Cattle, Cowboys & Conflict in Pre-Mickey Mouse Florida

Florida’s world-class theme parks are deservedly a major attraction but many visitors who rent our luxury lake view Orlando maybe don’t realise how much more Florida has to offer than Mickey mouse and Harry Potter. So, I thought it might be interesting to highlight some of the alternative attractions and start with ‘Cowboy Culture’!

Surprisingly, Florida was home to America’s first cowboys and is the oldest cattle ranching state in the USA. The founding of St Augustine in 1565 led to cattle being brought in from the marshy scrub of Andalusia in Spain and also from Cuba to create herds to feed the Spanish garrison and surrounding communities. The herds were so succesful that Spanish settlers began exporting cattle back to Cuba and elsewhere. By 1700 there were over 30 ranches and over 20,000 head of cattle in Florida but the subsequent British-Creek Indian raids devastated the mainly Spanish ranchers, leaving cattle ranching mainly to the Native Americans who oversaw large herds of hardy, wild cattle. Herding became so important to the Seminole they actually called their leader Cowkeeper but they came under intense pressure, as British rule during the late 1700s led to large herds owned by British planters and Creek Indians in West Florida, while cowmen from Georgia and the Carolinas spread into North Florida. Widespread rustling resulted, as Europeans, Americans and Indians all stole cattle from each other contributing to the start of the ferociously bloody Seminole Wars.

Cracker Cowboys Fighting over a Stolen Herd Florida 1895

Remington, Frederic, 1861-1909. Fighting over a stolen herd. 1895. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory., 7 June 2016.

Cowboys with Handguns Gainsville FLorida 1890s

Two cowboys wearing handguns- Gainesville, Florida. 189-. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory., 7 June 2016.












Being an early cowman meant fighting off panthers, wolves, bears and cattle rustlers, as well as enduring extreme heat, humidity, insects, pests and diseases. The cattle of Florida proved as hardy as its cowmen and thrived. The economic boost given by wars meant huge growth in trade during the Seminole Wars and latterly, the American Civil War when Florida cowmen supplied both sides in the conflict. Between 1870 and 1880 Florida cowmen exported 1.6 million head to Cuba alone and became the nation’s leading cattle exporter.

Great Florida Cattle Drive 2106

Florida remains an important cattle state with cattle ranching contributing about $400m a year to the State’s economy and many native Floridians remain attached to their ‘cowboy’ roots. In an effort to protect, cherish and celebrate the ‘Cowboy’ way of life, enthusiasts recreated an historic cattle drive in 1995, calling it the Great Florida Cattle Drive ’95. More recently, the Great Florida Cattle Drive ’16 marked the 20th. anniversary of the first great drive, and anyone lucky enough to be staying at luxury lake view Orlando villa at the end of January 2016, only needed to drive a couple of miles to the Silver Spurs Arena, to enjoy the Trail’s End Celebration Frolic, with more than 500 horses and over 500 cattle being driven into the main arena.
For more information about the cowboy way of life, then Cow Camp at the Lake Kissimmee State Park is not far from our luxury lake view holiday rental villa in Orlando.   It is well worth a visit with coffee brewing over an open fire and ‘authentic’ cowmen in a reconstructed traditional camp looking after Florida cattle descended from the original Andalusian herds.

Cow camp and cowman at Lake Kissimmee State Park, Florida

Another great option for Orlando holidaymakers is to go to a rodeo and enjoy the close-up experience of cowboys riding bulls and bucking broncos. Look out for the next blog on locations and timings of rodeos in Kissimmee and Orlando.

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