Okeechobee County History - Ashley Gang Terrorized South Florida

Ashley Gang Terrorized South Florida

The Ashley Gang, Palm Beach County outlaws, terrorized the lower east coast of Florida, during the years before and after World War I.

Led by John Ashley, a handsome devil and a crack shot, aided by this nephew, Hanford Mobley, the gang held up ships at sea, passenger trains and motorists. They openly robbed banks in the coastal communities from Lemon City (now part of Miami) to Stuart and Fort Pierce, shooting down people as the occasion required. Their exploits gained much notoriety throughout the state of Florida and beyond.

Few people ever heard of the Ashley family before John Ashley killed a man on new River. As a young man he did a lot of hunting and trapping in the woods and along Lake Okeechobee, especially otter and raccoon, which brought a good price on the market.

George Baker, the sheriff of Palm Beach County at the time, was a short built man who always wore a beaver Stetson and pack a 46 cal. Buntline revolver with a tie-down on his leg. His son, Bob, later the sheriff, was his deputy.

Our story begins about 1911, when John Ashley was traveling the new River into the Everglades to trap otter. He ran onto an Indian named DeSoto Tiger, from the present-day Okeechobee County area. He had a canoe piled with otter hides, headed for Fort Lauderdale, John stopped the Indian and shot him dead, taking his hides and leaving his body in the canoe. He went on to Fort Lauderdale and sold the hides. A group of Indians coming to purchase supplies ran onto the dead Indian in the canoe and brought him to Fort Lauderdale.

The local storekeepers put two and two together and John was charged with murder. George Baker and his son went out to John’s home and picked him up and put him in jail. The trial was held and a jury of 12 men gave him the death sentence, by hanging. Sheriff George Baker, had a soft spot in his heart for John. Later , Baker opened the cell door. He told John that he’d better "scatter" fast as he would turn and shoot him if he wasn’t gone. Of course, John did just that. And the robbing and killing began.

He held up the Cutler Bank in south Miami and during the robbery, he shot a teller. Sheriff Baker went right after him but he was gone and nobody knew where.

Some time later, he and his gang, one of them dressed as a woman, robbed the Stuart Bank. Bank robberies and killings continued, and the authorities were determined to catch John. A posse went up to his parents’ home in the country, ran the family out and beat John’s father and burned their home down. George Baker passed away and Bob Baker had been elected sheriff. Bob called out his volunteer deputies and they hunted the woods west of Hope Sound and Jupiter for John without any results. Bob was coming back from one of these forays and found a note in a tree, written and signed by John, which said, "Bob, you and your posse passed by me about 30 feet away and I could have killed you with ease. Why don’t you stay out of these woods?"

During Prohibition, John and his nephew, Hanford Mobley, stole a sea skiff and went to West End, Grand Bahamas Island, just the two of them. Due to the fact that no one over there had a gun, they raided the place and took about $65,000 from the liquor dealers and returned to Stuart.

In late 1924, things began to get too hot for John. Along with Hanford Mobley and two of their men named Middleton and Lynn, he decided to take of for another state by automobile. They were crossing a wooden bridge spanning a small bayou south of Sebastain, Florida, where the sheriffs of two counties had set up a roadblock. They stopped the car and were killed in the ensuring gunfire. Following this, a pubic fuss was made of stories of the sheriffs’ men tying them hand and foot and dragging them behind their cars before shooting them. Whatever happened, they were all banged up when outsiders viewed the remains.

Thus the Ashley gang came to an end.

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