Yesterday morning Chuck said, “Dante had it wrong. There aren’t seven levels of hell, there’s eight. Dante didn’t know, because he never went on this cattle drive.”
I thought, well, they said that this wasn’t for sissies.
Chuck’s Dante comment came right after he cracked his head on the little silver aluminum table that set right by his bedroll. He bled like a stuck hog and required a quick bandaid. What a way to wake up, for both of us. My alarm clock was his howl.
We got up at our usual 5 a.m. It wasn’t raining as much, but there were still intermittent showers. I had a leak over by my sleeping bag, but it was just a small puddle that didn’t wet anything but the floor.
We must be living right, because I had to go to the port-a-potties twice last night; and the rain stopped both times right on cue. You come to appreciate the simplest little things out here.
We weren’t so lucky later, though. We broke camp in the rain. Everything we owned was either wet or damp. We do have a dry bag, a large waterproof duffel, with our clean clothes; but even they seemed a little clammy. It rained on and off for over 24 hours. Today’s forecast was no better.
We found out that the trail today is so wet that the wagons won’t even be able to make it. We thought that this was a signal that we shouldn’t try to follow the cattle either.
By 8:30 a.m. we pulled out with our red wooden show wagon with its mule team made up of Beckie and Bonnie. I called this a show wagon because it looked like something that you would see in a circus parade, except stripped down.
We watched them hitch the two mules, and then we left the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area where we stayed last night. We rode down US 441 to the next evening camp on another ranch south of Kenansville. We are truly our own parade. Traffic stops to take pictures. Again, we enjoyed listening to the chatter of the young people in our wagon.
Along the way Heather, one of the girls riding with us, sliced a cylinder of fresh, uncooked swamp cabbage, also known as heart of cabbage palm, our state tree. You can boil this to make swamp cabbage stew or you can chop it up for a slaw. Normally, I just add some sliced to my green salad, but I buy it already canned as Hearts of Palm. We snacked on it as we rode down US 441. It was left over from last night.
We will be at our next camp for two nights. Thank goodness, because both of us are sick and tired of being sick and tired of setting up and breaking down this camp.
We had not seen hide nor heard of the cattle drive this morning as they rode out earlier. We were all wondered if our celebrity walker could make it through today, too, with the herd or his group. My guess is that he will.
By the way he is a farmer who grows turnips and other produce from Lake City, Florida. He is doing this walk, because his deceased lady friend walked this same drive ten years ago. He is doing this walk in her memory.
I have a feeling her conditions were not this wet. His fifty miles will be much tougher to accomplish, but he is determined to do it.
We ate a quick lunch, and thank goodness we re-established our camp early today. It rained lightly all morning, but it came in heavy again around 4 pm. The tent had a chance to dry some in between.
Chuck and I shared a Jack and Orange and sat and listened to the rain and the cracking of whips. The kids practiced their new skills, even in the rain. Apparently, some of the Cowmen taught them how to crack a whip.
Speaking of kids there are several on the drive. Yesterday, I watched a grandfather and his granddaughter riding together. They crossed a swollen creek. She looked to be about eleven or twelve. In another group were grandparents, parents and two children.
Last night we listened to another cowboy poet who grew up in Florida. His poems were about some of Florida’s more famous cowmen such as Bone Mizell, Jacob Summerlin, and Captain James McKay, who was key in forming the Florida Cow Cavalry or the “”Cattle Guard” as they were also known during the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression as my grandmother would say. Most everyone else calls it the Civil War.
Florida’s cattle was what fed the Confederate Army until the end of the War, and it was cattle drives like this that transported the cattle north to the railroad lines up near Baldwin east of Jacksonville and earlier as far north as Savannah, Atlanta, and Columbus, Georgia. They made sure the cattle got to their destination, driving them about 8 to 9 miles a day, a grazing rate.
You can read all about this in a book called “Florida Cowman” by Joe A. Akerman, Jr. I am currently reading another book by him and his son J. Mark Akerman called “Jacob Summerlin: King of the Crackers”.
Another sound in our rainy afternoon camp is the braying moan of the mules. Many are tied up under the oak trees in an oak hammock right in front of our tent.
They don’t do it a lot and not in response to each other. All of a sudden, though, you’ll just notice a long drawn out lonesome bray. Chuck says that it is the mule moaning, “Ohhhhh. I don’t waaant to be a mule.” Apparently, Chuck thinks a mule’s life is much sadder than a horse’s.
It was a nice relaxing day, but I missed watching the cattle drive itself.
I didn’t my pioneer-style skirt and blouse today. I brought jeans for these two days. These were also the two days with rain in the forecast. Can your you imagine dragging around all that material soaking wet? So instead I planned to wear jeans, flannel and rain gear.
Below, we met some interesting cowmen out here. (This is an older photo.)