Now this island has a creative story behind its name. Legend has it that deer swam to it from the Mississippi coast to escape hunters. Can deer swim one-quarter of a mile? I don’t know, but I couldn’t find any record of deer inhabiting the island today. Still, I cheer the legend. Run, Bambi, Run!
Deer Island covers four hundred square miles and is technically not a barrier reef, but it’s included as one of the Gulf Coast Islands. It lies just off the coast of Biloxi, a mere thirty miles from Bay St. Louis. Our heroine, Carol Scape from Restored Grace, passed right through there on her way to Pascagoula, where she first encounters our villain, Will Boudreaux. She should have stopped and gone for a swim. But she’s no Olympian Katie Ledecky, and four hundred meters might have done Carol in. But taking her chances with a swim versus Boudreaux in the bog might have been worth writing about.
I had so much fun researching this island. Look up some of the links. The history is delightfully amusing. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rabbit trail.
Cattle Ranching, Rabbit Farming, and Turpentine Stills
This little island has quite a history of people taking up residence. Probably because the mainland was so close. Only one-quarter of a mile, away. Or once around a standard track. Besides easy accessibility, the island provided our settlers with food aplenty. It was rich with pecan, fig, and other fruit trees, and with the sea’s bounty of oysters, crab, and fish, food was never lacking. Originally discovered by a French (of course) explorer, those who followed after and their endeavors at livelihood are fascinating. Some took up cattle ranching and rabbit farming. Others lived off oyster farming and hunting. The most legendary family set up turpentine still.
An eclectic mix of exciting personalities shares Deer Island’s history. Explorers, swash-buckling priests, yes priests. I may be exaggerating about their being swashbucklers, but an establishment in Biloxi is said to maintain their swords in a collection. But we can be certain of pirates, Civil War figures, and an island Hermit in the 1950’s.
Still, by far, Grandma Aiken is the most legendary figure in this interesting locale. In researching, I came across this woman who could have been the ancestor of Restored Grace’s heroine, Carol. I envision their characters so much alike. A woman affectionately known as Grandma Aiken lived and died, at one hundred years old, on Deer Island. She was clearly the matriarch of the families there. Here’s a brief account of her eclectic background, but please click the link below and read more.
Her first husband, Peter Baker (he changed his name from Olsen), was a native of Norway, and though I’d love to hear how he landed up on Horn Island, she was from Pascagoula but raised on Horn Island. They married in 1852. She was only thirteen. ! They had three children, but she later divorced him and moved to Deer Island. She married Joseph Aiken and apparently raised seventeen children but gave her home to over twenty-five additional boys and another girl in her lifetime. The account is a bit hard to follow, but that’s what I understood.
She hunted, fished, swam, and worked the land far into her old age. She often rowed a skiff to the mainland on her own. Even when she was almost blind, she’d sit on her porch and knit fishing nets. Quite a woman, wouldn’t you say? Their descendants benefitted from the fruit of her labor and enjoyed living in the quiet refuge until 1969. The Baker family were the last residents of Deer Island. When their home was destroyed by Hurricane Camille, they sadly left. Here’s a link to their story
Interestingly, Camille destroyed the home I lived in as a child in Bay St. Louis, but we had moved back to California just three years before.
The Amusement Park on Deer Island
Besides being the embodiment of an authentic outdoorswoman, Grandma Aiken also had a shrewd business sense. She sold a piece of land to a developer who successfully attempted a short-lived amusement park business. In 1915 The Deer Island Improvement Company built a dance pavilion, a colossal bathhouse, and a garden. They offered refreshments, fishing, row boat rentals, carnival rides, a penny arcade, and daily concerts.
People arrived by ferry, and although I couldn’t find a 1915 Deer Island Ferry photo, I found the one above. It made me wonder if that’s what the scene entailed as people flocked to the amusement park on Deer Island. The company also sold the property for cottages and camps, and structures were readily built. But the highly successful venture didn’t last when a hurricane crippled it that same year. Two years later, the investors couldn’t recover their losses and returned the property to Grandma Aiken and her heirs.
A Return to Isolation
Without any residents or attractions on Deer Island today, it is only accessible by private boats. Kayaking and canoeing are viable options with it being so close to Biloxi. Spend the day or a few if you like primitive camping. There are a few port-a-potties, which is more than we had when visiting the remote “Gilligan’s Island” when I lived in Singapore. I’d venture out to Deer Island in a heart beat though. The solitude amongst white, sandy beaches, shade trees, and oat and swamp grasses calls my name.
From a Trip Advisor Reviewer came this awesome experience. “In addition to the usual shore birds, gulls, and pelicans, we witnessed an Osprey catch and eat a fish, another sitting on a nest, and a Bald Eagle perched in a nearby tree. We also saw mature and juvenile swifts, least and royal terns, a mating pair of red-winged blackbirds, and two adult Canadian geese….”
Deer island is also home to ten types of endangered species. All birds except for some sort of juniper tree. Call me weird, but my invisible bucket list contains a visit to the big bird-watching event in Klamath Falls, Oregon, so I’d love to see these flying beauties up close.
I haven’t uncovered pictures or reports of deer or alligators on the island, but American alligators along with the mottled duck, osprey, loggerhead turtle, and diamond terrapins are the primary inhabitants.
Grab Your Kayak!
Our history and geography lesson has come to an end, but I’m anxious to discover more. I’d love to grab a kayak, my journal, and sketch pad and head to Deer Island. Truth be told, I’ve never paddled a kayak, but that’s beside the point. I’d love to enjoy the plethora of wildlife and island fauna … maybe I will, in a book someday. The link below is a video fly-over of the island. It’s short but insightful. So take a look.
Deer Island has piqued my interest, I hope it did yours too. It may show up in my books one day. Thanks for joining me. Please comment on my Facebook page, thereby entering a chance to win the Restored Grace Book Box Treasures. I wish I could enter!
God bless your day, and enjoy the birds, sky, trees, and water around you wherever you are. It makes for a relaxing way to praise and thank our creator for His extraordinary natural world all around us.