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"Totch Brown's memoirs of vanished days in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades--the last real frontier in Florida, and even today the greatest roadless wilderness in the United States--are invaluable as well as vivid and entertaining, for Totch is a natural-born story-teller, and his accounts of fishing and gator hunting as well as his life beyond the law as gator "Totch Brown's memoirs of vanished days in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades--the last real frontier in Florida, and even today the greatest roadless wilderness in the United States--are invaluable as well as vivid and entertaining, for Totch is a natural-born story-teller, and his accounts of fishing and gator hunting as well as his life beyond the law as gator poacher and drug runner are evocative and colorful, fresh and exciting."--from the foreword by Peter Matthiessen In the mysterious wilderness of swamps, marshes, and rivers that conceals life in the Florida Everglades, Totch Brown hung up his career as alligator hunter and commercial fisherman to become a self-confessed pot smuggler.  Before the marijuana money rolled in, he survived excruciating poverty in one of the most primitive and beautiful spots on earth, Chokoloskee Island, in the mangrove keys known as the Ten Thousand Islands located at the western gateway to the Everglades National Park.  Until he wrote this memoir--recollections from his childhood in the twenties that merge with reflections on a way of life dying at the hands of progress in the nineties--Totch had never read a book in his life.  Still, his writing conveys the tension he experienced from trying to live off the land and within the laws of the land.  Told with energy and authenticity, his story begins with the handful of souls who came to the area a hundred years ago to homestead on the high ground formed from oyster mounds built and left by the Calusa Indians.  They lived close to nature in shacks built of tin or palmetto fans; they ate wild meat, Chokoloskee chicken (white ibis), swamp cabbage, even--when they were desperate--manatee; and they weathered all manner of natural disaster from hurricanes to swarms of "swamp angels" (mosquitoes).  In his grandpa's day, Totch writes, outlaws and cutthroats would "shoot a man down just as quick as they'd knock down an egret, especially if he came between them and the plume birds."  His grandparents were both contemporaries of Ed J. Watson, the subject of Peter Matthiessen's best-selling Killing Mr. Watson, and Totch is featured in the recent award-winning PBS film Lost Man's River:  An Everglades Adventure with Peter Matthiessen.  He also appeared in Wind Across the Everglades, the 1957 Budd Schulberg movie in which Totch and Burl Ives sing some of Totch's  Florida cracker songs. Loren G. "Totch" Brown was born in Chokoloskee, Florida, in 1920.  After purchasing his first motorboat at the age of thirteen (and retiring from formal schooling after the seventh grade) he worked as an alligator hunter, commercial fisherman, crabber, professional guide, poacher, marijuana runner, singer, and songwriter.


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"Totch Brown's memoirs of vanished days in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades--the last real frontier in Florida, and even today the greatest roadless wilderness in the United States--are invaluable as well as vivid and entertaining, for Totch is a natural-born story-teller, and his accounts of fishing and gator hunting as well as his life beyond the law as gator "Totch Brown's memoirs of vanished days in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades--the last real frontier in Florida, and even today the greatest roadless wilderness in the United States--are invaluable as well as vivid and entertaining, for Totch is a natural-born story-teller, and his accounts of fishing and gator hunting as well as his life beyond the law as gator poacher and drug runner are evocative and colorful, fresh and exciting."--from the foreword by Peter Matthiessen In the mysterious wilderness of swamps, marshes, and rivers that conceals life in the Florida Everglades, Totch Brown hung up his career as alligator hunter and commercial fisherman to become a self-confessed pot smuggler.  Before the marijuana money rolled in, he survived excruciating poverty in one of the most primitive and beautiful spots on earth, Chokoloskee Island, in the mangrove keys known as the Ten Thousand Islands located at the western gateway to the Everglades National Park.  Until he wrote this memoir--recollections from his childhood in the twenties that merge with reflections on a way of life dying at the hands of progress in the nineties--Totch had never read a book in his life.  Still, his writing conveys the tension he experienced from trying to live off the land and within the laws of the land.  Told with energy and authenticity, his story begins with the handful of souls who came to the area a hundred years ago to homestead on the high ground formed from oyster mounds built and left by the Calusa Indians.  They lived close to nature in shacks built of tin or palmetto fans; they ate wild meat, Chokoloskee chicken (white ibis), swamp cabbage, even--when they were desperate--manatee; and they weathered all manner of natural disaster from hurricanes to swarms of "swamp angels" (mosquitoes).  In his grandpa's day, Totch writes, outlaws and cutthroats would "shoot a man down just as quick as they'd knock down an egret, especially if he came between them and the plume birds."  His grandparents were both contemporaries of Ed J. Watson, the subject of Peter Matthiessen's best-selling Killing Mr. Watson, and Totch is featured in the recent award-winning PBS film Lost Man's River:  An Everglades Adventure with Peter Matthiessen.  He also appeared in Wind Across the Everglades, the 1957 Budd Schulberg movie in which Totch and Burl Ives sing some of Totch's  Florida cracker songs. Loren G. "Totch" Brown was born in Chokoloskee, Florida, in 1920.  After purchasing his first motorboat at the age of thirteen (and retiring from formal schooling after the seventh grade) he worked as an alligator hunter, commercial fisherman, crabber, professional guide, poacher, marijuana runner, singer, and songwriter.

30 review for Totch: A Life in the Everglades

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I picked this up at a used book store on a whim, becuase it looked a little quirky, and because it covers a bit of history of a part of Florida I've always wanted to know more about - the Everglades. The writing isn't great, and at times it's very choppy - appears to be a series of notecards put together one after the next. But the voice is genuine, and the story is very interesting. The author covers the various phases of his life, and ties these to changes that took place in the Everglades. Th I picked this up at a used book store on a whim, becuase it looked a little quirky, and because it covers a bit of history of a part of Florida I've always wanted to know more about - the Everglades. The writing isn't great, and at times it's very choppy - appears to be a series of notecards put together one after the next. But the voice is genuine, and the story is very interesting. The author covers the various phases of his life, and ties these to changes that took place in the Everglades. There are great photos included, as well as vignettes and anecdotes that paint a truly vivid picture of this man's life- or at least what he remembers it to be. He describes several actions he made in his life that he anticipates the reader might not like, and he tries to explain why he did them. Sometime this comes across as rationalizing bad behavior. But at other times he reflects on some of his actions with genuine regret, and in doing so is more honest. The story paints a compelling picture of how a group of people were changed by history and lost the land they inhabited, though they themselves only lived on that land after it was taken from its native inhabitants. This fact isn't lost on the author either. It has piqued my interest and makes me want to read more about this time in history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Interesting look at how people lived in the Everglades back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There is a lot of history with pictures of the first city within the Everglades. Reading how Totch lived as a child in the Everglades, before the government obtained it for a National Park, was really interesting. Totch himself was quite the law breaker of rules as an adult, but that sure made his story fun to read. The Everglades is definitely on my list to see and now I feel like I will have a diffe Interesting look at how people lived in the Everglades back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There is a lot of history with pictures of the first city within the Everglades. Reading how Totch lived as a child in the Everglades, before the government obtained it for a National Park, was really interesting. Totch himself was quite the law breaker of rules as an adult, but that sure made his story fun to read. The Everglades is definitely on my list to see and now I feel like I will have a different appreciation when viewing it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    If you're spending time in the Everglades this is pretty much a must read. That and a visit to the Smallwood Store to gather a bit of history. There you'll find a video playing with Totch himself telling some of his stories. The story is written in a "down-home" way, with Totch giving a glimpse into the life of an fisherman and an alligator hunter, first legal, then illegal and an eventual drug runner, who was trying to make a living as the designation of the Everglades as a National Park change If you're spending time in the Everglades this is pretty much a must read. That and a visit to the Smallwood Store to gather a bit of history. There you'll find a video playing with Totch himself telling some of his stories. The story is written in a "down-home" way, with Totch giving a glimpse into the life of an fisherman and an alligator hunter, first legal, then illegal and an eventual drug runner, who was trying to make a living as the designation of the Everglades as a National Park changed the way of life. The book gives a view into the lives of some good people living there in the early 1900's and some, like Edgar Watson, who were notoriously bad. Overall, a good read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peggy Eckhold

    I have mixed feelings about this book. I found it interesting to read about life in the Everglades before all the tourists arrived, but I found the hunting and illegal activities disturbing. Breaking the law is nothing to be admired. The book is written just as the author would talk.....not very well!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    What a wonderful read. A personal memoir of a man who was raised in the Everglades (botn in the late 20s). great adventure, grit, humor & determination. entertaining read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Suggested reading by an Everglades fishing guide that was related to Totch. Old Florida!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    While I'm glad this book was written, I didn't really enjoy reading it. Parts of it were really great, and it was cool to see how people made a living in the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida very early on, and it was neat to see how they interacted with the Seminoles and the way they perceived things, but by God, this is largely about how to obtain game and sealife in detail. About boating excursions etc. About times dogs/babies/other living things were killed by mistake. I think he could' While I'm glad this book was written, I didn't really enjoy reading it. Parts of it were really great, and it was cool to see how people made a living in the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida very early on, and it was neat to see how they interacted with the Seminoles and the way they perceived things, but by God, this is largely about how to obtain game and sealife in detail. About boating excursions etc. About times dogs/babies/other living things were killed by mistake. I think he could've left the part out about shooting a manatee one day when he was bored and later having it wash up and his dad get angry about it, but I guess it showed the philosophy that you kill only what you need, even though the entire book seems to be about killing. At first they were poor and doing it just to get by, but later were selling excesses of fish that were in abundance then and now are no longer. In all fairness, not just the locals depleted the wildlife to its meager numbers now, and actually, of everyone involved, I would pick Totch to create laws to bring the Everglades back into abundance. He points out some things that could help now, like twice yearly burnings caused young green growth that was good for wildlife. Without the burnings, the swamp was much less attractive to living things. The roads have stymied wildlife trying to move north and south freely, and panther preservation efforts aren't accomplishing much good for the amount of money spent on them. He mentions just breeding panthers and releasing them would be money better spent. I think anyone who wants to volunteer or create legislation for a better Everglades should read this book. Even though locals depended on killing wildlife for income and food, they also respected it and learned natural rhythms, in order to ensure they didn't disrupt them, and therefore their food supply. People nowadays are not that smart. Glad this book was written so that the history of this area can be remembered. And maybe we won't continue to make the same mistakes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James P.

    Totch is an entertaining storyteller—straightforward and down-to-earth. No surprise there, as he spent his entire life living in the Everglades (b. 1920-d.1996). One of the most striking things in this book are the photographs. Yes, the stories are amazing too, but when you consider the harsh conditions Totch and his family—and ancestors—endured, it all seems very exceptional, which it is. But the photographs…for all the challenges and years of hard living, everyone looks hearty and very healthy. Totch is an entertaining storyteller—straightforward and down-to-earth. No surprise there, as he spent his entire life living in the Everglades (b. 1920-d.1996). One of the most striking things in this book are the photographs. Yes, the stories are amazing too, but when you consider the harsh conditions Totch and his family—and ancestors—endured, it all seems very exceptional, which it is. But the photographs…for all the challenges and years of hard living, everyone looks hearty and very healthy. I expected rags and dirty faces and bedraggled expressions in the photographs. Nope. Over his lifetime, Totch had a number of different jobs. Hunting alligators was quite a business for a while (until Everglades National Park was established), as was fishing for stone crabs. There are a lot more adventures for book lovers to enjoy. I think the following quote best illustrates Totch's views about the Everglades: “If God would ever grant me the power, I’d take the Everglades back from the government and give it back to the Seminoles.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marie Q

    Although this is not the best-written book I've read, I give it a 5 star rating because it is so unique. Totch tells his own story in his own words, and his warm personality comes through. He was a pioneer who eked out a living and raised his family in what most would consider an environment hostile to humans. He doesn't gloss over his mistakes or the illegal activities he was involved in. He was an outlaw who valued life, human and animal alike, but he was also a philosopher with a compassionat Although this is not the best-written book I've read, I give it a 5 star rating because it is so unique. Totch tells his own story in his own words, and his warm personality comes through. He was a pioneer who eked out a living and raised his family in what most would consider an environment hostile to humans. He doesn't gloss over his mistakes or the illegal activities he was involved in. He was an outlaw who valued life, human and animal alike, but he was also a philosopher with a compassionate appreciation for others. If he had been born in other circumstances, who knows what he could have accomplished in life? This book itself is a great accomplishment. It is a window into a time and place that few have experienced, and fewer still have brought to life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jake DeNiro

    the reason that I picked this book was I didn't have anything to read. My grandmother went to his homestead that Totch the main charter is from. When my family went down to vist her she gave my this book. I ended up picking up the book and I did not think it would be that good but it was very good. the book takes about life growing up in the everglades and I found it interesting that this was a real book and the main was still alive but he lives with almost no technology and has no connection to the reason that I picked this book was I didn't have anything to read. My grandmother went to his homestead that Totch the main charter is from. When my family went down to vist her she gave my this book. I ended up picking up the book and I did not think it would be that good but it was very good. the book takes about life growing up in the everglades and I found it interesting that this was a real book and the main was still alive but he lives with almost no technology and has no connection to the outside world. If you are looking for a interesting book from a different point of view I would recommend it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    DT

    3.5 stars. The author is a third-generation inhabitant of what's now the Everglades National Park. To say he had a remarkable life understates the fact considerably. The book isn't the most elegantly written, but it was a fascinating dive into Florida and Everglades history told through the eyes of a man who dropped out of school in the seventh grade, but who was clearly a brilliant mind. He was a commercial fisherman, crabber, and hunter. He won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. He poac 3.5 stars. The author is a third-generation inhabitant of what's now the Everglades National Park. To say he had a remarkable life understates the fact considerably. The book isn't the most elegantly written, but it was a fascinating dive into Florida and Everglades history told through the eyes of a man who dropped out of school in the seventh grade, but who was clearly a brilliant mind. He was a commercial fisherman, crabber, and hunter. He won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. He poached alligators and ran drugs in the swamp. High up on the hypothetical "who would you like to have a beer with" list.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Read this for our book discussion, and was looking forward to it but - it took a bit for me to get into it. It was interesting for seeing what an old-time Florida man living in the Everglades would be like, but there was so much talk about killing things - like herons, and other wildlife that I don't think of people actually eating. But there were only a couple times Totch, as a young boy, killed purely for sport, and he expresses in the book that he regretted it. It's amazing what all he went t Read this for our book discussion, and was looking forward to it but - it took a bit for me to get into it. It was interesting for seeing what an old-time Florida man living in the Everglades would be like, but there was so much talk about killing things - like herons, and other wildlife that I don't think of people actually eating. But there were only a couple times Totch, as a young boy, killed purely for sport, and he expresses in the book that he regretted it. It's amazing what all he went thru.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom Brown

    I read this book as I kayaked and camps in the Everglades recently. The book was a terrific red on the trip since we visited many of the places that Totch writes about in the book. Brown tells about a life that no longer exists. It was fascinating to red how he and his ancestors made a living in such a wild and unfriendly place. If you ever plan to visit the Everglades I recommend reading this book before you go!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Totch is just a down home guy telling his life story. It happens that he spent it in the FL Everglades and the Ten Thousand Lakes. Some of the keys I passed and stayed on during my Outward Bound experience (kayaking the Ten Thousand Lakes) were mentioned in the book. Not necessarily a great book club discussion book, but might be OK.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Prooost Davis

    Tales of life and adventure by a man who grew up in the mangroves of the Gulf side of Florida at the edge of the Everglades. Totch Brown lived a colorful life, living off the land, or, for the most part, the water. A commercial fisherman with his own boat from the age of fourteen, Totch's story includes, as well, moonshine-distilling, sport-fishing, alligator-poaching, and pot-smuggling. Tales of life and adventure by a man who grew up in the mangroves of the Gulf side of Florida at the edge of the Everglades. Totch Brown lived a colorful life, living off the land, or, for the most part, the water. A commercial fisherman with his own boat from the age of fourteen, Totch's story includes, as well, moonshine-distilling, sport-fishing, alligator-poaching, and pot-smuggling.

  16. 5 out of 5

    McKenzie

    I really enjoyed this book, it put me in the Everglades before the place was called that, alongside a white man living off the land his ancestors encroached on. Reading this during the pandemic was excellent timing. It's a book my dad has recommended several times, but I hadn't bothered to get because its limited print and more expensive. It's worth the investment. I really enjoyed this book, it put me in the Everglades before the place was called that, alongside a white man living off the land his ancestors encroached on. Reading this during the pandemic was excellent timing. It's a book my dad has recommended several times, but I hadn't bothered to get because its limited print and more expensive. It's worth the investment.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Todd Anderson

    What a fascinating place and time. Not too far from my home and places I have spent time. But it was a different age. Great read of what Florida was like when people lived here but it really wasn't developed. What a fascinating place and time. Not too far from my home and places I have spent time. But it was a different age. Great read of what Florida was like when people lived here but it really wasn't developed.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zach Lombardo

    If you live in SWFL, this should be on your reading list. Totch gives an incredible window into the Everglades that those of us that live here should think about as the stewards of our spit of Florida coastline.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mjjohnson1216

    Loved reading about the history of the Everglades from the viewpoint of the author. Highly recommend for those who are new to southwest Florida.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    skimmed for book club

  21. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    3.5 stars. I wanted to stop reading early on but kept going. The book got better towards the end. It's a great book if you like fishing and Florida. 3.5 stars. I wanted to stop reading early on but kept going. The book got better towards the end. It's a great book if you like fishing and Florida.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Josh Liller

    "Totch" is the autobiography of a man who spent nearly his entire life in the Ten Thousand Islands region of SW Florida. He talks about life in the Great Depression, hunting, fishing, poaching, and pot-hauling. Brown seems remarkably candid, although not particularly introspective. He gives the impressive of a simple, but cunning man who knew a certain way of life and kept on maintaining it without much regard for changing times or laws. He does show a thrillseeking streak. The book is very well "Totch" is the autobiography of a man who spent nearly his entire life in the Ten Thousand Islands region of SW Florida. He talks about life in the Great Depression, hunting, fishing, poaching, and pot-hauling. Brown seems remarkably candid, although not particularly introspective. He gives the impressive of a simple, but cunning man who knew a certain way of life and kept on maintaining it without much regard for changing times or laws. He does show a thrillseeking streak. The book is very well written and worthy of its publication by a major university press, suggesting that the author is remarkably skilled with the written word for a person with barely any formal education and/or he had one hell of an editor (there is no indication of a ghostwriter). It certainly doesn't make marijuana smuggling sound the least bit pleasant! There are some things Totch could have gone into more detail on: his experiences in World War II, in jail, or even why he developed a three-packs-a-day smoking habit but those are tangential to life in Florida. Worth reading by anyone interested in Florida or just good biographies in general.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mary Teal

    This autobiography illustrates the lifestyle of a young man in Southwest Florida during the 1920's. The rural self-sustaining way of being was all that Totch knew however as the area industrialized Totch fell behind. His way of making an income became outlawed which didn't stop him but certainly stopped producing a profitable life. This novel was relatable because on a different spectrum this character reminded me of my own father. A "set in his ways" "can't teach and old dog new tricks" type of This autobiography illustrates the lifestyle of a young man in Southwest Florida during the 1920's. The rural self-sustaining way of being was all that Totch knew however as the area industrialized Totch fell behind. His way of making an income became outlawed which didn't stop him but certainly stopped producing a profitable life. This novel was relatable because on a different spectrum this character reminded me of my own father. A "set in his ways" "can't teach and old dog new tricks" type of man that wants nothing to do with the ever changing world and environment around him.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hank

    My mama read this book, loved it, and got me a copy, though I'll be damned if I can remember where she ran across it. The autobiography of a second generation Florida man, a gator hunter raised in the Everglades long before the goant theme parks came along. Born in the 20s, he tells about life in the swamps, trapping, moonshining, running a little pot, poling flat-bottomed boats around the grassy islands. Good Florida storytelling. My mama read this book, loved it, and got me a copy, though I'll be damned if I can remember where she ran across it. The autobiography of a second generation Florida man, a gator hunter raised in the Everglades long before the goant theme parks came along. Born in the 20s, he tells about life in the swamps, trapping, moonshining, running a little pot, poling flat-bottomed boats around the grassy islands. Good Florida storytelling.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    Totch : A Life in the Everglades by Loren G. "Totch" Brown (University Press of Florida 1993)(Biography) is the story of one who spent his whole life in the Glades. The book features a foreword by Peter Matthiessen and fits right in with Matthiessen's "Killing Mr. Watson" stories. My rating: 7/10; finished 2010. Totch : A Life in the Everglades by Loren G. "Totch" Brown (University Press of Florida 1993)(Biography) is the story of one who spent his whole life in the Glades. The book features a foreword by Peter Matthiessen and fits right in with Matthiessen's "Killing Mr. Watson" stories. My rating: 7/10; finished 2010.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chris Sexton

    Anyone who's interested in knowing what it was like to grow up in the Ten Thousand Islands has to read this book. Totch was a character and tells it like it was, with no regrets. Eventhough it was a tough place to be back then, part of me wishes it was still like that today. A great book! Anyone who's interested in knowing what it was like to grow up in the Ten Thousand Islands has to read this book. Totch was a character and tells it like it was, with no regrets. Eventhough it was a tough place to be back then, part of me wishes it was still like that today. A great book!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Peter Matthiessen provided the forward and I suspect the editor. The authors older brother was a friend of Lucious Watson. Talks of exploits in illegal operations in the Everglades, like drug running, gator hunting, and moon-shining.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary L.

    "Totch" gives a compelling story of life in the Everglades in the early and middle 20th century. How people survived, what paths they choose to survive, the hard life with its dignities. A hardy breed of people. "Totch" gives a compelling story of life in the Everglades in the early and middle 20th century. How people survived, what paths they choose to survive, the hard life with its dignities. A hardy breed of people.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eliot

    Not written by a professional writer but a very enjoyable and interesting book! A fascinating story of an alligator hunter and marijuana smuggler trying to make a living in the Everglades. i enjoyed it immensely!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Renia Carsillo

    absolutely fascinating and phenomenal look at old Florida.

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