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The Legend of Trapper Nelson

Posted by Lacey Hagler on Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 at 12:12pm.

One of the most interesting characters in Palm Beach County history is “Trapper Nelson”, a legendary woodsman with a scandalous past who owned 858 acres on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, Florida.

Originally born as Victor Nostokovich of Trenton, New Jersey, Trapper Nelson served time in Mexico for gun-running, and headed east after his release to settle in Jupiter with a new name.

He built a private paradise along the Loxahatchee River, where he constructed a handmade zoo where tourists would come to view his bobcats, raccoons, possums, alligators, and snakes.

Known as “Tarzan of the Loxahatchee”, he’d wrestle alligators, trap panthers, and amaze guests with his dashing good looks and stories of the wild.

Boat captains would bring tourists from West Palm Beach 7 miles upriver by pontoon to have lunch, and even hosted Palm Beach socialites such as the Kennedys and DuPonts.

Despite their initial hesitation because of Trapper’s 6’4” 220-pound stature, people remember him as kind and affable. He taught local kids how to trap tortoise and paid them a dime for each one.

The zoo was closed by the state due to unsanitary conditions, Trapper Nelson became a recluse, and was found dead in 1968 from a shotgun to his stomach.

A coroner declared Trapper’s death a suicide, but some believe he was murdered. The mystery even sparked rumors that he’d hidden a treasure somewhere on his property.

Today, Trapper’s camp is one of the main attractions in the 10,500-acre wilderness of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The original buildings, huts, gardens and cages all remain as permanent a fixture in Florida history as the Legend of the Loxahatchee himself. 

Oh, and those rumors? Some were true. In 1984, park rangers pulled away mortar near his fireplace and found more than 5,000 coins worth about $1,800.

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