Florida Man Terrorizes Town, Forcing Federal Government to Step In
By Francine Uenuma Smithsonian.com
In the spring of 1890, the United States government sent a heavily armed vessel to dislodge a despot. Under his rule, citizens lived in fear of capricious acts of violence. He inflicted retribution on all who dared oppose him—and many who had not even tried. President Benjamin Harrison defended the military intervention to Congress, saying it was justified and in the interest of the nation.
This episode, however, did not take place on the shore of a distant nation, but instead off the waters of Florida in a small American town called Cedar Key, where mayor William W. “Billy” Cottrell had imposed a reign of terror so mendacious that it could only be halted by a man with deep connections to the White House.
By the time President Harrison took action, the trouble in Cedar Key had been brewing for more than a year. The first alert he received came from a local woman named Mrs. Rose Bell, who wrote to the President on August 4, 1889, and called for an investigation into the “outrageous conduct” perpetrated by the “habitual drunkard” Cottrell.