If she thought about it at all, Susan Arline Williams figured the old gun stored away in her daddy's closet was a wartime souvenir.
Albert Arline, who died in 1991, didn't talk about the gun. Nor did he ever talk about the old, deadly trouble that long embroiled his family on his mother's side, the Barber side.
The Barbers and the Mizells — another pioneer family — rubbed each other the wrong way for years even before they both migrated to Central Florida, says Williams.
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But it wasn't until 143 years ago that the deaths started, on Feb. 21, 1870. That's when Sheriff David Mizell was gunned down while crossing Bull Creek in what's now Osceola County.
Who fired the shots will probably never be known, but Williams is now pretty sure about what killed the sheriff: that old gun, passed down quietly for years in her family.
Today, the Barber-Mizell feud — one of the bloodiest chapters in Central Florida's past — passes into history in a church service of reconciliation during the Pine Castle Pioneer Days festival. Williams and other members of the Arline family are slated to "surrender" the gun to the Orange County Regional History Center, represented by director Sara Van Arsdel.
Williams has been busy researching accounts of the feud and seeking Mizell descendants to invite to the service.
"We would certainly like the Mizell family to be represented," she writes. That shouldn't be a problem, says Pioneer Days chairman Billy Morgan. Not only is he a Mizell descendant, but many other folks with Pine Castle roots are, too.
Not 'Little House on the Prairie'
When the Barber and Mizell families arrived, big Orange County was wild cattle country marked by frontier lawlessness and Civil War-era tensions.
The Barbers, led by patriarch Moses, supplied beef to the Confederate Army, writes Kristen Stieffel in an essay about the feud on which Williams collaborated. The Mizells became active in the area's Reconstruction government.
The families "clashed over taxes, when the Mizells fined the Barbers for failure to pay and the Barbers filed a complaint because comparable landowners were not as heavily taxed."
They clashed over all kinds of things, including a teenage girl named Edna. Sheriff Mizell said the Barbers had abducted her; they said she just ran away from home.
According to one account, after Edna showed up at Barber camp, competition for her attention sparked disputes. After the Barbers' good pal Jane Green arrived, Edna got tipsy and jealous and slapped the older woman.
Green "cold-cocked her and put her to bed to sleep it off," writes Mary Ida Bass Barber Shearhardt.
I told you it wasn't "Little House on the Prairie."
And we haven't even gotten to the sheriff's death, which sparked a string of revenge killings, maybe as many as nine.
The feud's repercussions ignited tempers well into the 20th century. "For many years, it wasn't safe to be a friend of either side — unless you kept your mouth shut," former Osceola County Sheriff Young Tindall told a reporter in the 1960s.
Now, let's hope, the bad feelings are truly over. Let all of us, Barbers and Mizells, pioneers and parvenus, join together to care for our remarkable history and community.
Notes: Sheriff David Mizell is buried in a family plot on the grounds of Orlando's Harry P. Leu Gardens, a site that began as his homestead. He remains the only Orange County sheriff to be killed in the line of duty. For more on the feud, see especially Shearhardt's historical novel, "Frontier Florida: The Way Hit Wuz."
Happening today: Pine Castle Pioneer Days continues today (Feb. 24) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 5933 Randolph St., Orlando. This annual family-oriented community event promotes the living history of the Pine Castle area through demonstrations and other educational opportunities for attendees. The 2013 Pioneer Days Magazine, edited by Shirley Cannon, focuses on the area's development, buildings and homes. Details: PineCastlePioneerDays.org.