Americas First Cowboys

Thursday, 11 February 1892 - St. Augustine, Florida

Where did the first American cowboys come from? Texas? The Dakotas? Kansas?

No. Florida. Yes, Florida, although they are not called cowboys, but cowmen or more often just Crackers. Now Crackers will tell you they got their name because they use whips instead of lassoes and it was the cracking whips that gave them their moniker. More likely it comes from the Elizabethan term for a braggart and blowhard. Shakespeare uses the term in his 1595 play, King John: "What cracker is this ... that deafes our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?"

In 1763, when Great Britain gained control of Florida, many English American and Scots-Irish immigrated into the Florida back country as settlers. The more “civilized” folks in the port towns called them Crackers for their boasting. Only the toughest folk could survive the heat, mosquitoes and alligators, so maybe the Crackers had a reason to brag.

By the twentieth century “Cracker” will be used as a derogatory meaning “poor white folk.” Now here in Florida it has come to mean a cowboy. I noticed some of the "Crackers" out here are African-American or Seminole Ameridians.

Cracker Horse
The Cracker Cow and Cracker Horse were already here before the Crackers came in. When the English took over, the Spanish moved out leaving their livestock to roam wild. Descended from Spanish breeds, the Cracker cow and horse evolved into tough, hardy breeds that could survive the harsh conditions of Florida. They are also small so they can navigate the thick underbrush and marshes. In this age cows are allowed to range wild, and the Crackers go out to round them up, thus earning another current moniker, Cow Hunter.

Cow Hunters
I visited a ranch outside of St. Augustine today and watched the Crackers cracking their whips to herd their cattle. Already ranches are experimenting with crossing other breeds with Cracker Cattle, putting the pure breed in jeopardy. In the next century the Cracker Cow and Cracker Horse will be pushed close to extinction. In the 1930s cattle from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas will be brought to Florida to escape the Dust Bowl drought. Quarter horses will be brought too, to better manage the larger cows. It was only by determination from devoted breeders that the smaller Cracker cows and horses did not disappear all together.

Good thing to. Both the Cracker horse and Cracker cow will be used by off-world homesteaders because of their durability in harsh conditions.

Cracker Cattle

The fight to save the Cracker Cow


The Real Discoverer of Florida

Tuesday, 2 February 1892 - St. Augustine, Florida

I have gone from winter in St. Petersburg Russia to winter in St. Augustine, Florida. No snow here. Temperature is in the 60s (Fahrenheit) today.

St. Augustine as it looks in 1892
St. Augustine brags it is the oldest city in the United States. There are some Pueblo in New Mexico that would argue with that. It is however the oldest port in the United States. Founded in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, St. Augustine predates the first English colony, Jamestown by 42 years!

Old City Gates of St. Augustine
In 1763, Spain traded Great Britain Florida for Havana. In 1783, after the United States took over the colonies, they gave Florida back to Spain for their support in the Revolution. Spain thanked them politely, then ignored Florida which was nothing but a burden to them. They eagerly gave Florida back in 1821.

Florida has a high rainfall. It is also mostly flat. Since there are so few valleys or dells for rain to run off to, it just spreads out and forms swamps. Most of the state is now wetlands full of alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. Is it any wonder no one was too excited about colonizing it?

The swamps also created a haven for runaways. When the US government began rounding up the peaceful Amerindians of the southeast to cart off to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) many fled to the Everglades. They joined what was left of the native population here and created the Seminole tribes. Runaway African slaves also came into the swamps and set up settlements next to the Seminole towns, paying a small tribute for the tribe’s protection. Many intermarried and became full-fledged Seminoles themselves. When the tribes began raiding farms in Georgia, the US Army rounded the renegades up and sent them to Indian Territory. Well, the ones they could catch anyway. Deep in the Everglades the Seminoles are still living and thriving. The government pretends they aren’t there.

freedom-loving Seminoles
Towns in Florida of any size were only in the northern most part of the state. The peninsula had just small communities along the east and west coasts. Florida wasn’t even made a state until 1845, making it the 27th to be admitted. Settlers have come, experimenting with cattle farming and crops like oranges and pineapples. So far the thing that grows best is alligators.

Florida Pineapple Plantation
Until recently St. Augustine was just a quaint little colonial town. Then Henry Flagler showed up. John D. Rockefeller may have started Standard Oil Company, but it was Henry Flagler that turned it into the largest oil company in the world. It currently has a monopoly on the American oil industry. Needless to say Flagler is rich. And he has a good nose for opportunity.

Flagler came to Jacksonville, Florida, a bit to the north, on the advice of his wife’s doctor. It didn’t cure Mary, and she died in 1881. Two years later Flagler married her nurse and he returned to Florida for their honeymoon. This time Flagler came to St. Augustine. He was charmed by the town, but found the hotels and transportation lacking. Rather than warning his friends to avoid the place, Flagler came back in 1885 and started building hotels and bought the local railroad which he is expanding south. Soon he extend it all the way to the hamlet of Miami.

Flagler has turned the sleepy town of St. Augustine into a boom town and can be called the founder of what will become Florida’s biggest industry--tourism!. Flagler has remade St. Augustine. He will soon become the founder of Palm Beach and one of the founding fathers of Miami. Flagler’s “discovery” of Florida is more crucial to the people here than Ponce de Leon’s! I heard someone quip they should rename St. Augustine St. Flagler.

I have come to witness the beginning of Florida’s tourist trade. Right now winter is the busiest time as wealthy folks from up north come to escape the snow. Summer is hot and humid and June to November marks both the rainy season and hurricane season. It will take Disney World in the late 20th century to lure tourists down to Florida in the sweltering months.

While other temporal anthropologists are working in factories or living in bronze-age mud hovels, I get to stay at a posh resort. I almost feel guilty.

The Ponce de Leon, Flagler's first hotel, built in 1888
I'm staying here, 2nd floor on the right
The Ponce de Leon Hotel's lobby


Empress of Russia

9th January 2660 - St. Petersburg, Russia

The University of St. Petersburg had asked me to record as much of Marie Feodorovna as I could. A sticky wicket since Maria is the Empress of the Russian Empire. Her husband Tsar Alexander III is very protective of her, so getting anywhere near her is next to impossible. All the vid I could capture was from a distance, using the zoom on my camera glasses. Even those are fleeting images. The University was happy with what I could bring back--Maria at the high point of a life wrought with triumph and tragedy.

Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar was born in 1847, the daughter of Christian, the fourth son of Duke Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. Never heard of it? That’s because it will be swallowed up by the Prussian Empire. As the second daughter of the fourth son of a doomed dukedom, Maria would be lucky to bag a count or a wealthy industrialist.

However the King Frederick VII of Denmark was childless and his closest relative was his cousin, Louise of Hesse-Cassel. She is married to the above Christian. When Marie was five her father was made Prince of Denmark, and eventually became King Christian IX in 1863. Marie was elevated to Princess Dagmar of Denmark, although her family called her Minnie.

Her oldest brother, Christian, would become King of Denmark. Her next eldest brother, George, would become King of Greece. (Very long story. Apparently they didn‘t like the king they had and went shopping.) Her older sister, Alexandria, married Edward, Prince of Wales and would become Queen of the United Kingdom. Princess Dagmar become engaged to the heir of the next biggest empire, Russia.

Princess Dagmar and Prince Nicholas
Dagmar and Prince Nicholas really seemed to like each other. Tsar Alexander II and the rest of the family liked her, too. Then came the first great tragedy of Dagmar’s life--Nicholas died of meningitis before they were wed. Nicholas’s last wish was that Dagmar still be wed to the heir to the Russian throne, his little brother, Alexander. Dagmar returned to Denmark broken-hearted. The Imperial family tried to console her. She and Alexander became closer in their shared grief and she accepted his proposal.

Maria and Tsar Alexander III
In 1866 Dagmar converted from Lutheran to Russian Orthodox and took the name Princess Maria. In 1881 she would become Empress Maria. Her husband Tsar Alexander III was on the throne while I was there in 1890. Traumatized by his father’s assassination, he is not the soft-hearted ruler Alexander II was. He is gruff, ruthless and as conservative as his father was liberal. And yet he is tender and devoted to Maria. While most Tsars had mistresses, there is no evidence Alexander III ever did. Every Easter he has the House of Faberge make her a jeweled egg.

Maria looked happy the few times I glimpsed her in carriages sitting next to her husband. She has no idea that in 1894 Alexander will die of kidney disease at the age of 49. Maria will be so devastated her brother-in-law, Edward, Price of Wales, will plan the funeral. She will then become the Dowager Empress of Russia as her son Nicholas II becomes Tsar. She will devote her life to helping him anyway she can.

Back, left to right: Michael, Maria,
Nicholas, Xenia and George.
In front: Tsar Alexander with Olga
Maria already lost her second son, Alexander, to meningitis in 1870. He was only 11 months old. Her third son, George, died in 1899 to lung disease at the age of 28. Her youngest son Michael and her eldest son, Tsar Nicholas II and his family will die in 1917, murdered by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution. Her two daughters, Xenia and Olga will escape. They at least will both outlive their mother by 32 years.

The Bolsheviks never came for Maria. Perhaps because she was so loved by the public, or perhaps because she was 70 and no threat. She refused to leave Russia, waiting for her sons she refused to believe were dead. Only in 1919 did her sister, Dowager Queen Alexander, get her to accept an invitation to England. While she loved her sister, Maria couldn’t bear to live in her shadow. She returned to Denmark, where many Russian nobility had fled. There she was treated as their Empress. She died in 1928 at the age of 80, still waiting for her sons, Michael and Nicholas. She was entombed in Roskilde Cathedral in Copenhagen.

In 2005 the governments of Denmark and Russia decided to carry out Empress Maria’s final wish. She was interred in Peter and Paul Cathedral next to her beloved husband, Alexander III with a funeral attended by dignitaries from both countries. Nearby is the tiny tomb holding what remains of her son Tsar Nicholas, his wife Alix and their five children and four loyal servants.

Tomb of Nicholas II and family
I visited Maria’s tomb at Peter and Paul Cathedral and left a bouquet of white lilies. In the Victorian language of flowers they symbolize purity, elegance, sweetness and beauty.

Tsar Nicholas II and his cousin King George V
(or is that George on the left? No that's Nicholas)
Still Life by Marie Feodorovna
If she hadn't been an Empress she could
easily have made a living as an artist

Tribute to Princess Dagmar/Empress Maria