Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Among the Alligators

Before the Revolution there lived in Pennsylvania a man named William Bartram. He was a botanist; that is to say, a man who knew a great deal about different kinds of plants. Wishing to see the plants and animals of the South, he traveled through South Carolina and Georgia, and so on into Florida.

In a little canoe, Bartram set out to go up the St. Johns River. He took an Indian along for a guide, but the Indian got tired of the trip, and left him. Bartram kept on up the river alone. The country was wild, and the river was filled with great alligators.

Bartram saw two large alligators fighting. They ran at each other from opposite sides of the river. They lashed the water with their tails. They met in the middle of the river, and fought with great fury, making the water boil all round them. They twisted themselves one round the other, and sank to the bottom fighting. Their struggles at the bottom brought up a great deal of mud.

Soon they came to the top once more, clapping their great jaws together, and roaring. They fell on each other again, and sank to the bottom. But one of them was by this time beaten. He swam away into the reeds on the bank. The other rose to the top of the water, and celebrated his victory by a loud roaring sound. All the alligators along the shore joined in the horrible roaring at the same time.

The alligators had gathered in great crowds at certain places to catch the fish that were coming up from the sea. Bartram wanted some fish for his supper. He took a stick to beat off the alligators, and got into his canoe. But the farther he paddled from the shore, the more the alligators crowded round him. Several of them tried to overturn his canoe. Two large ones attacked him at the same time, with their heads above the water, and their mouths spouting water all over the botanist. They struck their jaws together so close to his ears that the sound almost stunned him.

Bartram beat them off with his club, and paddled for the shore. When he got near the shore, the alligators left him. He went a little farther up the river, and got some fish. When he came back, he kept close to the shore. One alligator twelve feet long followed him. When Bartram went ashore near his camp, the creature crept close to his feet, and lay there looking at him for some time.


Bartram ran to his camp to get his gun. When he came back, the alligator was climbing into his boat to get the fish he had caught. He fired his gun, and killed the great beast. But while he was cleaning his fish, another one crept up to him, and would have dragged him into the water if Bartram had not looked up just in time to get out of his way. The next day he was pursued by more alligators; but he beat them off with his club, and got away.