“The crack of the buckskin whips, the squeak of the saddle leather, the lowing cattle, and the strong, rich odor of camp coffee set his senses stirring. It was the kind of life that appealed to most men of the frontier” (Akerman, 1976, p. 133). It was the life of the Florida cowman.
A Florida cowman was a man who worked and knew cattle. It was a life that many chose, to avoid the monotony and routine of farming. Cow hunting, the gathering and herding of cattle across the wild lands of pioneer Florida, offered a life of freedom. Many cowmen moved to Florida after the Civil War due to its nearness and mild climate compared to the West. In the pioneer days of Florida, the population was less than two people per square mile. Florida was full of unfenced land and miles of pine and palmetto range. It was said that on a clear day, one could see a steer from two miles away (Akerman, 1976, p. 160).
The cowmen of Florida faced many hardships. They had to deal with the hurricanes and flooding common to Florida, as well as sporadic stampedes of cattle. Florida cowman would spend three to four months of the year traveling, penning, marking, branding and regulating cattle with a group of six to ten men. Each man was equipped with a cow whip, a tin cup, a wallet and full saddle bags. The cow whip was an essential accessory to the Florida cowman. The crack of the whip could be heard from miles away and was used as a communication tool between cowmen. Cowmen were followed by a covered wagon filled with supplies and a team of people in charge of food. The typical menu for the men consisted of lots of coffee, corn pone, bacon, salt pork, biscuits and wild game such as turkey and deer that was hunted on the range.
Florida cowmen depended on their horses and dogs to herd the scrub cattle. The horses used by the cowmen in Florida were much smaller than cowboys’ horses in the West. Cracker Cow ponies were small, and weighed about 800 pounds. Their size was befitting to the Florida landscape. The Scrub Cattle that the cowmen herded were also small; they weighed about 600 pounds and had very sharp horns. The cowmen of Florida did not use ropes to gather their cattle; they relied on a good cow dog.
When all was said and done, the cattle were penned up and sold to the highest bidder. Scrub Cattle commonly sold for $5 to $10; sometimes more for a heavy set of horns.
from Akerman, Joe A. (1976). Florida Cowman: a history of Florida cattle raising. Kissimmee, Florida: The Florida Cattlemen's Association.