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153 The Bill Ashley Jungles. Photograph by Keith Bradley. EPILOGUE: THE BILL ASHLEY JUNGLES Trace Impressions of a Forgotten Landscape In this book I have used the term “territorial assemblage” to describe those collectives of humans and nonhumans engaged in tasks that result in the demarcation of territory. Landscapes are the product of these assemblages. The territorial claims upon these landscapes extend far beyond the boundaries of southern Florida. No book could do justice to this rhizomic proliferation. My own interests have led me to focus on the territorial assemblages that intervene in the lives of glades hunters. Their experience of the landscape is the lens through which I consider the presence and politics of alligators, mangroves , water, fire, mythic snakes, and the like. Almost every aspect of the Ashley Gang—real and imagined—is compelled by nature’s politics. Certainly the gang’s notoriety stems, in part, from its close association with a landscape considered dangerous, inscrutable, and worthless. Like creatures from the Saturday afternoon matinees of my childhood, the Ashleys appeared to be of the swamp. The politics of this swampiness is straightforward. Only people who made their living from the Everglades (in other words, rural and poor people) would have been able to form this close association in the first place. At the same time, their intimacy with the landscape provided them with the means to subvert the law for many years. As if unbidden, trace impressions of the Ashley Gang continue to appear on the Everglades landscape. These appearances have the power to reconfigure all kinds of territorial claims in the process. For instance, archaeologists excavating mounds in Boynton Beach, Florida, were upset to find that looters searching for Ashley Gang treasure had already disturbed the sites.1 Similar inclinations toward plunder led folks to loot the Ashley family cemetery in 154 Epilogue the 1960s.2 Today, the cemetery has been restored, though it no longer lies in the swampy periphery of Palm Beach County. Instead, the upscale Mariner Sands gated community—which features championship golf courses, a croquet greensward, and a doggie park—now maintains the grounds below which John Ashley rests. In this manicured cemetery social stratification is manifest. We find further traces of the Ashley Gang in the Bill Ashley Jungles, a large expanse of coastal mangrove swamp and hammock islands formed by the headwaters of the East River in Everglades National Park, well over a hundred miles from the Ashley Gang cemetery. Glen Simmons, like many oldtime alligator hunters, loved the Bill Ashley Jungles for its plentiful game and isolation. This is an exceedingly remote part of the southern Everglades that few outsiders visited until the mid-twentieth century. Describing the region’s confusing scatter of mangrove islands and meandering creeks, Simmons once said that from above the Bill Ashley Jungles would look like the tangled roots of a very large old tree. From above, it does appear entangled. But such a perspective—for example, the one provided by an aerial photograph or a national park map—reveals only some of the landscape’s entanglements. Certainly such a perspective will suggest the difficulties of navigation in the mangrove jungles. Yet more than these biotic mangles confound the easy arborescence of tree logic. At the turn of the last century, John Ashley and his brother Bill capitalized on this isolation by staying hidden in these southern swamps for several months. While there, the brothers hunted alligators and otters together and lived off wild birds and the occasional deer. In the years after John died, Bill spent many more months in these remote jungles trying to distance himself literally and metaphorically from his brother’s notorious crimes. Bill was the oldest son in the Ashley family. He was several years older than John and left home to get married when John was still a boy. All accounts suggest that Bill was never directly involved in the gang’s activities. He did not rob banks, steal cars, or kill policemen. Still, violence was an enduring refrain in his life. During the course of one year, sheriff’s deputies killed his brother John, his father, and his nephew Hanford Mobley. A couple years earlier, Robert Riblett, a Miami police officer, had killed Bill’s brother Bob after Bob murdered Wilber Hendrickson, a jailer, in a failed attempt to free John Ashley Epilogue 155 from jail in Dade County. Hendrickson died in front of his wife in the doorway of their Miami home. Riblett, the police officer...


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