Barbara Ann Malta offers an interesting new book entitled, “Betty Collier, Marco Island Pioneer.” It’s written as a historical narrative in the voice of Betty Collier, wife of W. T. Collier. Based on Betty’s life, the historical events of the time, W. T. Colliers’ diary and newspaper articles about the Collier family, Barbara takes her readers on an adventurous journey as she follows the Colliers from North Carolina—to Cedar Key Florida and on to Marco Island where the Collier family settled in 1870. That year, Marco Island and the area around Henderson Creek was surveyed as “a pond full of monstrous alligators, surrounded by a mangrove and a cypress swamp; impractical.” And yet, the Colliers made their home on Marco Island, living much like the Swiss Family Robinson, who were marooned on a deserted island. Unlike the Robinsons, W. T. Collie left family and friends and chose to settle on Marco Island.
In the mid-1950s, Betty Collier’s youngest sons, John and Walter, both in their late 80s, were interviewed for a newspaper article about their life on a deserted tropical island. They were specifically asked why their father settled on an uninhabited island. They both asserted that this was a question that was frequently asked, but the answer to which was never known to them. The book sheds light on their father’s decision.
Barbara, who as a member of the Marco Island Reenactors, first presented Betty Collier to a group of 106 library patrons. Since most of the presenters in the series were authors, Barbara’s presentation was billed as excerpts from an upcoming book. Barbara admits there was no upcoming book. Further, there was no plan for a book. However, the presentation was so well received, and the patrons wanted to know about the first woman to homestead on Marco Island. So, Barbara was encouraged to try her hand at writing.
The historical tale of the Colliers’ journey starts in Lincolnton, North Carolina when Betty is just 16 years old and her cousin and William Collier are rambling around on a Sunday after church and just happen upon Betty who is being bested by a dastardly chicken. William Collier noted the incident in his diary. Barbara transcribed it into Betty’s voice.
The Dastardly Chicken – 1848
“…I must have been a sight, making good time tryin’ to catch a chicken for our cook Greta to fix for supper. At sixteen, I was almost a fully-grown woman and yet there I was tearin’ around the yard, closin’ in on that chicken, just as I stepped on the hem of my dress and tumbled headfirst in the dust, rippin’ a slit in the skirt as I hit the ground with a thud and knocked the air clean out of myself. I scared that ole chicken right into Hanna’s arms. She grabbed it tight and headed for the house. Spittin’ dust and fumin’ mad, I fumbled to grab hold of the fence and pull myself up. As I stood there dustin’ myself off, I noticed two men quickly approachin’ in a buckboard wagon. Andy, my thirty-year-old cousin with his red hair flyin’ was unmistakable, even from a distance. I had no earthly idea who the other man was, but I could see he was tall and mighty good lookin’. They were laughin’ and hootin’ and my cousin was callin’ out my name. Oh, how embarrassed I was at bein’ caught like that! Dodgin’ into a stand of tall weeds, I hunkered down with the intention of stayin’ there until they left.
From his seat in the buckboard, Andy tried to coax me out of my hidin’ place, sayin’, “Betty, I have a nice fella I want you to meet.”
Having lost my hair ribbon and fallen in the dirt, my sandy blond hair was a wildly-untethered muddy mop. My dress was dusty and torn. The skirt ripped clear away from the waistband exposing my slip and drooped clean down to the ground. It was a dreadful mess. There was nothing and nobody who could have budged me from my hiding place, even though I knew it provided little more than a thin veil to conceal my humiliation.
Andy continued in his attempts to coax me out, “Aww come on out, Betty. I want you to meet my friend, W. T.”
His pleas were met with my absolute refusals and appeals for him to go away. From my hiding place, peering through the tall weeds, I could see the stranger had a warm, welcoming smile and I could tell that he could see me. Our eyes met. My cheeks burned as they turned scarlet with embarrassment. I felt so foolish.
W.T. was tall and handsome, had dark hair, and a terrific smile. Reluctantly, I slowly stood as my eyes filled with tears—they pleaded with the stranger to please go away. With a gentle smile, he looked at me, sympathetically shook his head, gave a little chuckle, and tugged at Andy’s shirt sleeve as if to say, “Let’s go.”
As I returned a grateful smile, Andy turned the buckboard around and they trotted off. I let out a sigh of relief as I stood there picking weeds and chicken feed out of my hair and brushing dust and chicken droppings off my dress. Takin’ no chance of being totally exposed, I stayed in my hiding place until the buckboard was well out of sight, but my smile didn’t fade for a week.”
The book will be available at the Marco Island History Museum Giftshop, Sunshine Booksellers and the Dolce Mare Chocolate, Gelato and Confections Shop where Barbara presents her other character, The Widow Walker in an educational and entertaining narrative entitled, “Unlacing the Lady,” in which she portrays a Victorian Lady in full and authentic dress at a Ladies Tea Party and describes each item of clothing as she unlaces, resulting in her modest Victorian chemise, knickers, cotton stockings and high-buttoned shoes.