Picture of local Author MaryAnn Sciavillo-Lopez

Captain Rattlebones

By MaryAnn Sciavillo-Lopez

Captain Rattlebones was an ill-reputed pirate who stole the treasures from ships sailing up through the Caribbean, north through the Gulf of Mexico, until he reached Cedar Key. He was a ruthless Captain to the men onboard his ship, the Serpent, and to any landlubbers he came across. Everyone living in Cedar Key knew of his torment and would run and hide whenever his ship sailed near the shores of the small Key.

In the late 1800s, he met his demise in a duel against the pirate Captain Gunder. Unlike Rattlebones, Gunder stole the riches of the wealthy to help the poor, like his hero in the tall tales he read of Robin Hood. Before Rattlebones and Gunder met face-to-face for their standoff, Rattlebones had hidden his treasure somewhere in Cedar Key, never to be found.

Soon after the duel, Captain Gunder’s ship was lost at sea off the Nature Coast. A rumor spread along the coast that Captain Rattlebones’ ghost had haunted Gunder until he went mad. Gunder forced his men, by threats of being tossed over the plank into shark-infested waters, to set sail toward the eye of an enormous hurricane. The hurricane ripped his ship apart and he and his crew perished. Not one onboard survived.

For over two hundred years, stories spread of the sightings of Captain Rattlebones’ ghost wandering around the small island of Seahorse Key, infamous for the hundreds of Cottonmouth Snakes residing there. It’s been said he won’t rest until he can retrieve his treasure, but so far, no one has had the bravery to dig on the shores of the island knowing the risk of being bitten by the snakes.


One chilly winter night, during the Hunter’s full moon, a group of four teenage boys, Jack, Tom, Sam, and Ethan, rowed their boat to a hidden alcove and built a bonfire. They were causing a ruckus and throwing rocks at a nearby buoy to see who could hit it the most, but they were far enough away from anyone to hear them.

After reaching boredom with their game, they decided to pilfer clams from one of the private underwater farms before high tide. The four entered the chilled water up to their waist and dove in blind in the dark brackish water, where it mixed from the Suwannee River into the

water of the Gulf of Mexico. They gathered a small pile of clams, brought them to the shore, and sat near the bonfire, eating their reward.

The troublemaker in the group, Jack, dared the group to row their boat over to Seahorse Key to go looking for Captain Rattlebones’ treasure.

“No way. I’m not going to get bitten by poisonous snakes to search for a rumored treasure,” Tom said.

“Me neither,” Sam, agreed.

“Chicken,” Jack yelled and imitated a chicken walking across the sand. “What about you, Ethan? You chicken too?”

“I, um, I,” Ethan stuttered.

“I figured,” Jack taunted.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” Ethan whispered.

“Well, let’s go then. Leave these two babies to walk home,” Jack yelled and climbed into the boat.

Ethan sauntered behind Jack.

“You better be careful,” Tom warned. “Security might catch you or you might get bitten, or maybe both.”

Jack shrugged his shoulders. Ethan looked back at the two boys left on shore. Dread showed on his face.

“Start rowing,” Jack ordered.

Ethan, who was afraid of Jack, especially when they were alone together, obeyed Jack’s instructions and rowed all the way to the opposite side of the island. They believed that Captain Rattlebones had buried his treasure there, near the location of the University of Florida’s Marine Lab. Not having shovels with them, they carried the oars to shore. They dug in several spots along the shore with the paddle end of the oars.

After about a half-hour, Jack stopped digging. “Forget it. We’ll never find the treasure. There are too many places to look.”

“Yeah,” Ethan agreed. “Let’s leave.”

As they were heading back to the boat, they heard a voice coming from the thick brush. It called out their names. They stopped walking and turned around, figuring Tom and Sam were playing games.

“Stop kidding, we know it’s you, Tom, and Sam,” Jack said.

“But how could they have reached the island without a boat?” Ethan’s voice rose.

“Maybe they….” Jack stopped talking, his mouth agape and his finger pointing behind Ethan.

“What?” Ethan stuttered. He turned his head.

A transparent outline of a man hovered there. The image glowed bright in the total darkness. That side of the island had no source of artificial light. The apparition stood in silence. His clothes resembled those worn long ago; a pirate’s breeches, shirt, vest, and cap, with a flintlock pistol in his hand, aiming at a spot on the ground.

“Captain Rattlebones,” Ethan whispered.

“Dig,” the apparition’s voice vibrated.

Terrified by the sight, but even more so if they didn’t do what they were told, Jack and Ethan kneeled on the sand and dug with their oars until they hit something solid. They dug faster. Jack stood and put all his strength into digging until they uncovered a chest. Ethan looked up at the ghost and back down at the container.

“Wow, Ethan, we found the treasurer. Grab that side. We’ll have to lift together,” Jack said.

Ethan did as he was told and gripped his side, and together, they lifted it out of the hole. Jack rammed his oar into the rusted lock. It crumpled and fell apart easily. Jack lifted the lid and peered inside. His eyes widened upon seeing the pirate’s plunder.

“No one touches my treasure. Get out.” Rattlebones shouted. His voice echoed.

A blood-curdling sound emitted from Rattlebones. As if commanded, hundreds of snakes came out of their hiding and slithered toward the boys.

Jack and Ethan didn’t hesitate upon hearing the ghost’s warning. They ran faster than they had ever run before and reached their boat. The snakes followed close behind and swam toward them, trying to climb inside after them. Jack and Ethan pushed the snakes away with their oars and as soon as they cleared their path, they each rowed toward where they left their friends.

They told their frightening tale to Tom and Sam, but their friends didn’t believe them.

“That’s just your scaredy-cat fear talking,” Tom snickered. “Who’s not so tough now?”

“But, but,” Jack stuttered.

Ethan shuddered. “He was really there.”

“Yeah, right, Ethan. You, of all people. I can’t believe you’re covering Jack’s story,” Sam said.

“Let’s get home before our parents ground us for a month,” Tom said. “Then we’ll have something real to fear.”

Sam and Tom laughed and taunted Jack and Ethan.

Jack glanced at Ethan, then faked laughter. “You’re right, we were making it all up.”

“Yup, making it all up,” Ethan repeated.

Jack and Ethan didn’t say another word all the way home, and neither spoke of their experience again.

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