Larkin’s legacy goes beyond ‘tough guy’ reputation

William M. Larkin’s reputation for being a tough character outlasted his lifetime.

Known as “The Meanest Man in Pasco County,” some people still recall that moniker applied to the Dade City man, nearly a half century after his death in 1973.

William M. Larkin is photographed on his land that was later donated to the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village.
(Courtesy of Rabun L. Battle Collection)

Larkin reinforced that image by keeping a single-shot .22 rifle in the gun rack of his truck — a statement that often left a lasting impression with young cowboys.

“Someone once wrote a letter to him, but they didn’t know his address,” said Bobby Tesar, recalling Larkin’s legendary reputation. “So, they addressed the letter to “The Meanest Man in Pasco County”—and he got the letter!”

But, Larkin is known around Pasco County for much more than being considered a man with a difficult disposition.

During his lifetime, he was a cattleman and lawyer, a member of the Pasco County School Board and the chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

He established the first Santa Gertrudis herd in Florida in the early 1940s.

“He gave the first bull “Rex” water and hay while penned in his side yard on Church Avenue,” said Ray Battle, who is Larkin’s cousin.

Larkin transported Rex from Texas, in a trailer he pulled with his own car.

Larkin’s neighbors soon would learn all about Rex and about Pancho, a 6-foot tall sire brought to Dade City from the world-famous King Ranch in south Texas. That ranch, founded in 1853, now stretches into six Texas counties, encompassing 825,000 acres.

U.S. 98 split the Larkin Ranch after its construction in the early 1950s, but it still has two cattle underpasses, similar to the one pictured here. William M. Larkin came up with the idea, to herd his cattle from Polk County to Pasco County.
(Courtesy of Doug Sanders)

The Larkins made frequent trips to King Ranch, to expand their cattle herd in Pasco County.

In 1940, the United States Department of Agriculture recognized what Larkin already knew: Santa Gertrudis was a distinctive beef breed, adaptable to most climates.

“A Santa Gertrudis female can remain in production well past her 12th birthday and may stay in the breeding herd as long as 18 years,” reports the current Santa Gertrudis Breeders International website.

Gaining additional calves over other cattlemen in Pasco County was perhaps a key reason that Larkin began searching for more land.

Another primary reason was the success of his law practice that he operated along with his brother, E. B. Larkin.

This painting of ‘Pancho,’ the Larkin’s most prolific Santa Gertrudis bull, hung for many years at the Crest Restaurant in downtown Dade City.
(Courtesy of Doug Sanders)

Larkin’s law practice enabled him to begin extensive land buying, including acreage along the Withlacoochee and Hillsborough rivers, Battle said.

“He also had his eye on some rich land north of Dade City, which he got from 41 different property owners,” Battle added.

With hundreds of acres along County Road 35-A (Old Lakeland Highway) and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, Larkin would complain that the exit to his ranch was blocked whenever the train was parked there for long periods of time.

At breakfast one morning at the Crest Restaurant, Larkin told Charles Edwards that the train had pulled away that day with nearly half of the cars left behind.

“He said that he disconnected them!” Edwards recalled.

“I asked him about it a few months later, and he said they hadn’t parked there again,” Edwards added.

Larkin used the railroad to his advantage when unloading large bulldozers at the depot to help begin constructing levees on that rich land north of Dade City.

Draining the swampy marshes with high hammocks into improved pasture “required a dragline and expensive labor,” Battle explained.

Purchased in 1924, the Larkin home on Church Avenue was originally built as a three-room cottage in 1884. It was part of a 10-acre spread that was later platted as one of the first subdivisions in Dade City.
(Courtesy of Doug Sanders)

Larkin also brought seven pumps with 28-inch propellers from South Florida to discharge water into what became the Duck Lake Canal.

The canal remains a major drainage system, along with the Larkin Canal, for the greater Dade City area and that rich land still known as “The Little Everglades Ranch.”

Larkin was responsible for drafting the fence law for the Florida Legislature, and because of its 1949 passage, Florida remains a ”closed range” state — making cattle drives through the state’s towns and cities a thing of the past.

To abide by the ruling and to keep cattle on his own land, Larkin fenced 15,000 acres, stretching from north Dade City to south of the Polk County line.

So in addition to his reputation for being difficult, Larkin was known for quite a few accomplishments.

Plus, not everyone believed he was mean.

Kitty Register Fisher recalls the time when her father was in the hospital and her mother had just lost a baby.

“We were getting really low on food, and Mr.  Larkin showed up with food to help us.

“To my family he was a good man,” Fisher said.

Could it be — that beneath that tough exterior — William M. Larkin, of Dade City, was actually a nice guy?

Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at moc.o1534639056nuj@11534639056ratsr1534639056etni1534639056.

Published March 22, 2017

Comments

  1. Linda Roitsch says:

    I am the great granddaughter of Alfred M. Larkin. I am Linda Larkin Roitsch on Facebook, and we have a Larkin family reunion the 1st Saturday in June in Rising Star , Texas.

  2. chester bradshaw says:

    seeking any pictures or information of the dredge owned by mr. Larkin & used to “open the canals of the duck lake & the pasco drainage systems . the dredge was mentioned in news articles that the W P A public projects in pasco co. also utilized this sand dredge boat. thanks for your help for this historical issue to be placed in the fla. pioneer museum records. – chet bradshaw

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