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Emmett Whaley

Voices from Wakulla County:
Emmett Whaley

Emmett Whaley

Emmett Whaley is a Florida native from Wakulla County. His earliest entrepreneurial memories focus on hunting and trapping polecats (skunks), foxes, and raccoons for their hides when he was just eight years old in 1924. A good day would net four or five animals.

Listen to Emmett Whaley's recollection of his youth: Real Network Windows Media Player

Emmett Whaley’s youth was also spent on his father’s two one-hundred acre farm tracts where they raised corn, cattle, and hogs. The free-range scrub cattle grazed on land from present-day Crawfordville down to the Gulf of Mexico and over to the Ochlockonee River prior to the annual round up. The Whaley farm ceased operation before the 1949 statewide livestock fencing law curtailed cattle drives. Emmett Whaley’s path, however, remained tied to the land.

The turpentine business was still thriving in the 1930s, and Emmett’s family acquired rights to cut pine trees, collect the sap, and sell the resin. Emmett remembers the price being about “maybe five cents or something like that a tree.” The woodcuts did not initially kill the pines. Instead, the cuts vented the tree’s system to allow for the free flow of a gummy inner liquid. These cuts were referred to as “catfaces," since the lower v-cut and some upper holes resembled a feline caricature. The main turpentine stills near the Whaley residence were in Ashmore, Fig Tree, and Arran.

Listen to Emmett Whaley describe turpentining in the old days: Real Network Windows Media Player

In addition to woodcutting, Emmett Whaley quarried limerock in the Medart area for local construction. Excavation was a slow process done with a shovel and pickaxe. Giant slabs of rock were then manually loaded onto the back of a makeshift flatbed (an old school bus) and hauled to Sopchoppy for the raising of a new high school. The structure still stands as the Sopchoppy High School Gymnasium.

Close-up of quarried limerock at Sopchoppy High School

Emmett Whaley was born in 1916, the same year as Wakulla County resident Homer Harvey. The two men soon became friends and shared similar experiences

Listen to Emmett Whaley describe his boyhood friendship with Homer Harvey: Real Network Windows Media Player

Both Mr. Whaley and Mr. Harvey have experience raising, herding, and branding the free-range cattle. Emmett Whaley recalls branding cattle on the hip, but he particularly remembers that “if you branded them on the growing moon, the brand wouldn’t grow out, but if it was on the decrease, the brand would almost grow up.” Area farmers watched for the natural signs to make sure their cattle brands would remain identifiable. Transporting and butchering cows before ice and refrigeration were readily available also posed some unique challenges. The Whaley family, like the Harveys, often sold or drove their cattle to buyers up North or near the coast.

Listen to Emmett Whaley talk about selling a butchered free-range cow locally : Real Network Windows Media Player

During World War II, Mr. Whaley was part of a construction crew working on Camp Gordon Johnston located along the Gulf shores of Franklin County, Florida. The camp trained over 250,000 men for amphibious assault. Emmett Whaley also worked at the camp as a Post Engineer and firefighter.

Listen to Emmett Whaley describe some of his memories of Camp Gordon Johnston: Real Network Windows Media Player

The remains of Camp Gordon Johnston are scattered along US Highway 98 in Franklin County. The old company streets and airstrips are still visible near Lanark Village.

Click here to bring up an interactive planning map with digital orthophotoquads showing the remains of Camp Gordon Johnson in present-day Lanark Village.

The Whaley house—where Mr. Whaley and his wife raised their children and where some family members still reside—was originally built as a small county school on their property. The Whaley’s obtained ownership of the building as their permanent homestead once newer schools were established.

Emmett Whaley, now 88, is still active in the community as a visiting preacher—a vocation he began in 1950 when he was an occasional itinerant minister holding two-week tent revivals from Perry to Jacksonville. He now officiates for local weddings, births, and funerals.

Emmett Whaley's house; in the past, it was used as school and church

profile by Rebecca L. Roberts

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This page was last modified on : 08/03/2005

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