A Bit of History at the Florida State Fair: Or How I Came to Learn About Florida Cowboys and Florida Crackers

Cracker Cowboys

Remington, F. Included in an article entitled, “Cracker Cowboys of Florida” published in Harper’s new monthly magazine v.91, issue 543, August 1895. Retrieved from State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25893

Over the past weekend I and many others visited the Florida State Fair. This year they had some new exhibits: “Discovery Center” curated by the Tampa Bay History Center and “Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making” from the Florida Department of Agriculture. I also spent some time in Cracker Country happily daydreaming about living a simpler life and actually took the time to read the sign, “What is a Florida Cracker?” Turns out Florida has a long, fascinating and seldom known history of cattle ranching and an equally intriguing local culture called “Florida Crackers.” The term refers to early American settlers to the state and  also denotes native Floridians with longstanding  ancestral roots in the area. While not all “Florida Crackers” were or are cattlemen the two share similar cultural traditions and have become entwined somewhat in popular memory.

Collier, J. (1942). Escambia Farms, Florida. A Florida “cracker” trys to “argue it out” with the sugar ration board. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

While cattle ranching in Florida has it historical origins with the earliest Spanish settlers, the  Seminole tribe and pre-dates the cowboy of the American West it truly took off in the mid-19th century. From the early 1840s through 1949 Florida’s “Cracker Cowboys” (possibly originating from the sound made by their whips) practiced open range ranching allowing their cattle to freely roam and graze on public lands. The 1949 Florida Fence Law put an end to this practice.

To learn more about Florida’s “Cracker Cowboys” and the broader Cracker culture check out these articles in the JSTOR database (log in through Esearch first):

Denham, J.M.(1994). The Florida Cracker before the Civil War as seen through   travelers’ accounts. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 72(4), 453-468.

Otto, J.S. (1984). Traditional cattle-herding practices in southern Florida. The Journal of American Folklore, 97(385), 291-309.

Otto, J.S.(1984). Florida’s cattle-ranching frontier: Hillsborough County (1860). The Florida Historical Quarterly, 63(1), 71-83.

seminole cattle ranchers

Seminole Indian cowboy Charlie Micco and grandson Fred Smith on horseback in a cattle ranch – Brighton Reservation, Florida 1950. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69966istorical Quarterly, 63(1), 71-83.

To learn more about the Seminole cattlemen and women of Florida see this article in JSTOR:

Sievers, E., Tepper, C., and Tanner, G.W. (1985). Seminole Indian ranching in Florida.
Rangelands , 7(5),209-211.
Check out The Seminoles of Florida by James Covington from the library.
Read this article in the Seminole Tribune about a cattle ranching exhibit at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
For more information and photographs visit, http://www.floridamemory.com/

To visit a living history exhibit check out, http://www.visitcentralflorida.org/destinations/cow-camp-at-lake-kissimmee-state-park


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