The late Thelma Holmes Walker considered herself a native of Fort Drum, but she arrived in this world in Orlando. When she was old enough to travel she and her mother, made the trip back to Okeechobee County in 1902 on the steamboat, Lillie.
Capt Clay Johnson operated steamboats on the Kissimme4e River for many years. A Mark Twain look alike, he was considered the most knowledgeable man about the Kissimmee River. In the Lawrence E, Will book, "Okeechobee Boats and skippers," the author gives us a glimpse of this pioneer of the waterway and the craft he skippered.
"Now, if you’re of a mind to picture the captain of one of them old smoke boats, you’d most likely imagine him standing by his steering wheel, spare and straight, with a big white mustache across his lean, tanned face, with keen blue eyes, and a chock of snowy hair crowned by a battered boatman’s cap. And so, I reckon you’d have a pretty accurate picture of old Cap’n Clay Johnson, the last of Florida’s steamboat skipper."
He had three boats that ran the Kissimmee River. The original boat was named the Cincinnati, and he bought it in 1893, remodeled it and renamed it the Roseada. This boat and the Osceola were basically used to haul freight and supplies.
In 1894, he built the Lillie and named it in honor of his wife. This was the boat that Thelma recalled in her stories. It was used as a passenger boat and contained fancy cabins. As long as the boat made the trip on the Kissimmee River from the town of Kissimmee to Basinger, Capt Johnson was at the helm. The run was discontinued some time in the 1920’s when the expansion of the highway system, brought the need for steamboats to an end.
Thelma lived in Fort Drum until her teens, where she remained with an uncle and got a jog working in the drug store. On July 5, 1919, she married John Hardy Walker, Jr. She was 17 years old. She recalled hat her wedding day was exasperating to say the least.
"I was married at Fort Drum. Judge (G.C.) Durrance made me so mad. I was going to get married at my uncle’s house (in Okeechobee) where I was staying. It had stormed and there was water all the way to Fort Drum. We were supposed to be married at eight o’clock. But, we had to go to Fort Drum because my daddy hadn’t signed the papers. My step-mother had signed it, but my daddy didn’t. He wouldn’t marry us because Papa hadn’t signed the paper. It was 11 o’clock before we got married. John Swain and Myrtle Hair were walking out and we got them to go down to Papa’s and be witnesses for us, " she said.
"Mr. And Mrs. Triplett of Kissimmee had the Okeechobee paper and she had a write-up about me and what a charming girl I was and how nice I s to everybody. This write-up that Mrs. Triplett did of me when I was married was in the Okeechobee paper," she said.
Thelma and John Hardy Walker, Jr. Were married almost 53 years before his death on March 30, 1973. For more than half a century the couple worked and lived in various parts of the county as they raised their family. Through the years, hardy worked at several ranches. One was owned by a New York native, Lytle Hull and was located at Dad’s Island which was about halfway between Fort Drum and Basinger.
During those early years, the road between Okeechobee City and Fort Drum was just a wagon road and it seemed to her that it was usually covered with water, making travel quite difficult.
She recalled that their lives were not all work. "Hardy was the tax assessor for four years. And he’d come home from work and he’d say, "Let’s go roost some turkeys’ So we’d go out to where uncle Teat’s (Holmes) ranch was and I’d put on my boots and my overalls and we’d roost turkeys a Shin Hammock.