(First entry, p. 24)
1. HISTORICAL SKETCH
Hendry county was created from the eastern part of Lee county May 11, 1923, by an act of Legislature of the State of Florida. For several years prior to its creation there had been agitation for a division of Lee county because of the distance of the settlements now in Hendry county from Fort Myers, the county seat of Lee county. La Belle, in the upper Caloosahatchee Valley, was chosen as the county seat. The county was named in honor of Captain Francis Asbury Hendry.
Lying, as it does, south and west of Lake Okeechobee, with more than half of its area in the Everglades, the section now comprising Hendry county was long relatively inaccessible and was late in its settlement. The first settlements consisted of military outposts against the Seminole Indians. Between 1838 and 1841 Fort Denaud and Fort Thompson were established on the Caloosahatchee River, which flows across the northwest corner of the county, and later Fort Shackleford was built near Sam Jones’ Old Town, an Indian settlement in what is now the southeast section of the county. Captain Hendry noted in 1854, when he visited Fort Myers at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, that there was not a single settler nor trace of civilization in the surrounding county except in the forts along the river.
Even the forts were abandoned, however, before scattered settlers entered this district in the 1870’s. In fact, the Caloosahatchee Valley attracted few immigrants until after 1881, when its drainage was undertaken by the Atlantic and Gulf Coast and Okeechobee Land Company, a corporation controlled by Hamilton Disston, of Philadelphia, and his associates, who had entered into a contract with the trustees of the internal improvement fund to drain the area surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The first post office in what is now Hendry county was established at Fort Thompson in 1884, when the section’s population still consisted of only a few cattlemen.
Perhaps the earliest settler in the section was Captain Hendry, who went to Fort Myers from Fort Meade in 1869 and removed his family there in the following year. Always interested in the territory that now comprises Hendry county, many years later he built a home on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River within the present city limits of La Belle. W. D. Fraser settled in the valley about 1872 and became the first postmaster at Fort Thompson, and Frank O’Neill, who was the first postmaster at Fort Denaud, removed from Orange county with his family in 1869.
Until the drainage of this section was undertaken, practically the entire present area of the county was under water at certain seasons of the year and cattle raising was the only practicable industry. Captain Hendry is said to have been the first person to graze cattle south of the Caloosahatchee River and at one time he and his son, George, operated a successful cattle raising and export business at Fort Thompson. Some of the herds ranging in this section produced as many as 3,000 calves in one season. The cattle were exported to Key West and Cuba. Of recent years the relative importance of cattle in the county’s economy has greatly decreased, but the industry is still of some importance.