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Florida Civil War Era Food History: Cow Cavalry
“Small militia groups were formed to protect the inner part of Florida. These units were mostly made up of ranchers and cowhands. They were called the “Cow Cavalry.” Small numbers of Union soldiers would hold cavalry raids in south Florida to capture cattle. The Union Navy would also conduct raids along the coast trying to destroy the salt work plants. It was the mission of the cow cavalry to protect the cattle ranches, salt works, and small towns of south Florida.
Numerous small battles occurred as the groups met, but most battles were never documented. Florida’s greatest contribution to the war, besides the 5,000 Floridian men who fought, was food supplies. Florida sent beef, pork, fish, and fruit to the Confederate troops. A vital part of the Confederate strategy was to keep Florida’s inland roads and rivers protected so that the supplies could get safely northward. The soldiers of the “Cow Calvary” helped keep the Confederate army supplied with food from Florida.” (source)
IN MEMORY COW CAVALRY CO. B 1ST BATTALION FL. SPECIAL CAVALRY C.S.A. 1863 - 1865 ERECTED BY PLANT CITY CHAPTER #1931 UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY NOVEMBER 17, 2007
“By 1863 the Confederate army was suffering severe food shortages. Capt. John T. Lesley was commissioned to recruit from Ichepuckssa (cork area of Plant City) a company of pioneer men to round up and drive the wild cattle of Florida north to the railroad stations. Many were too young or too old for regular military service. With great effort, along with 8 other companies in Florida, these men successfully completed their mission overseeing drives as far north as Charleston.”
Florida Food People: Bertha Palmer
“As Bertha Palmer reached the beginning of her sixth decade in 1910, there was a marked transformation in her desires and priorities. There was no lull in her pursuit of profitable enterprise. She retained that fire within her. But the Mrs. Potter Palmer of royal castles and silks and diamonds compromised her elegant life style for something different. She evolved into a woman who was not above walking through the wet muck of the Florida hinterland and acknowledging among her friends the cowboys and farm hands she employed. She chose family, not social acquaintances, to fill her life. The joy of growing flowers meant more than wearing diamonds. The grande dame of Chicago, the pacesetter of London, Paris, and Newport had not disappeared, yet she had slipped into the shadows. In this new setting she became a woman wearing simple dresses, entertaining her family at picnics and cherishing every moment with her grandchildren. She took great pride in the successes of her ranch, croplands, and gardens and took an active role in the conception, implementation, and administration of the properties.”
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Spanish Florida Food History: Cattle Dog
“A true working dog, the Florida/Cracker Cur dog is not bred for looks, but it’s working ability. They work side by side with their cow boys. Many cowboys state, “A well trained cow dog is worth the work of several cowmen.” The first stock dogs were brought to Florida by Hernando De Soto in 1539. These dogs were used to round up cattle. When a cow escaped, it was the dogs job to round the cattle back up and move it back with the rest of the heard. Some dogs would hold a cow by the nose, ear or leg until the cow was roped and branded, these were called “Catch Dogs”. When the dogs were not out working with their cowboys, they were used as watch and guard dogs for the family at home. They played a big part in the lives of ranchers.” (source)
An 1895 drawing of by Frederick Remington of a Florida Cracker.
“Cracker curs (see lower photo) have become very rare, with the loss of land, and cattle industry, the need for a cow dog has declined. I have one myself from a 70 year old cowboy. His female, the mom, is one of his best dogs in all his years, so I am submitting this pic of them they are red and a yeller dog. Yellow to me, but that’s what they say, a yeller dog … the dogs range from 30 females 40 males.”
Spanish Florida Food History: Cattle Horse
“The Florida Cracker Horse, like the cattle breed of the same name, traces its ancestry to Spanish stock brought to Florida in the 1500’s when discovered by Spain. Preparing to return to Spain, the Spanish left some of their cattle, horses and hogs to make room for their collected treasures. The genetic heritage of the Cracker Horse is derived from the Iberian Horse of early sixteenth century Spain.
The free roaming Cracker Horses evolved over a long period of time by natural selection. They were molded and tempered by nature and a challenging environment into horses that ultimately were to have a large part in the emergence of Florida as a ranching and general agriculture state. The horses also played an important role in the life of the Seminole Indians.
Florida cowmen were nicknamed “Crackers” because of the sound made by their cow whip cracking the air. This name was also given to the small agile Spanish Horse essential for working Spanish cattle. Over the years, Cracker Horses have been known by a variety of names: Chicksaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Marsh Tackie, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse, Florida Cow Pony, Grass Gut and others.” (source)
Spanish Florida Food History: Florida Scrub (Cracker) Cattle
“The Florida Cracker is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the United States, descending from Spanish cattle brought to the New World beginning in the early 1500s. As the Spanish colonized Florida and other parts of the Americas, they established low‑input, extensive cattle ranging systems typical of Spanish ranching. The Florida Cracker and other breeds which developed under these conditions are called criollo cattle, which means “of European origin but born in the New World.” The Florida Cracker breed was shaped primarily by natural selection in an environment that is generally hostile to cattle. This has resulted in a breed that is heat‑tolerant, long‑lived, resistant to parasites and diseases, and productive on the low quality forage found on the grasslands and in the swamps of the Deep South.
As one would expect of cattle adapted to the heat, Florida Cracker cattle are small, with cows weighing 600–800 pounds and bulls 800–1,200 pounds. They exhibit the angular conformation typical of Spanish cattle adapted to harsh conditions. Horn style and shape vary, including very long and twisted horns as well as smaller, more crumpled shapes. Polled cattle are also found. Dwarf types of Florida Crackers, called “Guineas,” occurred historically and were well regarded as milk producers. Colors in the breed vary widely, including almost all of the colors known in cattle. This is a legacy from the breed’s ancestors in the South of Spain, where even today ranchers prefer multicolored herds. In Florida, breeders also selected for a variety of colors and patterns as a way to aid recognition of their cattle on range. Generally, solid red, dun, black, and brindle colors predominated in south Florida herds, while in the north, herds were more likely to contain spotted and roan animals, some with distinctive color‑sided and linebacked patterns. The state of Florida has been a leader in the conservation and promotion of the Florida Cracker breed in the later half of the 20th century. Cracker cattle are considered a living part of Florida history, and herds have been maintained at several state parks and forests. The state has supported the establishment of the Florida Cracker Cattle Association and a breed registry, which is operated by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The Florida Cracker cattle breed is still quite rare, but its prospects are brighter than they have been in a long time.” (source)