Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Elmer Mullins

Land surveyor Elmer Mullins sought to obey the laws of nature

DADE CITY — From boyhood on, Elmer Mullins felt most comfortable, and comforted, in the woods.

He internalized its lessons during the Depression in rural Pasco County, back when money was scarce but game plentiful. He had memorized the ground, the animal tracks on its surface and the arrowheads beneath it.

He could pick off a squirrel with a .22 rifle, in the head so as not to spoil dinner. At times he had only a couple of bullets to his name. He learned to make them count.

As a registered land surveyor, Mr. Mullins set up an old David White transit over points he had established in the ground or on roadways. He used a plumb bob, not the optical or laser plummets available in recent decades. The work created an unusual circle of friends, including the late chief Cory Osceola, a descendant of the famous Seminole chief Osceola; and a young lawyer named Lawton Chiles, a future governor, whose firm hired Mr. Mullins as an expert witness in boundary disputes.

He tried to move like the Indians whose artifacts he discovered, leaving nothing behind. He read National Geographic and Scientific American and hoped there was a god.

"He absolutely loved and got Florida, he thought she was precious," said Sue Mullins, his daughter. "He remembered the Everglades when the number of ibises would almost block out the sun."

Mr. Mullins died Monday at his daughter's home in rural Wakulla County. He was 88.

He was born in Williamsburg, Ky., with ancestors on both sides having fought in the Civil and Revolutionary wars, several of them as snipers.

But he was thrust into survival mode early. Both parents abandoned him, his mother for a life of her own in another city and his father to parts unknown. By age 8 he was living in Dade City with his grandparents and a cousin.

"We went hunting because we needed the food," said cousin Phillip Mullins, 71. "We went in places we weren't supposed to be. I guess you would call it poaching."

Mr. Mullins taught his younger cousin a law of hunting: "Get close enough so you don't leave the animal wounded," Phillip Mullins said. "After you get that close, try to get a little bit closer."

Phillip Mullins said that training from his cousin later helped him survive Vietnam.

Mr. Mullins served in the Merchant Marines. A brief first marriage ended in divorce. According to family lore, a group of in-laws met Mr. Mullins in an orange grove. A tense exchange took place. The men gave orders about the divorce, what he would do and who would get what. If he disobeyed, the men said, their buddies in the Klan would pay him a visit. At that, Mr. Mullins broke off four oranges, two in each hand. He tossed them high in the air, quick-drew his .44 Magnum and shot all four oranges into pulp-splintering pieces, his cousin said.

"He said, 'You go ahead and send them boys with the two holes in their hoods. And I'll put a third one between the other two.'

"He never heard from that crew again."

A second marriage, to Mary Frances Hughes, lasted nearly 25 years. Mr. Mullins opened his own surveying business with a partner. In the late 1950s, he helped a local author locate a historic trail between Tampa and Ocala using surveying maps drawn in the 1840s.

"I've been researching that road and that battle for 54 years," said Frank Laumer, 85, who wrote Massacre: An Account of the Massacre of Major Francis L. Dade and His Men by the Seminole Indians in Florida. "Elmer is the one who guided me into the area in the first place."

After retirement he added to his Civil War gun collection and went shooting at the Dade City Rod and Gun Club.

The last four months of his life, he stayed on his daughter's property in Wakulla County, where he could identify bird calls from the porch. Until his final week, he managed to walk every day in the woods that had always given him so much solace.


Elmer Wyatt Mullins

Born: Nov. 13, 1924

Died: Feb. 4, 2013

Survivors: daughters, Marie Petersen and Sue Mullins; and two grandsons.

Memorial service: 1 p.m. today; the large pavilion at the Withlacoochee River Park; 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd., Dade City.

Land surveyor Elmer Mullins sought to obey the laws of nature 02/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 7:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. White House tensions catch fire with Scaramucci interviews (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's new communications director exploded the smoldering tensions at the White House into a full-fledged conflagration Thursday, angrily daring Trump's chief of …

    White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci gestures as he answers a question during a press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington on July 21, 2017. Scaramucci offered newsroom leaders a test on Thursday. They needed to decide whether to fully use the obscenities relied on by Scaramucci to describe fellow White House aides or talk around them. [Associated Press]
  2. Forecast: Drier pattern ending in Tampa Bay as front brings building rain chances throughout weekend


    The drier, hot weather pattern across Tampa Bay will remain in place Friday before rain chances start to ramp up yet again through the weekend and into next week.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Police investigating death of child in Largo


    LARGO — An investigation is underway into the death of a child Thursday night at a mobile home park and a 25-year-old man has been named as a suspect, the Largo Police Department said.

  4. Goodbye, iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle: Apple kills products as music moves to phones


    SAN FRANCISCO — The iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle have played their final notes for Apple.

    An iPod, iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle are displayed at an Apple store in New York in 2015. The company discontinued sales of the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle on Thursday, July 27, 2017, in a move reflecting the waning popularity of the devices in an era when most people store or stream their tunes on smartphones. [Associated Press]
  5. Review: Sherman Alexie's 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' a moving mother-son memoir


    Grief has no timetable and abides by no map or pattern. Nor, despite the efforts of the most skilled storytellers, does it surrender to our narratives about it.

    LOVEIS WISE   |   Special to the Times