Only one more day and night to go on the Great Florida Cattle Drive.
Evenings on the drive are magical. There are campfires and the sounds of the nigh, talking, laughter, the cracking of whips, and quiet horses and mules. At least for now. We can hear coyotes way off, and the temperature is dropping. Earlier tonight, we had a large bonfire; and it was truly needed.
In the photo above, you can see the Seminole Tribe of Florida leading us in their Long Dance. More on this later.
We learned so much about the history of our state on this drive. For example, they mentioned tonight something that I had just read in “Florida Cowman” by Joe Akerman, Jr. All these years I thought the county of Alachua got its name from an Indian word, when in fact it comes from a Spanish Ranchero owner named de la Chua. There were ranches all over our state during our Spanish occupation
Just before the drive Chuck read, “A Land remembered” by Patrick D. Smith. This book should be on the “must read” list for every Floridian. I cannot think of a better book about Florida and its early frontier days. Another good book is “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings who lived among the Old Florida crackers and captured their spirit in this beautiful, moving story.
But I digress. We got up to a cool morning as the temperature was about 55°, and the wind was blowing. It was quite chilly, too chilly for us Floridians.
They let us sleep an hour longer so the alarm went off at 6 AM, but we were awake before the alarm. A horse very near our tent was constantly whinneying. Then we heard someone yelling from the other end of the camp that a horse was loose and down there. Horses are very social creatures. I wanted to yell back that I was sure it belonged here near us, so please return the thing so we can all get back to sleep. Good grief!
Breakfast was the standard eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits that we had every morning while on the cattle drive. The announcements though let us know that we will be hanging around camp all day.
There was a farrier demonstration at 10:30 AM. Two very gifted farriers with help from some others made a horse shoe and a mule shoe on the spot. These guys are super good.
Bryce, our wagon driver, is on the right. They also talked about blacksmithing and how it was used before and during the Civil War and its importance to the armies on both sides. It was important enough to the south that the iron cities were the first to be hit by the North.
Otherwise, this morning it was so good to just straighten up the camp, and I actually put some makeup on and combed my hair better.
I am in period clothing today wearing the dark green skirt; but instead of a white blouse I decided to wear a flannel shirt. It is cool and I believe Elizabeth Walker would’ve done the same or used some warmer material.
While I was sitting on the ground listening to the farrier demonstration, I noticed a little girl in a white dress cracking a whip out back of the wagons. She had on a blue vest with white skirt, and I took some pictures. She was very good with the whip and could probably teach the little boys many of which were struggling with it.
The children added so much to the drive. Here are others practicing with their whips and ropes.
Yesterday we had to get Chuck a new green bandanna. We have to wear ours because it shows that we are supposed to be here like when we get our meals etc. They wanted everyone to wear theirs today, because this camp is on US 441 and people could walk into the camp uninvited.
We are the North Florida region, and all of us wear green bandannas and camp in a circle around our stock trailers, the same ones that moved our gear and supplied our group’s horses with hay from day to day.
By lunch time the sky had almost completely cleared, and the sun was shining brightly. It was still breezy, but there was a pleasant coolness to the air. It’s a great time to be in Florida.
While waiting in line for lunch, we talked to some ladies from another camp, the light blue camp. They said that we were not the only camp with runaway horse problems. It seems that two nights ago a half a dozen horses ran away and were running together through their camp. It seems to be a recurring problem all over.
Last night we sat with a group of young girls, all teenagers; and they told us about riding with the herd yesterday. They said a deer jumped up in the middle of the herd out of the palmetto and was running into the cattle bouncing off back-and-forth. It caused the herd to separate and caused a minor stampede. It sounded as if the cowmen had their job cut out for them. The kids got to watch the cur dogs bring the herd back together.
Historically, cur dogs or cow dogs as others called them were used to flush wild cattle from the scrub and swamps, and the men who accomplished that difficult and dangerous task also used these dogs to keep herds together as they drove them. These dogs are still used today.
After lunch Chuck and I took a walk around the perimeter of the ranch, but had to stop because of standing water throughout much of the back pastures. We did find the herd which was pinned up next to one of the camps, and there were the two longhorn cracker cattle there. They were up front near the gate, as if they were protecting the rest of the herd. I know we kept our distance, though I hear they are still fairly gentle.
Afterwards, we joined a group of our own camp members. They were from Panama City, Saint Augustine, and one man was originally from Polk County but now lives in Georgia. Anyone from out of state is in our camp.
We met a couple from Oldtown, Florida, and they brought us what is considered a delicacy here at the camp. It was a Diet Coke. We haven’t had a soft drink all week, and I’m not sure where they got theirs from unless they packed it in with their 60 pounds. Chuck was thrilled.
Dinner was wonderful. We had steaks and coconut cake. Afterwords there was a presentation by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It was explained to us the history of cattle ranching by the Seminoles.
Today they have their cattle operations at the Brighton and Big Cypress Reservations. We listened to them talk about the Seminole Indian War and how a lot of it centered around their being able to raise cattle. By the way to their tribe there is no first, second and third Seminole Indian war. To them there was just one continuous Seminole Indian War.
Much of the history was very colorful such as during the days when the Seminoles drove their cattle up to Jacksonville while the Lykes family took their cattle to Jacksonville along the same route. When the two drives got too close to one another, they would shoot at each other.
He also explained that the last United States Calvary soldier killed during the Seminole Indian War was buried between the two Capitols in Tallahassee. Florida has an old and a new Capitol, one standing in front of the other. All those years we walked across Red Square (that is what we call that area), and we never realized what was buried below.
After dinner and the presentation, we all gathered around a very large bonfire; and the tribe honored us by dancing their corn dance which is only done privately. Afterwards we went back to the tent, where the temperatures already dropped to the low 50s.
It was a wonderful day, and we look forward to the end of the trail tomorrow in Kenansville at the Frolic. More importantly though, we really look forward to a hot bath and a warm bed tomorrow night.