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January 27, 2006

Trapper Nelson's homestead

Vince “Trapper??? Nelson came to southeast Florida in the 1930’s when the area was still teeming with wildlife. He was able to maintain a trap line in what is now Jupiter Inlet Beach Colony. But as the area developed and game began to thin out, Trapper Nelson moved up the Loxahatchee River, eventually settling in this location. He was a loner for the most part, who found security in this area and a way of life that was suited to his skills and temperament. For years he lived off of the land, supplementing his diet of raccoon, gopher, tortoise and opossum with fruit from his property’s citrus grove. He also planted wild almonds, guavas, Surinam cherries, java plums, bananas and pineapples. He became a local legend know as the “wild man??? of the Loxahatchee. Yet, with his limited education, he managed to make a living, build a much visited wildlife zoo and acquire large land interests.

To sell his furs, obtain supplies and receive mail, Trapper Nelson would row nine miles to the DuBois Fish Camp at Jupiter Inlet. He would eat at the camp’s restaurant, often ordering a whole pie for dessert.

As his appetite indicated Trapper Nelson was a large man, standing six feet, four inches, and weighing 240 pounds. Although a big man, running his zoo and chopping wood kept him in terrific shape. Today his woodpile remains, stacked behind the guest cabin, a testament to his high level of fitness. His usual attire was a pair of shorts with a bandana or pith helmet on his head.
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He liked to swing out over the Loxahatchee on a rope and drop into the river for a swim, in the fashion of Tarzan.

Despite his isolated existence, Trapper Nelson, born Vincent Natulkiewicz, was a shrewd man. He read the Wall Street Journal and could calculate figures like an adding machine. During the depression he often appeared at delinquent tax sales to buy land, eventually acquiring almost 900 acres.

In addition to trapping he made a profit from the tour boats and wealthy yachtsmen who frequently stopped by his camp. After several years Vince realized an untapped potential to make an even greater reward from his many visitors. He developed a zoo of caged native wildlife and would often entertain his guests by wrestling alligators and handling poisonous snakes.
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But then in 1966, 30 years of “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens???: came to an end. Visitors using Trapper’s rope swing got hurt and decided to sue him over their injuries. Trapper, fearing a lawsuit would take his while world, closed the zoo. For the next two years, the public was excluded. Trapper dropped cypress trees into the river downstream, making a blockade. People who managed to make it past the blockade at high tide and arrive at the dock where Trapper once collected $1.00 per boat, were now met by Trapper’s shotgun and sent back downriver.

A young fellow by the name of Tot James had helped Trapper run his zoo for many years. In 1968 after a 30-year absence he wanted to say hello to his old friend. He had written a letter to Trapper and received an appointment to meet at the DuBois house but uncharacteristically, Trapper didn’t show up. Tot, along with another close friend, John DuBois, became very worried.

Mr. DuBois drove to the site to check on Trapper and initially thought everything appeared as it should. However, Mr. DuBois soon found Trapped lying dead under the chickee shelter.
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After an autopsy and coroner’s inquest, his death was ruled as self-inflicted. Trapper’s body was cremated and his sister’s family held his funeral on a boat. His ashes were then spread over his beloved Loxahatchee River.

The state of Florida continued to negotiate with Trapper’s next of kin to fulfill an oral agreement between Trapper and the state, which would permit the sale of his remaining 658 acres to the state of Florida. Unfortunately the state was unable to purchase the land for the asking price at that time. Because of this the land was sold to Jupiter Hills Golf and Country Club and Trapper Nelson’s sisters and a nephew received $1,040,000 from the sale. After the sale was finalized the state in turn swapped land south of the park entrance on U.S. 1 for Trapper’s riverfront property. The Florida Park Service maintains Trapper’s property as it was at the time of his death in 1968.

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Bamboo upon arrival

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Boat Docks

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View up to cabins

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Trapper's Cabin

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Coins found near fireplace during reconstruction

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Guest Cabin (Notice the Hurrican Log, keeping track of how many storms per year.)

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View down to Zoo

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Water Tower

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Trapper's Pamphlets: Home Canning, The Guinea Fowl, Termites and Insect Pests, Recipes for Marmalade, and New Birth Control Facts? Eh?

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No Trespassing Signs

Posted by Heather at January 27, 2006 11:17 AM


It's been manny years since I've been to Trapper's place. You have posted some great pictures of it... makes me want to go back now.

Posted by: Lenny Eagan at December 9, 2007 01:10 PM

These are great. I have not been there since early eighties and these bring back many memories

Posted by: Rich at May 14, 2010 04:57 PM

I am Trappers Nelson's 4th cousin. I was born in Trenton, NJ also. Anyone interested in contacting me...please email me at toppingspizza@aol.com thanks Ken Nelson

Posted by: Ken Nelsosn at June 23, 2010 04:01 PM

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