When it comes to Florida cowboys, Otis Odell “Pete” Clemons is a name to be remembered ... but some know him as “Kowboy Jake.’
“Mr. Pete” was a famed former rodeo star, rancher. He was also the owner/operator of Florida’s premier cattle market, the Okeechobee Livestock Market.
Highly regarded for his friendliness, honesty and genuine desire to help people, Clemons was considered by many to be the best-known and best-loved cattleman in the state.
Clemons was born in 1927 and grew up working on cattle ranches in Osceola and Highlands counties. His parents, Oscar and Theresa Bronson Clemons, were both members of pioneer Florida cattle families.
His professional rodeo career began when he was in high school and continued until he was 37. While many rodeo cowboys specialize in one event, Clemons did them all. He competed in saddle bronc, bareback bronc, calf roping, steer wrestling and bull riding. (Clemons never competed in team roping, which was added to professional rodeo in the late 1960s. He once joked, “I never even cheered for team roping.”)
Clemons paid his own way through the University of Florida by competing in rodeos on weekends. In 1950, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture.
In 1949, Pete Hunt from the Kissimmee Chamber of Commerce asked Clemons to represent the Kissimmee Jaycees at the National Jaycees Rodeo in Colorado Springs. Clemons fixed up a pickup truck to look like a chuckwagon. His friend, Buster Kenton, painted a cartoon cowboy based on Pete on the side of the vehicle. Kenton named the character, “Kowboy Jake.”
In Colorado Springs, as usual, Clemons entered all the events. The western competitors were stunned to see a Florida cowboy take home the All Around Cowboy title.
After Clemons brought the title back to Florida, Kowboy Jake was adopted as the mascot of Osceola High School.
As a rodeo cowboy, Clemons served as an unofficial ambassador for the Florida cattle industry both nationally and internationally. He competed throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada and Cuba. He appeared in televised professional rodeos on a regular basis. He also raised championship rodeo bulls on his ranch in Okeechobee.
He won eight All Around titles at the annual Silver Spurs Rodeo in Kissimmee. This required excelling in five events: saddle bronc, bareback bronc, calf roping, steer wrestling and bull riding.
In 1961, with the help of his father and another partner, Clemons purchased the Okeechobee Livestock Market. Under Clemons’ leadership, the market became Florida’s largest cattle market and one of the largest-volume dealers east of the Mississippi. Today, the market provides a variety of special services, including locating buyers and sellers of cattle herds and bringing bull sales from out-of-state to local buyers. Clemons expanded cattle marketing to include video and internet marketing venues and helped start one of the first internet cattle auctions in the United States.
He traveled twice to South America to serve as an ambassador of U.S. rodeo.
In 2008 he was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame.
The high regard for Clemons by his peers was reflected in his selection as “Big Boss” of the National Day of the American Cowboy celebration in Okeechobee in 2007 and 2008.
In 2009, Clemons was the recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award. In 2013, he was named to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2011, the National Day of the Cowboy honored Clemons with the Cowboy Keeper Award. The Board of Directors of the National Day of the Cowboy organization bestows its annual Cowboy Keeper Award on organizations, events, projects and individuals it determines have made, or are making, a substantial contribution to the preservation of pioneer heritage, as well as to those whose efforts support the continued growth and preservation of cowboy culture.
In 2016, the Florida House on Capital Hill in Washington D.C., added Clemons to its list of Extraordinary Floridians “as one of the best known and beloved cowboys in our state.” The Florida House honored Clemons with its first Florida Icon Award.
Clemons was a strong supporter of the Florida beef industry and worked hard promoting beef cattle ranching. In the early 1980s he served as chairman of the Florida Beef Council and helped guide the use of Beef Check-off dollars to raise consumer awareness about the healthfulness of beef and to build beef demand.
He served as a board member and an officer of the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Association. He was president of the organization in 1979, and in later years he coordinated the group’s fundraising rodeos, which pay for beef promotion and college scholarships. In recognition of his many years of service, the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Association named him an honorary director.
Clemons was a strong proponent of property rights, fair trade and reasonable business and land-use regulations. He was a past president of the Florida Association of Livestock Markets and was active for many years in the Animal Industry Technical Council, which works with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on animal health and disease eradication issues.
The Florida Farm Bureau honored the Clemonses’ farm with a “This Farm CARES” designation. Since the 1970s, Best Management Practices have been used on the Clemons Oak Creek farm to control runoff from the property and manage the water, nutrients and pesticides to reduce agriculture’s impact on the state’s natural resources.
Clemons passed away on Sept. 16, 2018.
In 2022, Okeechobee Main Street unveiled a Cattle Drive sculpture project in Flagler Park in downtown Okeechobee. The sculptures include a horse and rider sponsored by the Clemons family in memory of Pete Clemons.
Some information for this article came from the Silver Spurs Rodeo, Florida Memory Project and the National Day of the Cowboy Association.
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.