Whips are part of Florida cow hunter heritage

Posted 11/4/22

The crack of whip, echoing as loud as a gunshot across the Florida prairie, is part of Florida’s heritage.

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Whips are part of Florida cow hunter heritage

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OKEECHOBEE — The crack of whip, echoing as loud as a gunshot across the Florida prairie, is part of Florida’s heritage. In the pioneer days, whip-cracking cow hunters gathered cattle from the Florida brush.

Some say that sound is the origin of the terms “Florida Cracker” and “Cracker cow hunter.”

“It’s the sound,” explained Gordie Peer, remembering his days as a day-working cowboy. Starting in the 1950s, Peer, a wild west showman, rodeo performer and movie stuntman, spent his winters in Okeechobee County where he purchased 20 acres. He kept a few cattle of his own and worked with his friend Pete Clemons at the Okeechobee Livestock Market. On occasion, Peer helped out for a day here or there on other ranches. Sometimes he’d help gather cattle to take to the Okeechobee Livestock Market.

“You don’t whip the animal,” said Peer. “You rarely get close enough to touch them. “The sound of the whip cracking spooked them, so they’d all bunch up. Then you could drive them to the cow pen.

“The cattle would spook from the sound, just the way people do,” said Peer. “Pop a whip and they duck to get out of the way.”

The crack of a whip was also a way for cowmen to communicate with each other in the dense brush. “If you hear a whip pop, you know somebody’s over there,” explained Peer. “It was used rather than yelling. If you were working with someone, they might say, ‘if I get in trouble, I’ll crack the whip’.”

Whips come in different lengths ranging from 8 to 14 feet, he explained. “Some people don’t have the arm enough to swing a longer whip.

While it’s easier to get a loud pop from a 10-to-12-foot whip than from a 6 or 8 foot whip, some people have more difficulty safely handling the longer whips, he explained.

Others like the bragging rights that come with a longer whip. “Some people just use it to prove their ability,” he added.

The longest whip he’s seen was at a ropers’ gathering. The man rolled out a 105-foot-long whip and made it snap, remembered Peer. But such a long whip would be of no use working cattle.

Peer learned to braid his own whips after watching a whip maker braid six lengths of rawhide. He perfected his whips by adjusting them for length and weight. He learned to crack the whip and hit targets with a whip with lots of practice.

In Hollywood, Peer became friends with the man advertised as “King of the Bullwhip,” Lash LaRue. LaRue starred in westerns in the 1940s and early 1950s. His character in the movies would disarm villains using a whip instead of a gun.

His real name was Jack LaRue, said Peer. LaRue was an actor, not a cowboy. When he first starred in the movies, he didn’t really know how to use the whip, Peer explained.

“In the movies, he would swing the whip and then later they put the sound in.

“I worked with him and helped him with it,” said Peer.

LaRue was later credited with teaching another actor, Harrison Ford, to use a whip for the Indiana Jones movies.

In  December 2022, the Great Florida Cattle Drive will hit the trail, driving approximately 1,000 cattle from Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, zigzagging to Kenansville.   Follow along as we celebrate the Florida cattle industry and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime on Great Florida Cattle Drive.

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