Cowboys in early Florida didn’t “roundup” cows like in the western U.S. They used dogs to smell them out of the heavy forests and swamps and the sharp crack of a bull-whip to gather them up. So effective was the practice, it became widely used around Florida and Florida’s cowboys became known as cracker cowboys. Even the cows, small and ever skittish and dangerous from living in the wild, became known as cracker cows.
JJ Smith, the husband of Mary Smith who, together, had established Mary’s Fish Camp on Mud River in west Hernando County in the early ‘50’s, told me and their son, Howard, a story about when he was a young boy. Howard and I were only about 12 when, around a camp fire, he told us, when he was about 14, his father said he was to take his horse, dogs and bull-whip and go gather up the family herd of maybe ten or fifteen cows and bring them back to the cabin where the family lived on a small farm in the area now known as Croom. Since I think I remember Howard saying his father was born in 1898, this must have been around 1912. (Imagine what Croom must have been like in 1912). He said he was gone, alone, on horseback for two weeks shooting squirrels and jack rabbits for food and camping under an old tarpaulin for shelter. Coming back sooner without the cows, he said, was not an option given the harsh reaction of his father that would no doubt result. When he got back he had every cow with him.
The photo here is of a saddled horse ridden by a fellow I met at the Hess station on the corner of Cortez and Spring Lake Highway a couple of years ago. I had asked about the horse and was told his name was Ahab and the cowboy had outfitted him like they used to outfit them in the old cracker days.
Several months later, I read where the cowboy was driving with a suspended license down Neff Lake road in a Mercedes Benz when he dropped a cigarette and leaned down to retrieve it. Doing so he failed to see and hit a mother and her three children walking along the a narrow one-lane country road. The mother and two of the children were seriously injured. The third, a six-year old was not.