News Features

 

500 Years Of Cattle In Florida, A Cattle Drive To Remember

500 Years Of Cattle In Florida, A Cattle Drive To Remember

    The Great Florida Cattle Driveā€¦that name conjures up images of 150 years ago, cowboys rooting Cracker Cows out of the palmettos and swamps of a yet uninhabited free-range Florida, back in the days when panthers, gators, and red wolves were taking as many baby cows as they could catch.
    One would think with all the subdivisions, theme parks, and high-rise beach condos that we see today, there wouldn't be a place left that was big and wide and open enough to still make a cattle drive possible, but there is still a little bit of wild Florida left!
    Alicia Brown, home-schooling mom of four and local realtor, just had a 'dream come true week' on the Great Florida Cattle Drive. This event marked the 500th anniversary of the introduction of cattle and horses to Florida by the Spanish. The event was postponed a year due to covid interruptions, but 350 lucky cowpokes just rode the range of time in a week-long adventure they will never forget.
    Mornings started before dawn, by the light of the moon and often in a fog. A group of 12 wagons escorted the drive and provided hot chow in the morning and at night. Cowboys and girls got a sack lunch to put in their saddle bags and long days were spent riding what is left of public lands, private cattle ranches, and shared green space range that goes through the heart of the state in Osceola County.
    A literal herd of organizations had to work together to turn back 150 years of history in old Florida. Counted in for helping out were the spearheads:  Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee founders of Great Florida Cattle Drive events, Florida Department of Agriculture, Florida Forest Service, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Cracker Kitchen, Florida Agriculture Museum, Kenneth Kirchman  Foundation, The Kempfer Ranch, Escape Ranch, Diego Medina’s Ranch and Silver Spurs Practice Arena, Osceola Board of County Commissioners, Osceola Fire and Rescue Department, Osceola County Tourism, Community Foundation of North East Florida, Seminole Feed, Mosaic Fertilizer, Log Ranch Cattle and Horses, Last Stand Ranch, Hale Family Farm, Lightsey Cattle Company, The Seminole Tribe of Florida, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Trader’s Hill Farms, Walter Farms, RE Smith Groves, Florida Cracker Horse Association, Deseret Ranch, and many others.
    Watering holes, open prairies, pine flat-woods, swamps, and more awaited riders each day. The characters and places mentioned in "A Land Remembered" by famous author Patrick Smith seemed to come to life for cow campers. The event was designed to promote Florida's rich cattle history through education, preservation, heritage, and hands-on experiences for riders that got to step back in time for a week for the small price of $650, which included three meals a day for the cowboys and their horses.
    Alicia, who is a horse lover, had dreamed of going on this special ride which is only offered once every ten years. When it was interrupted by Covid-19, she was disappointed, but after getting to go this year she said it was "A Once in a Lifetime" thrill! She had a super time camping under the stars and moon each night and spending 24 hours a day with her faithful horse, Pilgrim, who is 23 years young. She said it was fun to rise early, saddle up, and spend the day on the trail. Evenings were fun, too, and educational as different guest speakers came each night to talk about Florida heritage, animal husbandry, conservation, natural resources, land stewardship, water conservation, and even authentic Florida Seminole History. The Seminoles were apparently active in the early cattle-ranging efforts in the state.
    All the riders were asked to dress authentically for the 1880 drive. She was amazed at how the cows stayed packed into a tight herd all day as they rode the ranges of the different ranches. She said the land was gorgeous with a great variety of habitats and wildlife to enjoy.
    The Commemorative Cattle Drive had over 40 different organizations involved in making the event possible. Cooperation between the state and private land owners, local businesses, riders, and over 100 volunteers.
    Alicia teared up while remembering the experience, and said if she could have just kept on riding she would have and really didn’t want the cattle drive to come to an end. She said there was no way of describing the peace that came from going to sleep hearing Pilgrim outside her tent munching on the wild grasses only to find him excited and standing ready to saddle up again before dawn the next morning.
    Riders came from all over the world to make this cattle drive. Alicia enjoyed meeting folks from Cuba, Brazil, Texas, New York, and places in between. The Seminole Indians actually sponsored several riders, including a group of military veterans and a group of young teen boys from the Sheriff's Youth Boys Ranch in Live Oak, Florida. It was a great mentoring opportunity for the veterans to work with the youth.  The Cattle Drive included 1,500 head of cattle, 12 wagons, 10 to 12 miles a day of riding, and lots of fun.
    Days included no showers but plenty of good grub.
    At the end of the trail, a special senior adult friend met Alicia and told her “He was proud of her.” Keeping Florida history and agriculture going is something we should all be proud of and interested in. We really enjoyed hearing about the Great Florida Cattle Drive and hope Alicia won’t be the last local reader to go on this adventure. They apparently always need volunteers and workers to pull together this great ride. We really enjoyed seeing her pictures and hearing her stories, we hope you will, too. Thanks for sharing a Cattle Drive from Florida, a land remembered.