Vick Blackstone would have loved participating in the Great Florida Cattle Drives. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1987, eight years before the first of the three reenactments of Floridian cattle drives that the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee under the auspices of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Agricultural Museum coordinated. The first Great Florida Cattle Drive was organized in 1995 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Florida statehood and the second was in 2006. Vick was named Man of the Year in 1970 by the Rodeo Hall of Fame, and, in 1985, the Florida Senate and House passed joint resolutions citing Vick Blackstone for Outstanding Service to Florida Agriculture. Celebrating the Cracker cowboy heritage is always done with a tip of the hat to men and women like Vick and Faye Blackstone.
On July 22, an evening spent taking a look at 2016 Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles was offered at the Hideaway Cafe in St. Petersburg by father/son filmmakers Elam and Nic Stoltzfus with music by J Robert Houghtaling as he performed some of his original songs that are featured on the film. The documentary, narrated by Baxter Black, tells the story of the Great Florida Cattle Drive 2016, the history of Florida’s scrub cattle breed, and how they almost went extinct. A DVD, a CD, and a coffee table book were produced and are available for anyone who does not have the opportunity to see a live presentation of this Floridian historical event.
Carlton Ward, a photographer who participated in the drives, wrote “A lot has changed since the first Great Florida Cattle Drive in 1995. Florida’s population has grown from 14 million to 20 million and more than 2 million acres (more than 3,000 square miles) of natural and agricultural lands have been lost to development.
That trend was apparent as I headed south down Canoe Creek Road to the starting point of the drive. New developments sprawled out from Kissimmee and St. Cloud, covering what had been ranch country just a few years before. I learned from the trail bosses that it had been increasingly difficult to find enough connected land for a cattle drive from one decade to the next and that the prospect of being able to do it again is very much in question.
It’s when I think about the landscape of the cattle drive that my concern shifts from nostalgia for the heritage to fear for the future of Florida. Four years ago, I hiked across this cattle drive route on Day 53 of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1000-mile, 100-day trek from the Everglades to Georgia tracing the best remaining wildlife corridor through the Florida peninsula. Our team’s mission was to show that a statewide wildlife corridor still existed and could still be saved.”
The cattle drives have been widely cover in newspapers and periodicals like the Los Angles Times and Western Horseman. Mike Cleary wrote in the LATimes that “Most of the Great Florida Cattle Drive ’95 runs over private land, including hunting preserves where wild boar, deer and alligators thrive. But on Saturday morning, at trail’s end, the cattle will be herded across busy U.S. 192, a main road into a better-known symbol of Florida: Walt Disney World.
The cow hunters driving the cattle are expert riders nominated by the cattlemen’s associations in each of Florida’s 67 counties. The journey averages 10 miles a day, and at night the cows are penned in prearranged locations, where the cow hunters set up camp. Trailing the herd is a mile-long retinue of more than 30 wagons and about 400 horseback riders.”
Susan L. Ebert wrote in Cowgirl magazine that, “Last year’s Great Florida Cattle Drive, featuring the state’s famed cow hunters, delivered an unexpected surprise: women outnumbered the men!” She concluded with, “As momentum builds and the urgency to preserve Florida’s ranching legacy and wilderness increases, planning is already underway for the fourth Great Florida Cattle Drive, to be held in 2021 to mark 500 years of Florida Cracker tradition.” So, if anyone wants to participate in the next celebration of the cattle drive, start planning now.