Date of Award
Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW)
Dr. H. William Rice
Dr. Margaret Walters
This capstone presents the first five chapters of an historical novel about the life and legend of John Ashley and the group of men who make up his alleged criminal gang and reign in south Florida from 1911 to 1924. Considered the last frontier of the United States, Florida during this time is raw, untamed, and just beginning to be drained for land reclamation. Ashley makes local as well as national headlines, several of which are quoted in this story. Known as a “crack-shot” with a gun, he becomes a folk-hero to the local “Crackers,” native Floridians who keep from starving by fishing and hunting in the Everglades.
Accused of killing a Seminole Chief’s son, Ashley sits through two trials, the first ending in a mistrial and the second interrupted by his escape from jail under mysterious circumstances. The local sheriff and several prominent citizens are involved in the Ashley Gang activities from the very beginning, and details emerge of how the “masterminds” of the gang stay obscured in the background to protect themselves while benefiting from the gang’s pursuits. The story escalates from the muck-slung dredging of the Everglades’ land reclamation to the posing of prominent citizens and vacationing millionaires at the Palm Beach Club, where the rich gamble and ever-elusive lawmen turn blind eyes to illegal activity.
Briggs, Constance M. B., "SWAMP BANDIT: The Legend of John Ashley and Florida's Notorious Ashley Gang" (2016). Master of Arts in Professional Writing Capstones. 17.