ST. CLOUD — Have you ever wanted to experience a real cattle drive? Plans are underway for the Great Florida Cattle Drive in 2021.
In December 2021, a group of Florida cow hunters will spend a week herding approximately 1,000 cattle from Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, zigzagging on a trail for about 60 miles to Kenansville. The trek will take seven days and go through areas of the state that are still in their natural state, or as close as anything gets to it in Florida. Cattle drives do not move quickly; The herd will cover about 10 to 12 miles a day. It will take two to three days just to get off the Deseret Ranch, which covers more than 300,000 acres and spans three counties.
Anyone can go, so long as you have a horse to ride or a horse or mule drawn wagon to ride in. Those who plan to go are advised to start early on conditioning their horses and themselves for the physical demands of the trail.
“We want to offer this adventure to as many people as possible,” said Doyle Conner Jr., of the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee.
The camping will be primitive, just as it was for those on historic cattle drives. However, unlike the cracker cowboys who ate whatever game they could hunt along the way, or made do with beans and jerky, participants won’t have to worry about bringing, catching or cooking their own food. Three meals a day will be provided for the participants. Hay and grain will be transported to each night’s campsite for the horses. Water will also be provided for humans, equines and bovines.
The cattle drive will be a chance to honor the history of Florida and the history of the cattle industry, explained Mr. Conner. In 1521, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon brought the first cattle and horses to Florida’s shores. He attempted to settle in the land of the Calusa people around present-day Fort Myers but was sent packing by those Florida natives who had no interest in any European neighbors. The livestock remained, however, and from that day the cattle industry has been important to Florida and Florida has been important to the cattle industry of the United States, Mr. Conner explained.
The cattle industry was the first industry in North America, he said.
In 1995, the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee celebrated Florida’s 150th Birthday by driving 1,000 head of Cracker cattle about 100 miles through some of Florida’s most beautiful and historic ranchland. More than 600 riders also made the journey, trying to stay as true as possible to the original cow hunter experience. Participants wore authentic clothing, slept on the ground under the stars each night and enjoyed the adventure of a lifetime. The nightly cow camps included programs about the state’s history. This event was recognized as the largest celebration of the Sesquicentennial in the state.
As the Quincentennial of the arrival of cattle in Florida approaches, the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee is planning a celebration like the cattle drive hosted in 1995.
The committee will work closely with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Osceola County, the City of Kissimmee and many others to make the event a success.
The Great Florida Cattle Drive will feature Spanish cattle, Cracker Cowboy poets, historians, singers, storytellers, artists and artisans.
Great Florida Cattle Drive celebration events will visit cities for the entirety of 2021. Communities already on board to participate include St. Augustine, Tallahassee, Kissimmee, Orlando, Tampa, Okeechobee and Palm Coast.
Anyone who would like to be part of planning and presenting The Great Florida Cattle Drive of 21, is welcome to attend the committee’s next meeting on Aug. 17 at the Osceola Extension Service Building (next to the Spurs Arena) in Kissimmee, at 1 p.m. You don’t have to be chosen or appointed, said Mr. Doyle. Anyone who volunteers will be put to work.
For more information online, go to greatfloridacattledrive.org.