Cracker Culture and the Early Cattle Industry:

    The Cracker culture of Florida emerged from an open range, migratory group of cattle folk.  Their practices originated in England, and became widely used in the Low Country of Carolina during the later part of the seventeenth century; brought to this country by English dissenters.  They drove cattle on horseback using long whips, from which they got the name Cracker, and with cattle dogs.  The Florida Crackers herded scrub cattle, a scrawny, tough bread of wild cattle that descended from a Spanish breed brought during the sixteenth century.  These cattle were self-sufficient, and with the seasonal burnings of the pine barons, which encouraged grass growth, they were of little burden to the cracker cowboys. 
  
    In the early nineteenth century, with the poor soil of the pine barons, antebellum methods of farming were insufficient to produce significant crop in Florida.  To feed their families, Crackers used a method of farming known as “cow pen” gardens.  These gardens were a small fenced in area where cows were penned seasonally.  The manure left afterwards was tilled into the soil, and then potatoes and corn were grown.  Hogs were also fattened on this corn.  Crackers were also known to survive off native foods like frog, gopher tortes, swamp cabbage, snake, and alligator.

    The scrub cattle were organized with brands and were taken care of communally.  Neighbors, friends, and extended family would gather and drive their cattle both up the state to Northern markets, and across the state, to Tampa, for the Cuban and Caribbean market.  Florida had open range laws, but land was granted in homesteads to veterans and was available for purchases.  With the self-sufficiency of their lifestyle, many Cracker cowmen were able to use the money earned from the cattle market for the purchase of more land.  Cattle families like Summerlin and Platt came out of these methods, and as the decades past, they were able to build empires of cattle.  The cattle empires turned to industrialized cattle ranching with the change in market.  They started fencing the open range and invested in blooded cattle.  By 1949 the Florida laws reflected the change with the official close of the open range.


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