Florida pioneer history was on display on Thursday as the annual Florida Cracker Trail Ride visited the historic Edna Pearce Lockett Estate on the Kissimmee River.
The Florida Cracker Trail Association is a group of energetic individuals who share a love and respect for history. Since 1987, the association has sponsored an annual cross-state trail ride, following the path of historic cattle drives. While the cattle drives went east to west, the trail ride travels west to east starting in Bradenton and ending in Fort Pierce. The trail ride re-enacts the cattlemen’s ride home after selling their cattle.
According to the floridacrackertrail.org website, “Today, the term Florida Cracker refers to an independent, self-reliant cowboy and the lifestyle that goes with that character. Each year, the Crackers gathered west of Fort Pierce to drive their giant herd of scrub cattle west across the state toward Bradenton and then to Tampa, Punta Gorda, and Punta Rassa, to ship them to Cuba. Needing provisions for the trip, but having no money, Crackers often stocked up at P.P. Cobb’s General Store in Fort Pierce. Mr. Cobb let them fill their saddlebags with his merchandise and pay him after they had sold their herds to the Cubans, who were willing to pay in Spanish gold coins.
The Cracker Trail was the only dry route across Florida. To the north, the Kissimmee River and its floodplains blocked the way. To the south, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades made passage impossible. Each year, the Florida Cracker Trail Cross-State Ride honors the Cracker Cowmen and their history.”
“We commemorate the return trip,” explained Suzanne Park, trail boss for the 2021 ride. After driving the cattle to market and collecting their gold, the cattlemen usually rode together on the way home both for the company and for security, she explained.
The association currently has 180 members, Park explained. This year about 120 riders hit the trail on Feb. 14. About 80 were still in the saddle as they arrived at the Lockett Estate for lunch on Feb. 18.
The evening stop for Feb. 18 is the Bass Ranch.
On Friday, the group will travel to the Adams Ranch near Fort Pierce, where they will spend the night.
On Saturday, they will participate in a parade in downtown Fort Pierce. Park said due to safety concerns with I-95, they will have to trailer the horses to downtown Fort Pierce and reassemble the group there for the parade, which will start around 10 a.m.
The weather was especially challenging for the riders this year, Park said. On Sunday they were forced to trailer forward to their end camp at the Bar Crescent S. Ranch because it was unsafe to ride. Park said they were able to do some trail riding on the ranch when the weather cleared.
On Wednesday, they also had a rough start due to the weather, she continued. But they were able to make their annual stop at Cracker Trail Elementary School.
View a photo gallery from the trail ride here.