I apologize for not getting this out last night, but I think I had a touch of post-cattle drive depression yesterday. The feeling reminded me of our legislative session days, when right after the end of the session, we suffered for a day from something we called post-session depression.
We weren’t sure exactly what it was, but the adrenaline that we had lived on for so long quickly left us and we were almost useless for anywhere from 8-24 hours. It was hard to accomplish anything during that time.
Chuck and I both were lethargic all yesterday afternoon. All we did was drive home; all the way home instead of stopping for the night as we planned. We were like a horse headed for the stall.
Yesterday morning, we got up at 6 AM and by 9 AM the trail boss began the final day of the drive with cattle at the head, wagons next, and riders in the rear. We headed to the Kenansville Rodeo Arena, our final destination.
The Green Bandana group, my group, rode up front with the cattle; and for the first time I wished I was there on a horse. I rode a good bit when I was younger, but haven’t wanted to do it at all this trip until now. I wanted to be up there with the cows and also spend more time this morning with my group. We have met so many new and interesting people here.
Best of all, though, we got a treat before we headed out. The owner of the property said that we could leave our gear and tents here until we came back from the Frolic, the event held after we bring the cattle to the arena. This meant the tent could dry before we put it away. Which also meant we did not have to pitch it again in Tallahassee to let it dry out. What a generous gesture by our host!
We rode in the big red wagon again with Bryce, the young college students, and a member of the press. Court Lewis hosts a radio show called American Variety Radio from Tennessee. You can read about it here.
He and Chuck hit it off right away. Both of them grew up in southeast Florida (he in Miami and Chuck in Ft. Lauderdale) and both fished as youngsters and shared a life-long love of this sport. They talked fishing the entire time.
Speaking of the press and media, photographer Carlton Ward was with us doing his aerial photography from a helicopter on the last day of the drive. The helicopter followed the herd.
He does very good work, and you can look at some of his Florida cattle and cowmen photos at CarltonWard.Com. The link will take you to those photos. We are so fortunate that he has photo documented so much of our beautiful state.
Again, because of the rain and all the water in the woods and in the pastures, the wagons left the drive to go out on the road to get to Kenansville. All of the riders and the cattle went on the trail. We met them again at the rodeo arena.
On Friday night Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam visited us, joined us for dinner, and spent the night at the camp. He rode with the cattle drive the next morning. Our Commissioner comes from a cattle and citrus family in central Florida.
Chuck and I had a chance to talk to him and when he hugged my neck, I almost cringed because I was afraid that we smelled. Hardly any of us got a proper bath in a week, and my hair is dirty. Add to that the smell of being around burning fires all week long, and I’m sure civilized people shouldn’t stand next to us.
I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that took a bath in a creek next to one of the evening camps. Several people took a bath that night, but I never even knew the creek existed until we were several days down the trail.
Although, frankly, the whole damn place is a creek of sorts, and I could have stepped away almost anywhere. I did wash my hands numerous times in little puddles, and I guess that is why there is dirt under my nails and around my cuticles. My nails are a mess.
For the special occasion of the driving in of the cattle, riders, and wagons, I wore my soiled brown pioneer skirt with a clean white blouse, not tucked in and with a nice leather belt worn on the outside of the blouse. Elizabeth would have wanted to dress up for this day, where they paraded us around the arena in front of the crowd.
We traveled again down US 441, and again we were a parade. People came out of their homes to take pictures, and the traffic waved and took photos as they passed. We were again escorted by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s department did a wonderful job of helping us move across the public highways. They held up traffic on this road several times as the drive crossed back and forth during the week. When we crossed, it really held up a lot of traffic. It took a long time to get all the cattle, horses, and wagons through, even though they stopped and let traffic go between the groups.
I wondered if the semi drivers were upset, since for them time is money. It seemed most of the trucks were hauling some type of agricultural product. Several years ago when I was working, I found out that more than 25% of all semi trucks on Florida roads haul some type of raw agricultural product. After all, Florida is seventh in the nation in agricultural production. This did not count all the Publix, Winn-Dixie and Wal-Mart grocery trucks. It takes a lot of food to fjeed America three times a day every day, and a lot of Florida’s products are shipped north and all over the world!
Anyway, this is a big agricultural area in Florida; and on Friday morning just as the first members of the camp were beginning to wake up and stir about, a semi truck out on US 441 ran by the camp and just sat on his horn. Our green group’s camp was right by the highway, so we suffered the brunt of the bellowing truck. I believe it was some form of pay back from one of those poor drivers who had been sitting in the very unusual traffic jams way out here caused by our giant cattle drive.
There is a different jargon spoken on farms, ranches and especially here on this cattle drive. The young women in our wagon are the ones who are coordinating the media. One of the young cowmen asked them what their job entailed. When they explained, he said, “So you are the media wranglers.” Smiling, one girl replied, “I guess you’re right.” He added, “So, it’s like herding kittens, huh?”; and she said, “Well, maybe so. They seem nice enough.” You just got a love the lingo that you listen to here.
I spent my time on the final portion of the drive asking Bryce lots of questions about handling a team of mules, a team of oxen, problems that might occur to a wagon that has a long distance to travel, etc. Bryce as a farrier and drover is a wealth of information, so I got his phone number in case I have other questions when I begin writing the migration portion of the book.
He handled the two Percheron draft mules named Beckie & Bonnie commanding “Gee, gee, gee,” to turn them right. They were very well trained. By the way for these mules gee is the command to turn their heads and walk right, and haw means left. Back is back and a click click with the mouth means forward.
We turned off of US 441 onto the south end of the Canoe Creek Road heading north. We passed through Kenansville and by the Heartbreak Hotel and an old renovated bank.
Someone said that the hotel was for sale. It is famous in these parts for having housed thousands of cattle drovers and woods men since it was built in 1915. This part of Kenansville seems to be a ghost town today, but in the late 1800s it was a cattle town sitting on an old military trail that was later used for driving cattle north to the railroads. It was called Whittier then. A sawmill came to Whittier, and it continued to grow.
Later in 1911, Flagler built his railroad line through here on its way to Okeechobee; and the renamed Kenansville became a railroad boomtown. Its recently built hotel was called the Piney Woods Inn. In 1955 the inn was bought by new owners who renovated and renamed it the Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis was in Florida at the time doing a tour, but no one is sure whether this was just a coincidence. Here is a story about Kenansville and also about Elvis’s tour. Elvis’s song “Heartbreak Hotel” was released as a single in 1956.
The railroad pulled up its tracks, the depot disappeared, and the town became what it is today.
Finally, we got to the arena; and because of the crowd we went ahead and paraded the wagons through. We were just riding, as we had been doing for days, when all of a sudden the crowd in the stands roared. We forgot again that we were a spectacle. We waved to the crowd, and the applause got even louder. It really surprised us to be such celebrities.
The cattle and riders were not in sight yet. People were standing on top of anything high enoughto watch the drive come in. Others walked out to meet them.
Chuck and I knew that a helicopter would be following the herd; and since it wasn’t in sight, we took the time to go get our car and move it closer to the entrance of the arena. Also, we had been warned the night before that the parking area where all our cars, trucks, horse trailers, and stock trailers were parked was a rain-soaked mucky mess. They had three large Caterpillars ready to pull us out whenever we wanted to leave.
So we waded through the muck back of the arena, and it was truly a mess. Deep ruts and standing water everywhere. We had trouble finding the car, because the roads were unrecognizable. You couldn’t see where they had been. Finally, we found it, thanks to modern technology. We set off its alarm.
I thought we did real well driving about 200 feet when we hit an area where we could no longer get traction. We were done. Chuck went and got one of the Caterpillars. They could find no tow bar except in the back, so they towed us out from behind.
We were the first vehicle out. There are more than a hundred to go, so we’re certain they were there until late in the day maybe even into the night pulling out all those vehicles. Even if you had 4-wheel drive, the muck was deep and traction was almost non existent. We were lucky. We got out first, parked, and still had time to watch the cattle come in.
Afterwards, we unsuccessfully looked for a friend of a friend who was dressed as a reenactor, looked at the exhibits, said our goodbyes to everyone, and left the Frolic early. They still had planned events for everyone; but we watched people crack whips, rope just about anything that even remotely looked like a calf, blacksmith, etc. all week long. Since we had no family here to share in the demonstrations, we really had no reason to stay. Plus we were tired and hungry. It was already after 1 p.m.
Several days earlier, the stock men told us about a Jr. Food Store that had a great little sandwich counter inside. They smoked and cooked their own meats, and we shared a wonderful hot Cuban sandwich there.
While there, a car with two reenactors stopped; and I asked the men if they knew Clint Johnson. They looked surprised and said yes, so I found the friend of my friend, Clint.
Clint and I worked together way back in the 1970s. He’s a Florida boy who grew up down here in cattle country and who now lives in North Carolina. He is an author of several non-fiction books, primarily about the American Civil War; and he does reenactments, too. He and his wife are staying with us later this month, while they are traveling in Florida.
Afterwards, we drove north on US 441 and got back to our camp. The final take down of the dry and swept out tent went quickly, and we soon headed north toward Tallahassee.
We planned to stop around Belleview, south of Ocala, to spend the night; but because we made such good time we kept driving. Rolling into Tallahassee around 9 p.m., I was in a hot bath within a few minutes. After catching up on an episode of “Downtown Abbey”, we were in bed by 10:30 p.m. I never go to bed that early, but we were both exhausted.
What a wonderful experience! Here are some photos below. Some are of an earlier drive.
We learned so much about this amazing industry. Notice below the cowboys and their cur dogs. I believe this photo was done by Carlton Ward
The cattle drive was a wonderful, joyous experience, but we were truly ready to get off the trail. It was time to go home where we no longer had to sleep on the ground.
Another Carlton Ward photo below. These are real Florida cowmen with their cur dogs during a real work day.