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Stewart Homestead | Photo © 2024 www.abandonedfl.com

Stewart Homestead

Location Class:
Built: c. 1890 | Abandoned: c. 1920
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

The Stewart Homestead

Several miles into Green Swamp sits the old homestead of Isham “Isom” and Sarah “Sallie” Browning Stewart, and the site of their murders. The story is steeped in legend and folklore, but what all the stories can agree on is that the Stewarts were killed in their beds by their grandson with an axe, although eyewitness testimonies and reports differ from person to person.

The Murders of Isham and Sarah Stewart

Isham raised and sold cattle, depositing his money in the bank. Lots of folk at the time had distrust in city affairs including Isham, who eventually pulled all his money out and took it all home. Some weeks later, Sarah’s son George Browning from another marriage stopped by. Some folktales claim that it was simply a cattle hunter who was wandering by. Buzzards took off from the Stewarts’ cabin roof. What was found inside was a scene from a horror movie.

According to George, he found his mother on the floor with her left hand and leg nearly severed, and her head caved in. Beside her was an empty money box sitting in a pool of blood. Isham was still in bed, his skull crushed from an axe to the head. The sheriff’s report differs, saying the Stewarts were killed in their beds, but their bodies were rolled up in the mattresses and buried outside not far from the cabin.

Stewart Homestead | Photo © 2024 www.abandonedfl.com
A plaque at the old Stewart Homestead in remembrance of the Stewarts and the grisly murders that took place there.
Josh Browning’s Testimony

Josh Browning, George’s son, was apprehended and charged with their murders along with his friend John Tucker. According to Josh’s testimony, the two visited the home on the afternoon of May 9, 1918, and ate supper with the old couple before retiring to bed. It was a small one-room cabin furnished with two beds, a table, and three or four chairs.

At about 9 p.m. when the Stewarts had gone to bed, Josh and Tucker got out of bed. Tucker grabbed an axe, reached over Mrs. Stewart, and crushed her husband’s skull, killing him instantly. Mrs. Stewart woke up and tried grabbing the shotgun in the corner of the room. Tucker swung wildly, breaking her arm and leg, and crushing her skull as well. The reason for the Stewarts’ murders? $1,500 which he split with Browning. Although Josh changed his story multiple times, this is the one the court agreed upon. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received 20 years at Raiford prison.

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Headline from The Tampa Times. June 4, 1918.
Escape from Raiford Prison

Around 1928, Josh escaped with Luther Wilson, a 33-year-old man serving a life sentence for assaulting his sister-in-law and murdering Sheriff Deputy B. C. Wilcox who attempted to apprehend him for said assault. Wilson was killed in a shootout with authorities after he escaped from prison. According to legend, he returned to Green Swamp to recover the money he had stashed away from the murders. He gave himself up after being on the run for 10 years.

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Headline from The Tampa Tribune. November 3, 1921.
Release from Prison

Upon his return, he was granted a motion to withdraw his plea of second-degree murder due to the fact that he did not have the money to hire an attorney and the court never asked if he would like to be appointed one. Josh was also not advised of his constitutional rights. He was released from prison in December 1938.

The money and its whereabouts differ from story to story. Some claim Josh gave the money to his dad George who bought a new truck. Others claim the money is still out in Green Swamp, buried where no one will find it.

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Headline from The Orlando Sentinel. July 16, 1938.

Isham and Sarah Stewart are buried at the site of their old homestead surrounded by a fence to keep out cattle and boars. A small wooden structure stands close to the Stewarts’ gravesite which in folklore is said to have been the cabin where the murders occurred, although that isn’t true. Although the Bronson family who bought the property in 1934 claim they tore the cabin, it actually burned down sometime in the 1920s in a forest fire.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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