Rebecca Dowlearn.

12. Beauregard Cleveland Key, born December 4, 1884, Chicolete, Dewitt Co., TX; died February 14, 1974, Port Lavaca, Calhoun Co., TX; married on April 25, 1914 in Cuero, Dewitt Co., TX, Amelia Macha.

13. Marion Henry "Mack" Key, born February 8, 1886, Chicolete, Dewitt Co. TX; died October 23, 1973, Victoria Co., TX; married Jenta French in Victoria Co., TX

14. Tallulah Falls Key, born August 19, 1889, Chicolete, Dewitt Co., TX; died March 29, 1893, Dewitt Co., TX; never married.

15. Fielding Breeden Key, born July 1, 1892, Chicolete, Dewitt Co., TX; died October 1, 1974; married on July 2, 1924, Ura Lee Lampley.

16. William Woods "Bill" Key, born September 17, 1896, Chicolete, Dewitt Co., TX; died April 4, 1987, Yoakum, Lavaca Co., TX; buried Hillside Cemetery, Cuero, Dewitt Co., TX; married in Victoria Co. TX, Aleen Sterling.

References: Canter Brown, Jr.; Soldiers of Florida, p. 12; Capt. E. T. Kendrick to Maj. Francis N. Page, February 17, 1857, Roll # 8, M-1084, National Archives; The Florida Peninsular (Tampa), respectively of September 4, 1858, p. 2, col. 1, September 22, 1860, March 2, 1861; Henry A. Crane to Actg. Lieutenant Green, April 2, 1864; miscellaneous data in South Florida Pioneers; D. B. McKay, "Three Sons Murdered in Fort Ogden," The Tampa Tribune, November 17, 1957, 3-D; Ron Metz; Celia Nan Myers Thomey, e-mail of April 8, 2002, which contained vital statistics on Dr. Key, his wives, and children; Sid Key, Feb. 2004; Rose Myers, April 30, 2005.

This profile is adapted from my article in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of April 6, 1989 and revised on April 8, 2002.

February 07, 2001 & April 8, 2002, May 4, 2002, Feb. 7, 2004, April 30, 2005, April 17, 2009.