What does it mean to be a Florida Cracker? It’s something slightly different for everyone, and we want to know your thoughts. If you’re a proud Florida Cracker, read on!
I tasted my first boiled peanut 25 years ago. I have to admit, I wasn’t real fond of the first bag. These days, though, I’ll make a U-turn in the middle of Highway 441 to pick up a couple of bags to take home just to watch the girls and Mark fight over them.
About 23 years ago a friend, Bill Phillips, introduced me to cheese grits. I’d never eaten lots of grits—but like they say, “Anything with cheese added has got to be good!” They were right.
Two decades ago I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Florida Cattlemen’s Association’s Convention. The event is held yearly on Marco Island. It was then that I encountered true ‘Florida Crackers’- professional cattlemen and women who have been raising bovines in our state for generations. Over 4,000 hard working, proud, family-oriented folks who are passionate about their industry and the environment attend the conference each year.
Just so we’re all on the same page… let’s clarify exactly what a ‘Florida Cracker’ is.
Way back in the 1800s, folks who worked cattle in Florida were called “cow hunters” because they literally had to hunt for the cracker cattle, a small-bred averaging about 600 pounds that foraged in the dense brush and marshes of our less populated state.
Imagine with me, several cow hunters sitting around the smoldering campfire trying to ‘one up’ the other guy with tales of collecting cattle from palmetto thickets and marshes. Their sure-footed cracker horse is no worse for the ware, but the scratched up, beat up, fed up cowmen are intent on finding a better way to round up the cattle. Thus, cow dogs and cow whips came into the picture to make their jobs a little easier.
Indiana Jones’ whip can’t compare to Florida cow whips, which are typically 12 feet long and are used while on horseback. Back in the good ol’ days, they were made from leather, but with our humid, damp environment, nylon has become the standard. It’s the sound of the whips cracking that helps steer the cattle in the right direction.
This leads me to three years ago when native Floridian Ruben Lamb shared a vision with City Councilman David Owen. It isn’t uncommon for Mr. Lamb to share nostalgic stories about growing up in Marion County. One of his most vivid memories is the cattle drive that used to travel through downtown Ocala. Mr. Lamb’s excitement is quite contagious as he reminisces about cows being driven down Main Street (now Osceola). As a matter of fact, the vision was so contagious that Councilman Owen took hold of the idea and vowed to make it a reality.
The 2012 Cattle Drive went off without a hitch. Numerous residents were quite surprised as they shopped at the downtown Farm Market to see 11 Crackers on horseback herding 20-plus cattle through the streets of Ocala. The 2013 Cattle Drive was an even bigger success! Mr. Lamb, fellow crackers, cow dogs and cattle ended up in Tuscawilla Park at the Discovery Center and joined forces with the Marion County Rotarians and Ocala’s Recreation and Parks staff for a day filled with old fashion fun, Cracker food, country music and much more.
That brings us to this year. The 2014 Cattle Drive is scheduled for Saturday, February 22. And you can be a part of the event before the end of this year. We need folks to submit their ‘Crackerisms’. The best one will be rewarded and placed on the back of our customized T-Shirts. Crackerism No. 13 was “Always drink upstream from the herd.” Good advice, right?
Submit your Crackerism No. 14 to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 31 and remember to keep ‘em clean and G-rated. We’re looking forward to reading all your suggestions. Crackerism No. 14’s proud owner will be notified in January 2014.
I’d like to think 50 years from now the Rotary Discovery Fest Cracker Cattle Drive and Cowboy Round Up will have become an annual Ocala tradition that brings folks from all over the state to experience a taste of Florida Crackers and Marion County’s authentic past. With your help, we can make this happen!
Need a little inspiration to craft the perfect crackerism? Check these out!
“If you’re going to be stupid, you gotta be tough.”
“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with flea’s.”
“If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.”
“It’s all fun and games, and then someone’s gonna cry.”
“He’s got enough money to burn a wet mule.”
“Couldn’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag.”