Trailer Trash Meets Palm Beach Elite

The whole point of Billy Bowman's annual bash is to eat, drink, and party with real Floridians of all types

In a pen on the other side of the bonfire stands a gorgeous 1200-pound black-and-white cow, half Angus, half Holstein. On her right flank is a large white marking that looks remarkably like the United States. A young man wearing faux antlers on his head and puffing on a big stogy is staring at the mooing map in drunken wonder. "Jesus Christ," he marvels. "It's even got Maine. Hell, I can see some Mexicans crossing the border."

Bowman worries that the unspoiled charm of north Palm Beach County, along with its rural way of life, is threatened by encroaching development. In the 1920s his family started a dairy farm in Dade County, on the site of what is now Pro Player Stadium. In the mid-'50s, with Dade rapidly developing, the family sold that farm and moved its operation to Delray Beach. When that area started suburbanizing, Bowman leased the Turtle River Ranch from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. "It's some of the best pasture land in the county," he boasts. "And it's such a pretty property, with all these cypress trees."

Last December, however, a Bonita Springs-based company called Watermark Communities Inc. bought the land on which the ranch sits. WCI also purchased an unspoiled 1200-acre site just west of the ranch, known as the Cypress Creek tract, which the county wanted to buy and preserve as wetlands. But the company, which is headed by Al Hoffman, Jr., chief political fundraiser in Florida for both Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother George W., instead sold the land to another developer. While the fate of the Cypress Creek parcel remains uncertain, the future of the ranch is pretty clear. Bowman says he'll continue to lease it from WCI for another three years or so, at which time the company plans to develop the land.

Rancher Billy Bowman brings together a broad and bawdy group at his annual party in Jupiter
Harris Meyer
Rancher Billy Bowman brings together a broad and bawdy group at his annual party in Jupiter

Meanwhile Bowman has angered environmentalists by signing a deal to sell his 960-acre farm in Delray Beach, which is located in an area the county wants to preserve as farmland, to a developer who plans a gated golf course community on the site. "It's a two-sided sword," he says wistfully. "Your lifestyle gets better when you sell your land to the developers. But on the other hand, you hate to see things change. I like the way it is now."

While the host waxes nostalgic, the party is revving up. Hot Curl introduces Bowman's favorite bartender, a 300-pounder named Eo, who works at a tough Jupiter roadhouse called Ralph's Standup Bar. Eo gets up and dances on stage, shaking his belly like a bag of Jello. "Show us your stomach, Eo," Hot Curl yells. The barkeep lasciviously hikes up his T-shirt and bares his gargantuan gut, to the wild cheers of the crowd.

Soon after that comes the evening's highlight -- a marshmallow-throwing melee. It starts with a few unruly children, who are soon followed by a larger number of unruly adults. From opposite sides of the bonfire, two squealing mobs fire fluffy globs of sucrose at each other. The air turns white, like Christmas in July. "This sure is fun," says Joanne Davis, a usually serious person who heads the citizens' committee in charge of acquiring environmentally sensitive lands for the county.

The party goes on until 3 a.m. The next day Bowman reports that 50 of the 614 guests were too inebriated to drive home, so they camped out in sleeping bags. He left at midnight because he had to get up early for work. But brother Jimmy stayed with the campers to make sure no one opened the gate and let Miss Americow out.

Bowman has one other important update. Around midnight, as she does every year, the older lady got naked and danced. It's a tradition that will continue until the fat-cat developers sing.

Contact Harris Meyer at his e-mail address:

harris.meyer@newtimesbpb.com

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