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Vincent “Trapper Nelson” Natulkiewicz

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Vincent "Trapper Nelson" Natulkiewicz

Vincent Natulkiewicz was born in Trenton, New Jersey about 1908. After riding boxcars as hobos throughout the West, Vince and his older brother, Charlie, in 1931 jumped off one in Jupiter and took on a shorter surname, Nelson. They had with them a childhood friend, John Dykas, who Charlie shot and killed before long; Judge Curtis Chillingworth sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Vince, who had trapped wild animals from a young age, took over an abandoned hunter’s cabin and settled in, even planting various fruit trees. After showing visitors around for free, in the late 1930s “Trapper,” as he came to be called, started charging admission to Trapper Nelson’s Zoo and Jungle Garden and selling souvenirs. In 1960 he finally closed the camp to the public, when it was attracting more trouble than income.

Nelson accumulated 857 riverfront acres over the years. When he could no longer afford the mortgage payments and taxes, he tried to sell it to wealthy people who would donate the land to the State of Florida, thereby saving it from development. He was still negotiating with the State in 1968 when he was found shot to death at his camp. Although the coroner ruled the death a suicide, many locals suspected foul play.

In 1970 the State paid $1.3 million to Nelson’s nephew to add all 857 acres to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. To learn more about Trapper Nelson, see Life and Death on the Loxahatchee by James Snyder.

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