OKEECHOBEE -- A mural on the United Way House on U.S. 441 N, in Okeechobee tells the story of a 1937 cattle drive.
The mural depicts 9-year-old Haynes Williams riding his pony on a cattle drive through the town of Okeechobee. A collage of images includes a thunderstorm and a group of children outside a movie theater watching the cattle drive go by.
Haynes and Susan Williams sponsored the mural. Mural design and art director was Bridgette Waldau. Artists were Bridgette Waldau, Fawn McNeil Barr, Maureen Burroughs, T.J. Condon and Jillian Warren. Junior Artists were Lindsay Crum, Rocky Huddleston, Taneisha Mitchell, Rachel Muros, Brianna Skye Nunez, Jack Radebaugh, Hannah Sadler, Donny Sheldon, Nick Valcaniant and Gabrielle Velie.
The junior artists became part of history when they were used as the models for the children in front of the movie theater in the mural.
Peak around the east corner of the mural and you will see a smaller mural featuring Fitz Williams, smoking his favorite pipe, and looking over the cattle on his land, 101 Ranch.
In a 2006 interview with the Okeechobee News, Haynes Williams (1928-2018) told his story of a 1937 cattle drive:
“Back then cattle ranged free. No one owned the land his cattle grazed. Most of the land was owned by out-of-town big investors like Okeechobee, Inc., or the State of Florida.
“It had gotten crowded up near where we were in Highlands and DeSoto Counties. Grandpa needed more space for his cattle. We came from Highlands County down to Okeechobee County on our way to grazing land over at Allapattah Flats. I was allowed to ride with the drive, on my pony, Dan. My father, Zibe K. Williams, was on the cattle drive riding his grey horse.
“I was 9 years old and that three weeks was the horror story of my life! It was July and it rained every day.
“You made maybe 5 miles a day with those cracker cows ‘cause you had to stop and graze part of every day. They had to eat. I cried every day of that trip to go home, but there wasn’t any going home. It was days away by horse through the mud. We didn’t have raincoats then I and didn’t even have a hat.
“When we got to Okeechobee, my grandpa did buy me a hat at the Fair Store. That was a cowboy store owned by Leo Greenberger. The store was here for a long time. But the hat was straw and with the first good rain it just sort of melted away, so I didn’t have a hat either.
“We spent that night at a lumberyard that stood just where Kahootz is now and we ate at Gilbert’s All Night Café. It was part of Gilberts All Night Gas Station on the north side of Park Street, just west of the railroad track but it burned down many years ago.
“That next night, we stayed in a building that was part of Sherman’s sawmill – after that nothing but MUD. Mud everywhere,
“There wasn’t any drainage then, no ditches to speak of. Everything was under water, and we kept having to pull the cows out of bog holes. Everything was under water except the railroad that run along the side of State Road 710 or the Beeline Highway as it is called now. That road went to Indiantown, so we had to drive the cows down the railroad track. The railroad track was the only thing out of water. It was full of snakes and every kind of wildlife you can think of – especially worms. We had to sleep up there on the tracks and I mostly remember sharing my bed with those worms!
“A truck followed us with the cook, our bedrolls, a stove and dry wood to cook with. The stove was just a slab of metal to build a fire on where it was dry. It didn’t take much to cook white bacon and such. All I wanted to do was go home, but of course I couldn’t. I just cried and cried!
“There was only one train a night and he knew we were there so when he got close, he’d blow his whistle to let us know he was coming. Two cowboys each night would have to saddle up and drive the cows off the track so the train could pass us.
“There was just one house between Sherman’s and Indiantown, and we camped there. There was a little girl that lived there, and the cowboys teased me so much about that little girl I wouldn’t go inside the house. I was so shy. I just stayed with the men until we left.
“We were driving about 1,000 head of cattle past Indiantown where we crossed the bridge over the St. Lucie Canal and headed east towards Stuart. We crossed back over the St. Lucie Canal and drove the cows across the Allapattah Flats that is now called Palm City. At that time, there was only one house in Palm City. My grandpa’s cows grazed on this open range for years.
“Between 1940 and 1943, fences were being built and free grazing land was no longer available. My grandfather decided that he had better buy some land because his herd of cattle has grown to about 10,000 head. He purchased 20,000 acres near Fort Drum and 15,000 acres in Glades and Highlands Counties near Brighton. Some of the land cost 50 cents per acre. I remember him saying he didn’t know how someone could afford to pay that much and keep cows on it,
“How did we come to be called 101 Ranch? Well, in 1893, my grandpa Fitz Williams married Sally Collier. Now around that time there had been terrible years of drought out in Oklahoma and my great-grandpa bought a trainload of cows from Zack Miller’s 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and gave them to the newlyweds as a wedding present.
“Well Zack Miller himself came to Florida on the train with the cows. When they were unloading, my grandpa realized they hadn’t picked out a brand – just never thought of it, you see. Zack Miller said they were already branded 101 and there wasn’t that brand in the State of Florida, so he said, ‘Just keep it 101 and go ahead. Just turn them out. And that’s how 101 Ranch came to be in Florida.”
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.