Woodswoman Hailed as Florida's Treasure

By Hyman, Ann | The Florida Times Union, December 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Woodswoman Hailed as Florida's Treasure


Hyman, Ann, The Florida Times Union


Every year, the Florida Commission on the Status of Women submits 10 names to the governor for consideration for the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. In November, Gov. Jeb Bush announced his choices. The inductees: tennis great Althea Gibson, educator Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin and Florida pioneer Dessie Smith Prescott.

Pioneer?

Like building a log cabin with your own hands? Like hunting and fishing and living off the land?

Yep, once upon a time Dessie Smith Prescott lived just like that.

When she was a child, she herded turkeys in the woods like a shepherd keeps up with a flock of sheep. When she was 19, she built a log cabin in the Ocala forest. When she was a little older, someone sent her over to Cross Creek to teach the young, greenhorn couple who had moved into an old farmhouse there, the Rawlings, how to hunt and fish and plant a garden before they starved to death.

When World War II came, she served in the Women's Army Corps. She was the first woman in Florida licensed as a professional hunting and fishing guide, the first female licensed pilot in the state. She ran a hunting lodge on the Crystal River that drew sportsmen from all over the country and it was as famous for its table and its hospitality as for its fish and game.

Along the way, she married -- she won't say exactly how often, though she will say that she's been happily married and unhappily married and there's nothing better than the former nor worse than the latter. She's raised children and accumulated property and wisdom and never lost her curiosity nor her good humor. She's got a wit that neutralizes foolishness like a good shot stops a moose -- something she's often done on hunting trips to Montana.

She's 93 years old.

I went looking for her 10 years ago or so because I wanted to talk to her about her friend, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and the trip they made on the St. Johns River that Rawlings wrote about in Hyacinth Drift, a chapter in Cross Creek.

I found her in Crystal River in a big, comfortable house on land that sprawled to the river. Hunting trophies gazed down at us from the walls, animals from Africa, out West, Florida.

We drove around the country roads, she showed me the property that was once her hunting camp, drove us to nearby Yankeetown and the intriguing old Isaac Walton Lodge. That evening, she cooked a country supper and we talked for hours. She called me "Gal." She calls us all "gal" or "young un." It's affectionate. Saves having to remember all the names you accumulate in 93 years.

Talking with her generated a feeling of continuity with Florida's past. …

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