Readers: Few characters in Palm Beach County history are as colorful as Victor Nostokovich, more commonly known as Trapper Nelson. Fifty years ago, on July 30, 1968, the recluse suffered a demise as mysterious as the man himself.
Here’s more from a 1999 essay written by former colleague Jeff Houck for The Post’s history book, “Our Century”:
How did Victor Nostokovich, of Trenton, New Jersey, become the legendary woodsman known as Trapper Nelson?
It’s a story of a man with a scandalous past who came to a mysterious end.
Nostokovich had served time in Mexico for gun-running, and he caught a freight train east when he got out of jail. He ended up in Jupiter with a new name.
A strapping man at 6-feet-2-inches and 240 pounds, “Trapper” built a private paradise in a wooded area along the Loxahatchee River. He planted trees and pineapples. He skinned raccoons and cooked the carcasses. Occasionally, he’d head to town to get supplies and pick up copies of The Wall Street Journal.
To pay the taxes on his land, Trapper built a miniature zoo and handmade cottages hewn from slash pine. He arranged for boat captains from West Palm Beach to bring tourists 7 miles upriver by pontoon to have lunch in the wild and view his bobcats, raccoons, possums, alligators and snakes.
On some days, hundreds would come and buy a souvenir orchid or handmade trinket. Palm Beach socialites — the Kennedys included — would visit for a taste of wild Florida. Heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney once remarked that Nelson’s burly hands made his own look feminine by comparison.
Trapper eventually accumulated 858 acres but had trouble paying his taxes after the state closed the zoo because of unsanitary conditions.
His health soon declined, and so did his mood. He cut trees to block river access to his camp and barricaded the road to his property. Visitors who didn’t have his permission to stop by were turned away with shotgun blasts.
In 1968, Trapper was found dead after that same shotgun blew a hole in his belly.
A coroner declared it a suicide, but some who knew of his run-ins with townsfolk believe he was murdered. The mystery fueled his legend and sparked rumors that he’d hidden a treasure somewhere on his property.
Nelson’s 658-acre home became part of Jonathan Dickinson State Park in 1970. Visitors can canoe along the Loxahatchee River to tour his two cabins, docks, chickee huts and a huge stack of wood he chopped that still remains.
Oh, and those rumors? Some were true. In 1984, park rangers pulled away mortar near his fireplace and found more than 5,000 coins worth about $1,800.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park: 6450 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound. 772-546-2771. www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson.
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