- Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
L.J. Parker, archivist at the Lake Park Historical Society and a frequent contributor to Post Time, wrote this summer in the society’s newsletter about Augustus Oswald Lang, the mysterious hermit who’s possibly the first white resident of what’s now Palm Beach County.
We’ve written that the then-30-year-old German immigrant had moved from Fort Pierce at the start of the Civil War, perhaps to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.
But L.J’s newsletter displayed a Seminole War roster from 1856 — that would be the third, and final, Seminole War — that lists a Private Oswald Lang.
“I propose that Oswald had been mustered out near here, maybe Fort Jupiter, and stayed here,” L.J. wrote in the newsletter.
A little history: There actually were three Seminole Wars.
The first, in 1818, saw Gen. Andrew Jackson chase Seminoles through northern parts of Spanish Florida, still three years from coming under the Stars and Stripes.
The third, a series of skirmishes from 1855 to 1858, was the last Indian war east of the Mississippi.
The most infamous was the Second Seminole War, from 1835 to 1842. It was the longest and most expensive the white man waged against American Indians and draws many parallels to Vietnam.
However Lang got here, when the Civil War broke out, he now considered himself a proud citizen of the Confederacy. But he also was the assistant keeper of the Jupiter Lighthouse, a federal installation on what now was considered soil of a new and sovereign nation.
In August 1861, Lang, backed by other Confederate loyalists, told his boss, J.F. Papy, that the light mechanism, which was helping Union ships spot gun runners, would have to come down. It did for the duration of the war.
Lang eventually did enlist in the Confederate army in January 1862 but deserted a year and a half later. In 1866, two settlers from what’s now Miami found him living in what’s today Palm Beach.
The Palm Beach Inlet, or Lake Worth Inlet, first was called Lang’s Inlet. He’d dug a trench toward the beach in the 1860s that lowered the lake to sea level.
Lang moved around 1867 to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, where he worked with plants and raised hogs and cows. He later married the 15-year-old daughter of the only other family in the area. But two months before his only child was born, three men showed up, asking him to take them up the river to find their runaway horses. Once they rounded the bend, they shot Lang dead. His body never was found.
One of the killers later was shot. The other two confessed to stuffing Lang’s corpse in an alligator crawl. One said the three had planned to use Lang’s cleared property for their cattle.