MYAKKA CITY -- David Kibler's voice comes through as clear as the scenery surrounding him.
"This is what Florida was," Kibler says over the loud Jeep engine, riding shotgun with his brother Thomas Kibler, as they tour the family's 1,000-acre ranch -- or rather, a retreat that runs along the Manatee River.
Welcome to Kibler Ranch, where the deer roam alongside cattle eating green tomatoes, horses swimming in a pond near grapefruit trees. Bobcats can be spotted here, and snakes aren't out of the question when navigating the Manatee River.
"You will see flora and fauna, you will see snakes," says David Kibler, a bit of a humorist whose language is as salty as the earth. "It will be majestic, and you will be (expletive) scared."
Cabbage palm, Spanish moss and thick woods create a cool canopy as a river runs through this wild, wild East Manatee property that the Kiblers have known so well.
At the bang of a gavel, it could be yours at auction on June 6. The property, once listed for $11 million, is going to the highest bidder,
leaving the Kiblers' hands after a century.
Instead of dealing with a traditional real estate sale that could take years, the family is taking a bit of a gamble and putting the land that's been Kibler domain since the Spanish American War up on the block.
It's the land where Florida Crackers roamed, and cowboy Tom Kibler still moseys around today to keep the family cattle ranching operation in business.
Within the property is a network of trails developed through the years, and an old wooden bridge once stood across a shallow part of the Manatee River for drivers before State Road 64 was built. One could get lost around these spaces -- even two brothers who have grown up with the land.
"Oh, we might get lost today," Tom Kibler acknowledges.
But the Kibler cowboys are ready to ride off into the sunset like all good cowboys do. But first they have to sell the land passed on by their father. D. Burke Kibler III, the powerful patriarch and Lakeland lawyer, who died in 2009 at the age of 85. He suffered a stroke after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. Mother Nell Bryant Kibler died in 1996.
"We're going to miss it terribly, but the one thing is time marches on, change is inevitable. When the patriarch dies, things change," David Kibler said. "The ranch has no debt, but it's an ongoing concern. It's just time. We all have different lives, and the cohesiveness was our father and our mother."
Alabama-based National Auction Group, which specializes in "trophy properties," is handling the sale. Previous clients have included Kenny Rogers and businessman Henry Kravis. So far, the listing has attracted buyers from around Florida and from a few other states, said Jonathan Bone, advertising executive for the auctioneer.
"I think it's for somebody looking for the ultimate retreat," Bone said. "This property has everything, and I think it's for somebody not just looking to do one thing."
Brothers David, 65, and Tom, 63, reminisced about the good ole days on the ranch and hope that a multi-millionaire buyer will keep the place intact.
"Our real hope is the people who end up with this appreciate it as much as we do -- they enjoy the beauty, the serenity and all the benefits it has," said Tom Kibler, a licensed Realtor and president of Kibler Agricultural Corp. "There's something about having a piece of land that's yours that's hard to explain."
A 1,000-acre dream
The historic Kibler Ranch is a scenic getaway deal of a lifetime in Manatee County. One thousand acres with 2.5 miles of frontage on the Manatee River, a stocked fish pond by Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, a four-bedroom hunting lodge, five ranch employee houses, 54 acres of citrus groves, untouched Florida wilderness and an abundance of wildlife.
"God's not making places like this anymore, and people destroy it," the older Kibler says. "And hopefully in the fullness of time, this will remain as it is."
The Kibler clan came down from South Carolina after the Civil War, settling in Dunnellon as part of the phosphate boom. The twin sons of the settlers, Adolphus and David Kibler, started up their own ventures, including a general store and the Kibler Hotel in 1913 in Lakeland. Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt once stayed there, too.
During the Spanish American War, soldiers were brought to Tampa to ship out. With all the troops, food was badly needed, prompting an expansion of large cattle operations. Like so many others, the Kiblers bought land, and the Kiblers' venture brought the family to rural Myakka City, 10 miles west of the Hardee County line. The cattle operation continues today under Tom Kibler's watch.
"It's a viable business, we make some money and we don't owe any money," he said. "It's pretty unusual."
The historic property has had a guest list that could easily qualify the land as Florida's Camp David.
D. Burke Kibler III was one of the founding attorneys of the Holland & Knight firm with former Gov. Spessard Holland, starting out representing the phosphate industry. Through the years, the law firm became nationally known.
Kibler III -- a decorated World War II veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- served on the Board of Regents for the Florida university system and was the general counsel for the Florida Citrus Commission. He grew up good friends with Gov. Lawton Chiles.
It was always someone new, it seems, ranging from Sen. George Smathers to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and practically every Florida governor since.
"Every quail season, every weekend we were hunting," said David Kibler, who used to work for Sen. Bob Graham. Sometimes that would be with his black Labrador Rosie, who is buried in the yard.
A ranch employee was born on the property, and another man has lived there since 1961. That's going to be a challenging part of the sale, as the possibility exists that everyone might have to move. But the brothers hope it doesn't have to come to that and the new owner will consider a cattle operation as vital to keeping the land maintained.
"Maybe a new owner will say, 'These people will know how to get around here,'" Tom Kibler said.
'Essence of excellence'
The memories of people stopping by and hunting and living on the ranch are obviously dear to the Kiblers' hearts as the brothers excitedly put on a bit of a show-and-tell, creating a nostalgic ambiance of what was -- and, hopefully, what could be.
"Something that people in the city don't think is right out here we build a campfire," Tom says. "You can see it from upstairs. You take a couple of these benches and these chairs out there and you build this great big fire out there. Get some mullet and butterfly them."
That got the ball rolling for the two, who couldn't stop thinking about the succulent mullet.
"We got these special stakes, and you put the butterfly mullet right on it. You got one, Tommy?" David shouts over. "We put it around the fire and have cheese grits with maybe a Chateau Mouton Rothschild, maybe a Chateau Petrus -- the essence of excellence."
Tom digs a metal stake out of a storage closet, and shows off the forked head with two fine points bending upward designed to keep the fish from falling off the contraption.
"You put the flesh out like this, you put it in the fire like that, and it's sitting there hanging, and as that tail starts to curl up," Tom says, motioning with his hand. "The fat drips off, and it's got the essence of the fire and the smoke and all that, and it's ready to eat. I like to put a slab of butter on it and take a spoon and spoon the flesh out of the skin."
Going, going, gone
The auction is quite the gamble considering no minimum bid is required. The property was once listed for $11 million on an online real estate site.
"Usually with an auction, it's an opportunity for people to get bargains," Bone said. "But a lot of times sellers like to know they are going to sell their property on a certain date and not let it sit on the market for a long period of time."
The auction is set for 4 p.m. June 6 with registration starting at 3 p.m., and takes place in front of one of the homes on the property, 3715 Kibler Ranch Road. Bidders must show up with a $100,000 business check to participate, and it's refundable if the bidder is unsuccessful. Ten percent of the winning bid price is due, and the sale must close within 30 days.
"We're just going to let the auction process work its way out and let it come to a price," Tom Kibler said.
Those looking to tour the property before the auction can make an appointment by calling 1-800-579-1174.
The brothers are throwing in the rugged Jeep J-10 pickup as part of the sale -- they see the hunting truck as part of the experience. Livestock and farm equipment are not included, along with a couple of other intangibles: "Our charm and humor and capacity to cook a mullet," David Kibler says. "Although it can be.'
After all, his brother notes, everything is negotiable.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.