During the Great Florida Cattle Drive one night at dinner, Chuck and I had the pleasure of listening to some young girls from Ocala talk about the excitement of what happened when a deer jumped up in the herd. The girl’s group were riding with the cattle, so they got to experience this first hand. It was exciting listening to them describe the pandemonium it caused.
I walked away that night with a story for my book “Palmetto Pioneers”, and this morning I wrote a brief scene. It is below and is still a little rough, as I will make changes to it as I gather more information; but I thought you might be interested in how I fit their story into mine.
A Deer in the Herd
It has been family lore that several of the Walker brothers came down to Jefferson County, Florida from South Carolina and got things ready for their parents. We do not know if just the men came first and then brought down their wives and parents or if the men brought their wives and families and then sent for their parents. Those particulars have been lost over time.
We do know that Mary’s brother Little James was born in 1826 in South Carolina and that her next sibling William was born two years later in Jefferson County, Florida.
Cattle graze at a rate of about eight miles a day. When driving a foundation herd, such as what the Walkers brought with them in 1827, that is about how fast the family moved daily because there was no way to carry forage for the cattle. The cattle had to literally eat their way over 400 miles to Florida.
This means it took them at least 50 days to drive their cattle from near Walterboro, South Carolina to Monticello, Florida. I believe they probably stopped to rest at least one day a week, which adds seven days. Add a half dozen more days, and we get about 63 days or a little over two months that it took them to make the trip.
Their best time to travel would be in the fall, since it would have been better to get their cabins built before the bitter cold of December to February. By March North Florida is beginning to warm quickly, and it is past time to begin preparing for crops. The families would have wanted to be there in time to plant again.
Below I tried to recreate what a typical moment might have been on the trail as they made their west and south of present day Macon, Georgia. The trail went from Walterboro to Augusta to Macon, down the Hawthorne Trail and down through north of Tallahassee near Coon Bottom. These are all current names, as several these places had different names back then.
This is Mary’s story. She was five when they made the move to Tallahassee.
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I remember it well. Daddy and my uncles came in all excited. Mama and my aunts had them a good pot of stew to warm them up. This morning it was cold and wet, where it had rained the night before. Fall was definitely giving way to winter.
We had been gone almost two months. Last night Daddy talked about how the cotton would have been picked by now. Granddaddy and Grandma Walker were handling it for all of us. We were already missing them.
But today, the conversation around the fire was all about a deer that had jumped up in the herd. The poor thing was probably hunkered down in the wet brush and let the cows almost completely surround her before she decided to make her escape.
Deer were like that. Daddy says that this is how they protect themselves from predators. They just get real still.
One time Henry and I were walking back from Grandma and Granddaddy Walker’s house, and we were walking through the woods pushing our way through some low green vegetation. All of a sudden a tiny fawn just jumped up from under our feet.
We were literally inches away from stepping on the little thing. Mama said that the fawn’s mama was probably out foraging and had put the fawn there for safekeeping. She had probably told it not to move no matter what.
I remember asking mama if animals talk to each other. She said, “Mary, why do you ask such questions? I don’t know. And don’t get too friendly with any of these animals, because that is how we eat.”
Uncle Littleberry, who was standing next to the fire with steam coming off his clothes, said that the poor deer just didn’t know where to go and ended up springing this way and that, bouncing off the cows and causing them to stampede.
He added, “It was wild. The deer bouncing this a way and that’a way, the cows parting and stampeding in different directions, and all of us on horseback not knowing which way to go first. It took us several minutes to get the cattle to settle down and come back together. ”
All of us children were hanging on every word. “Was it hurt?”, said Henry. “No,” said Uncle Littleberry, “it didn’t look like she was; but it sure scared her”.
Mama, Aunt Elizabeth and I were hurriedly trying to keep the men’s plates full and their coffee cups filled. We had had trouble getting a fire going when we finally stopped today. The wind was beginning to pick up, and the temperature was dropping.
We all knew that there would be no fire that night when it was most needed. The front pushing through made a fire dangerous.
We were lucky that the rain stopped about mid-morning. At least least we had a fire to cook up a good dinner. Mama, Aunt Elizabeth, and Aunt Mary Jane cooked double so we would have enough for supper tonight. It wouldn’t be as good as having it warm, though.
While we were cooking, the little kids gathered firewood, berries and anything else that might be usable. I helped with the cooking when I could but it was my job to keep Sarah Jane from getting into trouble and to listen out for Little James. Mama had just nursed him, and he was asleep under the wagon by one of the back wheels.
As soon as the men finished they went back to the herd and all of us packed the wagons back up and began following. My mama and all my aunts could handle the oxen. Mama said that the soreness she felt those first weeks was gone now. She also said that her hands would never be the same again. They were rough and calloused.