History

A Frontier Counterpart to Texas Cowboys: Florida’s Cracker Cowboys

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Texas and cowboys go hand in hand. A robust cattle industry, the historical Chisholm Trail, and the tall tale of Pecos Bill all exhibit how ingrained these figures are to Texans. But how much do you know about the Florida cowboy, commonly referred to as Cracker Cowboys? Did you know the modern Texas Longhorn is a descendant of cows brought by the Spanish to the Sunshine State in the 1700s?

Two explanations exist for the name Cracker Cowboys. The first is that whips were predominately used to herd the cattle. Up to 18 feet long, when cracked, the whip sounded like a gunshot and could be heard for several miles. The alternative background is the term “cracker” was used to describe showoffs during the Elizabethan era. Cracker Cowboys were also named “cowhunters.” They did not use lassos to herd or capture but instead employed whips and herd dogs to move cattle down the trail. The cattle (“cracker cows”) were smaller than the western breeds, and the horses were shorter than average (“cracker ponies”).

A Frontier Counterpart to Texas Cowboys: Florida's Cracker Cowboys

Photo: envato elements

Cracker Cowboys were very important to the cattle industry of early Florida. Spain brought cattle to Florida for colonization purposes but abandoned the herds when British raids began, leaving the hardy Andalusian bovines to procreate and wander. Around 1750, Seminole Chief Ahaya and his band took over an abandoned Spanish ranch and began herding the wild cattle, which became their new economic base. As other groups joined the herding race of wild cattle, cattle rustling became an issue and is believed to be a provoker of the Seminole Wars.

A Frontier Counterpart to Texas Cowboys: Florida's Cracker Cowboys

Photo: envato elements

Before Texas Cowboys used the Chisholm Trail to drive cattle, the Cracker Cowboys drove cattle from central Florida on to Georgia and South Carolina. From the 1840s until the beginning of the Civil War, cattle numbers increased swiftly; in the South, Florida became second only to Texas in per capita value of livestock. When fencing laws came into effect in 1949, the Cracker Trail was no more. Today, the term “Florida Cracker” is often used to indicate families who have lived in Florida for many generations. Cracker Cowboys are remembered along the Florida Cracker Trail, and every February, a Cracker Trail ride is conducted by members of the Florida Cracker Trail Association. The Cracker Storytelling Festival is also annually held and includes a contest to see who can crack the most buttery flaky crackers.