The Barber-Mizell Feud
With Orlando’s present notoriety as the world’s favorite vacation destination, its history is often overlooked. This is unfortunate, because many would be surprised to discover “The City Beautiful” was once a rough and tumble frontier cow town. In fact, Orlando had a surly reputation worthy of any of its counterparts on the western frontier.
The U.S. Civil War did not ravage Florida to the extent it had her sister Confederate states; nevertheless, she joined them in suffering the humiliation of military occupation and the abject poverty that followed. Her salvation, it seemed, would be the massive herds of cattle that ranged her expansive prairies.
With the lifting of the Federal naval blockade, Florida’s cattlemen were free to establish a lucrative trade relationship with beef-hungry Cuba. A herd owner who could deliver his cattle to Cuban buyers in St. Augustine, Tampa, and other ports, could easily sell them for “hard money.” Soon, Spanish currency became more abundant than U.S. dollars.
The theft of this “hard money” was rare, but cattle rustling became a major problem—as did vigilante justice. Vigilantism prevailed because convictions on rustling charges were practically non-existent. It seems that people were unwilling to convict their neighbors of a crime they frequently committed themselves!
Lawlessness was rampant. The streets of Orlando were witness to brawls and random gunfire. Respectable citizens did not leave their homes after sundown, locking their doors against the nightly mayhem. It was these conditions that sparked a feud between Central Florida’s two most powerful families—the Barbers and the Mizells.