The founding fathers of Florida are the pioneer “cow hunters” who migrated south in the 1800s when the government opened up new territories after the Seminole Indian Wars. In search of wide open prairies and water, daring young pioneers loaded up their families in covered wagons, gathered up their cattle, and ventured south. It was a long and arduous journey into an unforgiving environment.
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Ben Hill Griffin, III (Frostproof), says: “My grandfather migrated from Georgia after the Civil War to work in the phosphate mines in Fort Meade. He had nothing more than a few dollars and meager belongings but he had perseverance. They cleared the land with gripping hoes and hauled water up from the lake for the land and personal needs.”
Sixth generation cattle rancher and former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Jim Alderman (Okeechobee), says his great grandfather, Streaty Parker migrated from North Carolina. At Fort Meade, he led the “Hickory Boys” to stop cattle rustling.
Margaret Alderman’s life (Mims) spans more than six generations of cattle ranchers. E. O. Morgan her husband’s granddaddy was the “Cattle King of the South.”
Gene Crosby, Cattle Manager of the Deseret Ranch was raised in Holopaw, a former timber town. When the industry went under, his daddy got a job at the Deseret Ranch where Crosby grew up.
But times have changed as creeping urbanization threatens the once vast rangelands of Florida. Today, many small ranchers cannot support their family raising cattle. One of the largest “micropolitan” cities in the United States covers Oxford rancher, Mann Bailey’s birthplace. He says, “sometimes people stare at me in my everyday working cowboy clothes but I don’t think they realize I am the Native not the oddity.”
These are true stories of struggle, survival, courage, fortitude and foresight as told by the pioneer “cow hunters” in their own words.
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