Festival honors a legendary gator

From the Associated Press:

ESTO, Fla. — This Florida Panhandle hamlet is reviving the legend of Two-Toed Tom, a notorious bull alligator who some folks say fell in love with a sawmill whistle after being chased from Alabama, the Associated Press reports.

Esto’s 210 residents are planning to hold what they hope will become an annual celebration of food, entertainment and story swapping about the giant swamp lizard, said Marrielle Blount, a town council member who is chairman of the Two-Toed Tom Festival.

“He’s a colorful character,” said E. W. “Judge” Carswell, a retired newspaper reporter and former chairman of the Florida Folklife Council. “I think he’s a lot more colorful than the Loch Ness monster.”

Interest in “Old Two-Toe” or “Old Tom,” as he also is known, was stirred up by Carswell’s publication of a book on Holmes County history titled Holmesteading.

The author, who grew up in Esto but now lives in nearby Chipley, where he once served as mayor and municipal judge, devoted a chapter to the Two-Toed Tom legend. In it he declared that for some 60 years nothing had been heard from the Alabama refugee who used to bellow in response to the steam-powered mill whistle.

“People called me and said, ‘You done away with old Two-Toe. He’s not gone. He’s still around,'” Carswell laughed.

That point may be open to debate, but there’s no question the legend lives.

“I’ve been hearing about this story ever since I was 10 years old,” said Ralph Dupree, a town councilman born in 1912. “He was a bad fella. He killed sheep and goats in Alabama. He like to have done away with a woman’s baby in a cotton patch.”

Dupree claims he saw Two-Toe many times after the gator took up residence in Sand Hammock Lake between Esto and its sister town, Noma, both just south of the Alabama line. He insisted he could tell it was Two-Toe because he saw the partly amputated paw.

The gator, who supposedly lost three toes from his left front paw to a steep trap, had been a legend in Alabama long before he crossed the state line. The story, at least up to that point, received a measure of immortality in Carl Carmer’s book Stars Fell on Alabama.

According to Carmer’s account, the huge red-eyed gator — the worst kind — terrorized South Alabama before being chased into Florida by a posse of lynch-mad men.

Floridians take a kinder view of Two Toe, some insisting he wasn’t actually from Alabama but simply had defected.

The gator first attracted attention south of the border with his bellowing response to the Alabama-Florida Lumber Co’s whistle at its Noma mill. The bellowing was most frequent in the spring when gators’ thoughts are said to turn to romance, Carswell said.

“I figure he was mad at that whistle or in love with it, I don’t know which,” he said.

In his book, Carswell wrote that some shots at Two-Toe “shattered off the gator’s thick hide much as dried peas would after being tossed onto a tin roof.” Dupree recalled he used to watch the big gator chase and eat snakes, frogs and turtles.

“Sand Hammock swamp was in my grandfather’s pasture,” former Esto resident Charley Wamble wrote to a town official. “I have seen Two-Toed Tom’s tracks and seen other alligators in that swamp. Granddad was always missing hogs and young cows.”

Carswell acknowledges the legend probably is a composite, with Two-Toe being blamed for the misdeeds of any and all gators in the area.

“This is the legend of Two-Toed Tom they are celebrating, you know,” said Carswell, putting the emphasis on “legend.”

“So we can take a little license with the truth.”

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1 comment
  1. Sue Cronkite said:

    Been looking for this story.

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