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Neighbors’ feud at historic Hillsborough cattle ranch winds up in court

Among the allegations: Fence cutting, calf shooting, deer hanging, a wandering bull and crossing property lines to carry out illegal hunting operations.
There's trouble at the Lonesome G. Ranch in southeast Hillsborough County, where owners Debbie and Anthony Gill say three new neighbors have been trespassing and hunting on their property.
There's trouble at the Lonesome G. Ranch in southeast Hillsborough County, where owners Debbie and Anthony Gill say three new neighbors have been trespassing and hunting on their property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 23

FORT LONESOME — You don’t usually have to worry much about your neighbors in Fort Lonesome.

It’s a spot on a map in the southeast corner of Hillsborough County with no real borders and a population so far-flung it doesn’t rate a Census count or post office.

There once was a logging operation here, but now, the only thing you can point to and say, “There’s Fort Lonesome,” is a rustic corner convenience store surrounded by acres of treeless berms that hide sprawling phosphate mines run by fertilizer giant Mosaic.

Debbie and Anthony Gill are members of a family that's been raising cattle for more than 100 years at a ranch in southeast Hillsborough County.
Debbie and Anthony Gill are members of a family that's been raising cattle for more than 100 years at a ranch in southeast Hillsborough County. [ Debbie Gill ]

Dovie Gill gave the crossroads its name soon after she moved here as a young bride in 1929, said her grandson Anthony Gill. She was lonely, crying on her front porch, when two lost travelers stopped to ask for directions.

“I can tell you right where you’re at, you’re in the heart of Fort Lonesome,” she is said to have replied.

The name, like Dovie and the Gill family, stuck around.

The Gill family’s 5,000-acre cattle ranch is now recognized by the state as a Century Pioneer Family Farm — a designation reserved for farms and ranches that have been owned 100 years or more by the same family,

In recent years, though, even here in Fort Lonesome, neighbor problems have arisen.

In a lawsuit filed last month in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Anthony Gill and his wife Debra accuse three people who bought property adjacent to their land of cutting their fences, letting a bull impregnate their cows, shooting their calves and setting up an out-of-season deer- and boar-hunting operation on the Gills’ property.

“The Gills have lived in this area forever and never had a problem with anyone until now,” their lawyer, Robert Eddy, said in an interview.

Fort Lonesome is little more than the crossroads of State Road 39 and County Road 674 in far southeast Hillsborough County. But a feud has erupted into a lawsuit here between the Gills, a long-time cattle ranching family, and their neighbors.
Fort Lonesome is little more than the crossroads of State Road 39 and County Road 674 in far southeast Hillsborough County. But a feud has erupted into a lawsuit here between the Gills, a long-time cattle ranching family, and their neighbors. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Steven Bruce Carroll Sr., 69; his son Steven Brian Carroll Jr., 46; and Carson Wilkes Corbett, 27. The men own parcels of 10 to 15 acres and are “relatively newcomers to the area,” the suit said. Hillsborough County property records show the Carrolls purchased property near the Gills four years ago and that Corbett has lived in the area since 2015.

As the feud between neighbors escalated, the elder Carroll filed a number of complaints against the Gills with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Sheriff’s Office found the complaints groundless and directed Carroll to “cease and desist from the further filing of false reports,” the lawsuit said.

Neither Corbett nor the Carrolls responded to phone calls, emails, a letter and a visit from a Tampa Bay Times reporter requesting comment. Court records show that the Carrolls have answered a court summons and retained an attorney and that three attempts to serve Corbett with a summons were unsuccessful.

The Gill family’s original cattle operation has expanded into today’s Lonesome G. Ranch, including a 20-acre U-pick orchard, the Southern Peach Co.; a land reclamation and environmental operation, Southern Developers and Earthmoving; and a country-chic wedding venue called the Southern Grace Barn.

The lawsuit seeks payment for monetary damages that it blames on the actions of the Gills’ three neighbors.

An ornate gate marks the entrance to the Lonesome G. Ranch off Bill Taylor Road. Owners Anthony and Debbie Gill have filed a lawsuit accusing neighbors of trespassing and hunting on the property.
An ornate gate marks the entrance to the Lonesome G. Ranch off Bill Taylor Road. Owners Anthony and Debbie Gill have filed a lawsuit accusing neighbors of trespassing and hunting on the property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The three routinely trespass on the Gill property to hunt deer and boar with high-powered rifles, during and outside of hunting season, the lawsuit said. They built deer-hunting stands on the Gills’ property without permission, the lawsuit said, and are accused of “operating a deer and hog hunting facility” from their own property by allowing guests to shoot game on the Gills’ ranch.

In addition, the defendants have shot at least three of the Gills’ Hereford calves, the lawsuit said.

In recent months, Corbett and the Carrolls have stolen security cameras from Gill property, menacingly hung dead deer next to the entrance to the Gill Ranch, shouted obscenities and threats at the Gills while parked in front of their home, and set fire to pastureland at least four times, the lawsuit said.

In a separate allegation, the lawsuit accuses the Carrolls of cutting the Gills’ fence on a number of occasions and allowing a bull to cross into the fields where the Gills graze 365 head of Brahmin and Hereford X cattle.

As recently as Aug. 12, the lawsuit said, the Carrolls’ bull was seen “ramming and mounting” the Gills’ cows on Gill property, “possibly impregnating many.” Deputies with the Sheriff’s Agriculture Department managed to remove the bull from the Gills’ land but one of their cows was later found dead, the lawsuit said.

“It is suspected that the cow died from blunt trauma caused by being rammed by the Carrolls’ bull,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit asks that a judge order the Carrolls to have their bull tested for a contagious venereal disease called Trichomoniasis, which often causes infertility. Owners of animals infected with such diseases are required by state law to file a report with the Florida State Veterinarian. Failing to do so is a second-degree felony.

If the bull tests positive for the disease, the lawsuit said, the Gills would have to vaccinate an estimated 185 cows with “at least two or three injections ... at a substantial cost.”