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Born in 1908 in New Jersey and a former resident of Mexico and Texas, the muscular outdoorsman known as “Tarzan of the Loxahatchee” set up a homestead in the then almost-unreachable Loxahatchee River that runs through Riverbend Park in the 1930s.

Check out more photos of Trapper by clicking here.


a small boat in a body of water

(Photo/Jonathan Dickinson State Park)

Nelson established a zoo, which brought the local gentry from nearby Jupiter Island and Palm Beach to buy tickets.

He wrestled alligators to the delight of visitors, who paid for the show. He charmed snakes, as well as the local population. He trapped and lived off animals on his homestead near Riverbend Park.



a vintage photo of a person

(Photo/Jonathan Dickinson State Park)

Hollywood celebrities and the locals from Jupiter Island and Palm Beach loved visiting the mystery man in the Loxahatchee.

They took paddling adventures through Riverbend Park to marvel at Trapper’s outdoor lifestyle.

They brought their friends to gawk at how Trapper hunted wildlife.

They went home and told tales how Trapper cooked his bounty on an outdoor fire to survive.

“I can still see Trapper at the boathouse where they sold bait. After all that rowing, he’d polish off a box of Hershey bars and wash it all down with a quart of milk,” remembers Jupiter pioneer Roy Rood.


Mystery ending 

a vintage photo of a person


A friend found the body of the Legend of Loxahatchee outdoors in a picnic pavilion on a steamy day in July, 1968. There was  shotgun wound in his left chest.

Trapper was 59.

What happened, and who did it, remains a Jupiter mystery you’ll explore when you take the …

 Take the Trapper Nelson challenge Jupiter Outdoor Center 

a group of people rowing a boat in the water

Anyone adventurous enough to take the Trapper Nelson Challenge with JUPITER OUTDOOR CENTER guides beginning at Riverbend Park is following – make that paddling – in the path of one of Jupiter’s most famous and mysterious residents.

Your six-hour voyage on the Loxahatchee River at Riverbend Park to Jonathan Dickinson State Park with JOC guides relives the weekly trip for supplies taken by the Legend of the Loxahatchee in the early 1930s. You’ll nose through ribbon-like channels, some just six feet wide. Snook, deer, great blue herons and ‘gators are regular visitors in and near Riverbend Park.

You’ll pass orchids, cypress knees and Spanish Moss as you paddle to the swamp-surrounded homestead Trapper set up when he was just 23. Skinning ‘gators, selling furs, trapping animals, running a zoo and growing citrus kept the blue-eyed New Jersey native busy for 35 years.

a man standing on top of a grass covered field



In “Life and Death on the Loxahatchee,” author James D. Snyder tells the story of the real-life “Tarzan” and the people who grew up with him along Florida’s first wild and scenic river. Trapper was a symbol of all those who fished, trapped, ploughed and hammered out hardscrabble lives on the Jupiter-Tequesta riverfront along Riverbend Park in the days before it became golf courses and mega-mansions.

Read James D. Snyder’s book, Life and Death on The Loxahatchee: The Story of Trapper Nelson. 

The book is available on Amazon and at local bookstores.

For more THINGS TO DO IN JUPITER, check out our blog here.