Five time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Pulitzer Prize group winner and Robert F Kennedy Award winner, Photojournalist Jon Kral is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. To see Jon’s portfolio of work click on any image.
Cracker, Florida’s Endearing Cowboys
In 1521 the first cowboys made their entrance to America with Ponce de León and his cows. The land was, what is now called, Florida.
It is difficult for people to put their heads around the fact that Florida was the first state in the Union to have cowboys and that Florida is the 7th. largest cattle producing State east of the Mississippi River. Florida is home to four of the United States’ 10 largest cow-calf operations. And Florida ranks 12th in the nation in number of beef cows.
In the 1950s Florida was the last frontier in America behind Alaska. With flood, mosquito control and, the biggest frontier killer, the invention of Air Conditioning real estate developers were quick to jump on the opportunities of urbanizing the state.
For years now the Florida Cowboys (also know as “Cowhunters” or “Crackers”) have been a vanishing breed. With encroaching housing development, ranchers are fighting not only to keep their way of life alive, but also to save their own land, which acts as both a habitat for rare wildlife, and a watershed that replenishes Florida’s scarce water supply.
ABOUT THE FLORIDA COWHUNTERS:
Florida’s earliest cattle ranches date to the 1600s, on the Alachua prairie near present-day Gainesville, and lasted about a century. During the 1800s, cattle rising spread from Alachua through Central Florida. During the Civil War Florida provided much of the beef for the Confederate armies. After the war, ranching continued to expand southwest into the Peace River Valley. In the 1910s, ranchers started vat dipping to rid cattle of ticks, and imported Brahman bulls to produce hardy, disease-free cattle adapted to the subtropics. By 1940 Florida had become a leading beef producer. Open-range ranching finally ended in 1949, when the state passed a fencing law. Since then selective breeding and herd-management improvements have made Florida a major cattle-producing state.
Today, medium and large ranches in Central and South Florida and smaller farms in North Florida raise cattle and employ cowboys. Florida’s ranching techniques have been specially adapted to the state’s subtropical climate. The tough scrub cattle of earlier years were a blend of Spanish Andalusian stock brought in the 15th century and British breeds from the Carolinas. To guide the cattle, Florida cowmen use dogs and crack whips in the air. This sound may account for the term Cracker, used to describe the state’s Anglo-American settlers.