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

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