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.
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.
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.
To learn more about the Seminole cattlemen and women of Florida see this article in JSTOR:
To visit a living history exhibit check out, http://www.visitcentralflorida.org/destinations/cow-camp-at-lake-kissimmee-state-park