James Kinchen Hilliard was born in Coffee County, Georgia on December 17, 1852. He lost his father in 1863 during the War Between the States. Perhaps to ease the burden of his mother, who was left to rear some of his eleven siblings, James headed to Texas at the age of fourteen. For nine years he roamed the central west encountering Indians and buffalo and gathering tales of his experiences.
In 1877, James returned to Georgia and later moved to Columbia County, Florida where he operated a livery stable and sawmill business. Continuing in the sawmill industry, he went to Brooksville and finally settled in Orange County. On June 19, 1883, James K. Hilliard and Miss Emma Myrtle Hensley, a native of Jefferson County, Indiana were married in Orlando. They purchased a twenty five acre farm and grove with a “Cracker” style home comprised of two rooms separated by an open hallway and a kitchen set away from the house. They cleared the wild woods and hammock in order to plant citrus and raise cattle on the land known as Hilliard’s Island. The house was enlarged first to six rooms, then later to ten. After enduring the dreadful freezes of 1894 and 1895, which destroyed so many of the local groves, they once again worked to bring the property back to its firmer appearance.
Four children, two sons and two daughters, were born to James and Emma. James served as Osceola County Commissioner from 1917 – 1919 and held the office of Trustee of the Baptist Church for many years. Following his death on October 10, 1921 and until her death in 1942, Emma continued to live at Hilliard’s Island with son James, finding time to write a column for the “Kissimmee Leader” under the pen name of Goldenrod.
Their first daughter, Myrtle, was born on Christmas day in 1888 at the Hilliard Island home. As a child, she began listening to the pioneer tales of her neighbors and recorded them for future generations. Myrtle first married Henry C. Lightsey, a grandson of early pioneer Henry Overstreet. Her second marriage was to Lorenzo Crow and together they traveled many miles on Indian trails, stopping at homes of the old timers to record their way of life in the wilderness. Together, with the stories she recorded as a child, “Old Tales and Trails of Florida” was published in 1987 by the Osceola County Historical Society and is still available from OCHS.
Myrtle Hilliard Crow died on June 18, 1944, but left a legacy of stories of early life in Osceola County which will be enjoyed for generations.
For more information on the upcoming 2018 Dine with the Departed event be sure to visit http://osceolahistory.org/event/dine-with-the-departed-2018/. Seats fill up quickly so reserve your's today!
Sources: “Osceola County Centennial Book”; “A Pictorial History of Kissimmee”, “The Kissimmee Valley Gazette” October 14, 1921; Ancestry.com; OCHS photo collection