Ziba King

Ziba King

By Spessard Stone

Ziba King, a pioneer settler of Fort Ogden and Arcadia, Florida, was a merchant, justice of the peace, cattle king, and civic leader.

Ziba King was born March 12, 1838 in Ware County, Georgia.

During the Civil War, Ziba enlisted on March 4, 1862 at Savannah as a private in Co. C, Battalion of Savannah Volunteer Guards, which unit subsequently became Co. C, 18th Battalion Georgia Infantry. The muster rolls show that he was "absent without leave since Dec. 17, 1864."

In Ware County, Ziba in a small way began his business career as a merchant. In 1868, he moved to Tampa, Florida where he engaged in the dry goods business, but, soon after, resettled in Fort Ogden, Manatee County, Florida. He there opened a store. The Florida Peninsular of Tampa of July 14, 1869, p. 3, col. 1, noted, “Mr. Z. King and C. S. Lightsey have gone to Ft. Ogden, on Pease Creek, with a load of corn, flour &c, and will probably start a store there.” He continued the store for some twenty years.

Ziba also went into cattle ranching, in which endeavor he was very successful. Florida Daily Times of February 15, 1882, reported Zeba [sic] King had 30,000 head and led its list of principal cattolemen. The 1885 Manatee County Agricultural Schedule showed King to have: 40 acres of tilled land; 6,000 acres of wooded and pasture land; and $60,000 in stock. At his greatest period of expansion he allegedly had 50,000 head of cattle and was the "cattle king of South Florida."

Ziba was enumerated in the Fort Ogden region in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Manatee County. In 1893, he moved into Arcadia, which since May 19, 1887 had been in DeSoto County, following the county division of old Manatee County.

Besides his already stated enterprises, Ziba was a banker. He was president of the First National Bank of Arcadia, vice president and director of the Exchange Bank of Tampa, and a director of the National Bank of the State of Florida at Jacksonville. Additionally, he had citrus groves and vast real estate holdings.

Ziba early involved himself in politics. Manatee County records show him as a justice of the peace in 1873, 1874, 1875, and 1876. Judge King, representing the Conservative Democratic Party, exercised a commanding presence in the government of his region. Standing six feet six and weighing 225 pounds, he was not one to be riled.

Following the Civil War, the Republican Party reigned supreme in Manatee County under the leadership of Capt. James D. Green, Republican State Representative, and Capt. John F. Bartholf, Clerk of the Circuit Court. As related in The River of Peace The Nineteenth Century by Canter Brown, Jr., Capt. Green and his fellow Republicans knew that the elections of 1876 would return the Conservative Democrats to power unless some kind of political power play could be effected.

When John F. Bartholf became ill, he in late August 1876 submitted his resignation to Republican Governor Marcellus Stearns, who was his party's candidate for governor against Democrat George F. Drew. Bartholf's resignation was accepted on September 23 to take effect on the qualification of his successor.

Green now saw his opportunity and moved quickly. Upon his suggestion, Governor Stearns, a political ally, immediately removed Bartholf from office and then appointed Andrew Green, son of Capt. Green, to the vacancy but delayed execution of the bond necessary for issuance of his commission. Thus, Manatee County was left with no lawful clerk for the November 7 election. Green further urged Republicans to boycott the election after state Democrats had advised local Democratic party leaders of the scheme.

Manatee County Democrats swept the county with Samuel J. Tilden receiving 288 votes for president and George F. Drew obtaining 289 ballots for governor of the state. Manatee County Probate Record 1, page 111, recorded on November 7, 1876 that the election was certified by: J. B. Mizell, Sheriff; Ziba King, J. P.; and E. M. Graham, County Judge. Judge Graham had previously drawn up the election documents, which was normally the clerk's responsibility. Ziba had been instrumental in seeing that the election was certified and had accompanied Josiah Gates, who carried the election documents, from his Fort Ogden home to Pine Level (then the county seat) and thence to Manatee where Judge Graham took them for delivery to Tallahassee.

The Board of State Canvassers at its meeting on November 27, 1876, however, threw out the Manatee County vote plus various precincts in Jackson, Hamilton, and Monroe counties on account of alleged fraud, and on December 6 announced that Republican Stearns by about a 400 majority was elected governor while the Hayes' electors by a margin of over 900 had prevailed over Tilden.

Democrats appealed to the State Supreme Court, which resulted in a recounting to give Democrat George F. Drew a 195-vote victory over Republican Stearns. The Joint High Commission in Washington, D. C. chose to abide by the original returns, which excluded Manatee's votes, and awarded the electoral votes of Florida plus Louisiana and South Carolina to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, which gave him the presidency by an electoral college margin of 185 to 184. Thus, Judge King had been influential in the election of a governor while Capt. Green of a president.

Ziba King was in 1888 elected on an Independent ticket to the State Senate from the 27th District and served in the sessions of 1889 and 1891. A split in the Democratic Party in 1888 had resulted in the newly created DeSoto County having the regular party apparatus controlled by what would soon become known as the Populists, with Thomas J. Pepper, editor of the Arcadian, their spokesman. King represented the old-line conservative faction. Democrat Rev. John W. Hendry had defeated King's candidate in 1888.

In April 1892, the break was finalized when the Rev. Hendry, who was president of the Farm Alliance (Populists), led a walkout of the county Democratic convention. Hendry's group then organized themselves as the People's Party, which favored the "Ocala Demands" platform, which included the abolition of national banks, recovery from the railroads and alien owners any land held for speculation, the free and unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to 1 of gold, a graduated income tax, direct election of U. S. senators. Their slate of candidates, headed by Charles A. Turner for the Senate and Henry H. Norris for the House, went down to defeat when the regular Democrats fielded a victorious slate with Capt. John W. Whidden of Arcadia elected to the Senate and Albert Gilchrist to the House. (John W. Whidden was a brother-in-law of the Rev. Hendry, which illustrated the party split.)

The Populists in 1896 revived with the national candidacy of William J. Bryan and locally succeeded in the election of candidates to county offices and the Independent Dr. Oscar T. Stanford (who was supported by the Populists) to the Senate. That Thomas J. Pepper had supported Stanford was not forgotten by Ziba King and the Democratic leaders. In July 1897,the county commissioners forced the suspension of the Arcadian when they took away the county printing contract. King, J. H. Treadwell, and J. L. Jones then purchased the Arcadian from Pepper's creditors and began a new paper the DeSoto County News, which in short order received the county printing contract.

In 1889 King ran for Stanford's House seat, which he was vacating, against Marion G. Carlton, the Populist candidate. King and the Democrats reigned triumphant at the polls, and the Populists were crushed. With his ruthless suppression of newspaperman Pepper, Ziba showed he would not be denied political control, an action the old master Machiavelli would have commended.

In addition to the aforesaid political activities, Ziba was a member of the School Board. Stetson Kennedy in Palmetto Country related that one time Manatee County couldn't pay its schoolteachers and King handed out enough gold to pay their salaries for six months. He was a member of the Baptist Church and a Mason.

Ziba King died on March 7, 1901, with burial in the Ziba King Family plot, Fort Ogden.

The Bartow Courier-Informant of March 13, 1901 related:

“Death Claims Them
“Judge Ziba King And Mr. Louis Parker
“Two Distinguished Citizens
“Judge King Ill For Some Time--Mr. Parker Fell From His Horse And Thus Broke His Neck
“We take the following account of the deaths of two South Florida’s most prominent men from the Tampa Tribune of the 10th instant, viz: Judge Ziba King and Mr. Louis Parker...
“The Tribune says:
“The handsome metallic casket in which the remains of the big-bodied, big-hearted Judge Ziba King were yesterday laid to rest at Fort Ogden has a history which can be told without disrespect to the dead or offense to the living.
“A cool, calculating man of affairs, Judge King’s ruling business trait was foresight. He was not a follower of that cult which allows the morrow to take care of itself. He looked forward while others looked backwards. In this was the secret of his success, the basic foundation of his fortune.
“A week before his death, Judge King felt that the end was near. The thoughts of the future, provision for what the morrow would bring forth, actuated him on the very threshold of disolation.
“With a calmness seldom found in men upon the bed of death, he dictated a telegram to his close personal friend, Col. J. B. Anderson of this city, requesting that he ascertain if a casket sufficiently large to enclose his giant frame could be found in the city of Tampa.
“He described the style of casket he wished. It must be six feet six inches in length, metallic, with extension silver handle-bars.
“Col. Anderson went upon the sad mission immediately. He found that no casket of that unusual style could be secured in this city.
“Undertaker J. L. Reed offered to secure the casket desired. He ordered it by wire from New Orleans, and had it forwarded by express.
“The coffin arrived in Tampa Thursday morning. At one o’clock on that day Judge King was dead.
“An Old Time Country Burial
“In the country churchyard where lie the remains of his six dead sons, the body of Judge Ziba King was laid to rest yesterday at Fort Ogden, the home of his young manhood. About the grave stood the widow, six living sons and two daughters.
“It was an old-time country burial. The coffin was laid on the ground under a spreading oak tree and Rev. Mahon, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Arcadia, pronounced the solemn service.
“The pallbearers were Senator Whidden and Messrs. Carlton, Jones and Watkins, of Arcadia, and J. B. Anderson and Peter O. Knight, of this city. A special funeral train bore a large concourse of friends to the scene.
“Col. Anderson and Knight returned to the city last night. The will of the deceased names his widow, and his sons, J. G. and T. B. King, as executors of the estate, which is valued at $300,000.”

On April 10, 1901, the Bartow Courier-Informant reported in “Mystery Of Marriage Of Judge King In Georgia Is Cleared Up Was Forced By Her Father, But The Ceremony Not Legal--A Child Born But Died In Infancy--Divorce Secured:”

“We take the following from the Tampa Daily Times:
“The readers of the Times will recall that shortly after the death of the late Judge Ziba King of Arcadia, an article appeared in this paper stating that rumors were in general circulation here to the effect that Judge King had been married to a young woman in Georgia before his removal from that state, at the muzzle of a shotgun, that he had told the father of the girl who compelled the marriage that he would not live with her, and had come to this section immediately after the ceremony; that no divorce had ever been procured, that a child had been born, and that the woman and child, accompanied by a lawyer, were then at Arcadia, making arrangements to contest the will.
“Circuit Judge Wall was holding the spring term of circuit court for DeSoto county at Arcadia at the time. Judge Wall had been Judge King’s close personal friend and advisor for a quarter of a century, and the heirs and attorneys brought the matter to his notice. Judge King had told Judge Wall something of his escapade at his old home in Georgia. The facts were as stated in the article in many details. There was a forced marriage, but it appears that it was a bogus one. The ceremony was performed by the famous Georgian, Judge Swett, who was a first cousin of Judge King. It seems that at the time of the marriage Swett was a young lawyer, but not vested with authority to perform marriage ceremonies, consequently the marriage was of no effect. A female child was born to the woman, but died during its infancy. Some three or four years later after King left Georgia the woman procured a divorce, and later she married again.
"On the advice of Judge Wall, Col. John H. Treadwell, one of the attorneys for the King estate, went to the deceased's old home in Clinch county, Ga., and made a thorough investigation verifying the facts related above, which information he conveyed to Judge Wall in a letter received this morning.
"The friends of the King family here and throughout the state will be pleased to learn these facts, giving as they do assurances that no unpleasant consequences are likely to ensue."

On July 25, 1870 in Manatee County, Ziba had married Florida Brewer, daughter of James and Elizabeth (Whidden) Brewer. She was born April 21, 1855, Hamilton County, Fla., and died March 11, 1935. To them were born 14 children. Six sons and two daughters survived Judge King: Nannie (b. c1871, Mrs. A. E. Houston), Thomas Butler King (1873-1954), James Garfield King, Henry Logan King (1885-1938), Eugene King, Russell King (b. c1888), John J. King (b. c1891), Cora E. King. Six sons predeceased him: William Jackson King (March 23, 1876-Oct. 30, 1878), Lloyd Ellsworth King (Apr. 8, 1877-Apr. 30, 1878), Ziba King, Jr. (Nov. 29, 1878-?), Benjamin Hill King (July 5, 1882-Oct. 11, 1885), Paul King (Sept. 25, 1893-Jan. 28, 1894), Homer R. King.

On November 11, 1956, the Ziba King Memorial Recreational Park was dedicated at Fort Ogden. A large granite block bearing a bronze plaque marks the site of the King homestead.

References: Memoirs of Florida, Volume 11, 1902, pages 582-583; Canter Brown, Jr., manuscript The River of Peace The Nineteenth Century, 1988; Stetson Kennedy, Palmetto Country; Bartow Courier-Informant, March 13, 1901 & April 10, 1901, courtesy of Kyle VanLandingham; Ziba King Family plot, Fort Ogden.

This profile is adapted from The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.), Nov. 10, 1988.

March 28, 2001, April 17, 2009.