Meet the Mysterious Mrs. B

Laura Bowman has been snubbed by other local historians. According to Lindsey Williams and U.S. Cleveland, after the assassination of her husband, Marshal John Bowman on January 29, 1903, “Mrs. Bowman moved to her mother’s home at Charlotte Harbor town and died two years later. The children were placed in the Arcadia Orphanage, and adopted.” After many sleepless nights worrying about the sad fate of the orphaned Bowman children, I initiated my own independent research.

Whew! They were wrong!

The statement quoted above from Our Fascinating Past-Charlotte Harbor: Early Years can now be proved as totally false!

  • Laura Bowman’s mother wasn’t in Charlotte Harbor Town
  • Laura didn’t die within two years
  • None of the children were placed in an orphanage

Who was Laura Bowman?

Laura Ann Gray was born in August 1864 in Stump Sound, North Carolina. In 1880, at age 16, Laura was living at home with her widower father, Jesse Williams Gray and her older brother Elijah Hardison Gray.

At the age of 21, she married 29-year-old Lafayette Bonaparte “Boney” Southerland on November 5, 1885 in Pender, NC. The couple made their way south to Florida with her mother-in-law Barbara in 1890. Within three years of their arrival to Wauchula, Boney died on December 29, 1893, leaving the young widow with two boys.

Marshal Bowman’s step-sons

Additionally, earlier historians failed to acknowledge Laura’s two sons from her first marriage, shown listed on the 1900 Census as John Bowman’s step-sons.

  • Donald Luther Southerland
  • Robert Lockly Southerland

1900 US Census of Punta Gorda lists four children in the home

Marshal John Bowman was only 45 when he was assassinated

Married to a marshal

Laura married John Harry Bowman in 1896. Now a married family man, he changed his profession from a painter to a marshal, a job at which he excelled for seven years until his assassination.

Marshal John Bowman illustrated by Simona Molino

They loved children

The couple had four children, Virgie, John Jr. (Harry), Clarence and Elizabeth (Lizzie).

The tragic death of Marshal Bowman

On the night of Marshal Bowman’s assassination, the loving family was together in the home packing for a trip to visit their relations in Wauchula.

Wauchula Census from 1900 lists Laura’s in-laws, the Southerlands

The excited children tried on their new hats

Local lore describes Marshal Bowman coming home with new hats for all the kids. As he sat with little Lizzie in his lap, he was killed instantly by a bullet to the head. It’s said his body remained upright in the chair after the shot. Blood and brains splattered on Lizzie’s dress.

Shot with his daughter in his lap

Laura testifies at trial

Laura was the first witness in the trial of her husband’s assassin, and brought three of the children into the witness stand with her. She chronicled the events of the evening and expressed the trauma suffered by her family having witnessed the murder first-hand. Lizzie’s stained dress was exhibited as evidence. According to the Herald, “There was not a dry eye in the court room.” The Weekly Tribune from Tampa reported, “a number of the jurors were moved to tears.”

Moved to Wauchula

Laura and the six kids moved to Wauchula, where Laura had in-laws, and most of the family remained there until death. In the 1910 Census from Wauchula we see Virgie, Harry, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Clarence and Don living with mom Laura who is operating a boarding house.

The family stayed together and earned income from a boarding house

Long live the Bowman family!

  • Laura passed away in 1953 at age 89, and is buried at Wauchula Cemetery
  • Son Robert married Donnie Odessa Simmons, died in 1960 at age 74, and is buried at Wauchula Cemetery
  • Son Don died in 1970 at age 82, and is buried at Wauchula Cemetery
  • Daughter Virgie Lee Parker died at age 39 in 1936, and is buried at Wauchula Cemetery
  • Son J. Harry Bowman, married Hassye Mae, died in 1959 at age 61, and is buried at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Tampa
  • Son Clarence Jesse Bowman died in 1974, around age 72, and is buried Highlands, FL
  • Youngest child Elizabeth married William J. See, died in 1965 around age 63, and is buried at Wauchula Cemetery

Laura, at left, with Elizabeth, son-in-law William, and grandchildren in Wauchula

We salute Laura Bowman!

Laura was widowed with 6 children at a time when there were no social nets or dedicated organizations to help support the families of slain officers. The assassination of Marshal Bowman was singularly extraordinary because it happened in the family home in front of his wife and children. We salute this strong and resilient pioneer family of Punta Gorda.

Learn about Punta Gorda’s history!

Hear true stories about Punta Gorda’s history and tragic deaths occurring here on our Haunted History of Punta Gorda Walking Tour. Read more about where the Bowman family lived.


Sources: Officer Down Memorial Page; Our Fascinating Past-Charlotte Harbor: Early Years; Ancestry.com

Simona Molino

Marshal Bowman’s dramatic portrait was created by Simona Molino of Janas Studio Artistico in Italy. Janas is a fairy whose magic flights take her to starry skies and silvery seas. She inspires Simona’s fantasy artwork of memorable characters illustrated in rich colors and scrupulous detail.

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