The Vagabond – Tate Condon, an early Gadsden ne’er-do-well

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By Danny Crownover

In 1893, a number of Gadsden residents were earning money carrying droves of horses and mules to Florida for railroad building.

The residence of Dr. I.M. Stevens, a pioneer druggist, was located downtown. The house was situated almost directly in the rear of where the Dan Cohen Shoe Store was located. The house was enclosed by a picket fence, the front yard was full of flowers and shrubbery and a garden, barn and buggy house was located in the rear.

A very religious man, Dr. Stevens led a placid life in ugly surroundings. His drug store was located next to a saloon on Broad Street. When Dr. Stevens died, the store passed into the hands of Frank Cottle, another devout churchman who made the business a Gadsden institution.

Dr. Stevens, who was handicapped with one leg slightly shorter than the other, was one of those local citizens who drove horses, mules and cattle to Florida. One of his trips made local history. On this particular jaunt, Dr. Stevens took with him Tate Condon, the town wag. Condon, who previously lost two fingers in a sausage grinder at Lyle’s Meat Market, was one of the oddest and most interesting characters that Gadsden ever produced.

The good doctor took along Condon more as company than anything else, for Condon never did work. However, Dt. Stevens informed Condon that he was expected to look after the horses that drew the wagon down into the everglade country. After the stock and cattle had been disposed of, Dr. Stevens, disgusted at Tate’s conduct during the trip, decided to leave him in Florida. Stevens got into his wagon and drove off by himself.

Condon eventually caught up with Dr. Stevens by hitchhiking, and they made up. After traveling some distance, the doctor decided he would walk a few miles. While Dr. Stevens was stretching his legs, Condon whipped up the horses and left the doctor behind, forcing Stevens to walk 11 miles before Condon picked him up.

Soon after they got home to Gadsden, Condon went to court to sue the doctor for damages, claiming that he had been left stranded and broke in Florida and had not been paid the wages promised him.

The resulting trial turned out to be one of the greatest comedies in the history of Gadsden. When asked by the defense lawyer if Dr. Stevens did not put him up at good hotels, Condon replied that he did not get close enough to a hotel to “shake hands with the porter.” When asked if he was not fed well by the doctor, Condon replied that he had nothing to eat but “wasps’ nest and water” during the entire trip (in Condon’s vocabulary, wasps were baker’s bread or light bread). When asked if he did not meet some pretty girl, Condon replied. “I spoke to only one woman, and she was as ugly as 14 cucumbers.”

Not surprisingly, Condon lost his lawsuit.

Another time, Condon was reported to have frozen to death. It turned out that he sat down in a buggy in the rear of a store on Chestnut Street and slept soundly through a sleet storm. When He was discovered, Condon reportedly was a stiff as a block of ice. He eventually thawed out.

Still another time, Condon fell asleep on a burning slab pile at Kyle’s Sawmill and almost burned to death. Condon died of natural causes in Miami, Florida, years later.

The Vagabond may be contacted at dkcrown@bellsouth.net

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