HOW IT BEGAN
In 2005, Harold McLeod suggested that the DeSoto County Historical Society have a “Pioneer Day” festival, and the Society held the first one on April 12th that year at the Tree of Knowledge Park. The event featured demonstrations of old-time skills and crafts, musical entertainment and storytelling, Florida authors, historical displays, and a raffle. In 2007, it was moved to a larger venue--McSwain Park, adjacent to the DeSoto County Courthouse. It then outgrew that site and moved to Veteran's Park on SR 70 in 2010.
In 2008, a caricature of James Mitchell “Acrefoot” Johnson, a DeSoto County legend, became Pioneer Day’s official logo. At 6‘7” and 250 lbs., he delivered the mail between Fort Ogden and Fort Meade by walking the 60-mile route in one day--twice a week. Tales about him abound--some fact and some fiction.
In 2010 and every subsequent year, Pioneer Day has been an official Florida Heritage Month event and has included teams of emergency service personnel competing in a barbecued rib cook-off.
Pioneer Day offers family fun of all kinds. Special and traditional Florida foods--such as swamp cabbage and strawberry shortcake--are available. A “Discover History” hands-on area is FREE for children and includes old-fashioned toys and games, cane pole fishing, washing with a a scrub board and wash pot, a pitcher pump, writing with a dip pen, orange juicin’, and more. Demonstrators show off their skills in basket-weaving, black-smithing, butter-churning, candledipping, quilting, soap-making, spinning, woodworking, and other crafts.
Clubs, churches, and other organizations display their history. The Suncoast Dulcimers--a hammered dulcimer group; the Fiddle Crabs--an old-time string band; Barney and Nancy Miesse; and Lee James entertain along with legendary characters Arcadia Albritton Coker and James Mitchell “Acrefoot” Johnson. Animals, antique engines, vintage automobiles, a classic fire truck, Florida authors and artists--all showcase Florida’s unique heritage and history.
First Pioneer Day - April 2005
Harold McLeod having a snack of homemade cookies and keeping an eye on the 50/50 drawing with the contraption he built to keep the raffle basket turning at the first Pioneer Day in April, 2005. Harold was a very active member of the Historical Society.
Sadly, Harold McLeod passed away in August of 2013. See our tribute to him in People & Places.