The War Between the States and Cracker Cowboys

Florida had a limited role in the War Between the States. The state was, of course, on the southern side of the issue.

There were six battles fought in the state, four up along the panhandle and Jacksonville. The other two battles occurred near Fort Brooke and Tampa.

What many do not understand about the southerners along the Florida-Georgia border is that they fought not for or against slavery; most were merely poor, honest, dirt-farmers who were only trying to eke out an honest, meager living on their little corner of the world.

Floridians of the time really were not paying attention to the politics of the era; there were more important matters to tend to, such as basic survival. After all, Florida in the mid-to-late 1800s was a true wilderness.

Pioneer life in Florida was very different from our modern way of life. The citrus industry and massive orange groves were decades away from development and one of the primary businesses of South Florida was beef. People living in the state at the time referred to the cowboys taking care of the cattle as “crackers.”

Even as late as today, many refer to the country folk in Florida as crackers. Sometimes, people use the word derisively, sometimes as a term of endearment. And almost always – improperly.

The term, cracker, actually comes from the days of the early cowboys working the pastures of the south central area of the state. While herding cattle on horseback, one of their primary tools was their leather whip. They would “crack” their whips to control the cows, bulls, and heifers.

These rugged early Floridians lived in the country and became known as Florida crackers because of the cracking sound of the whips. The name originally described a Florida cowboy; today, it is an improper reference to those who live in the country.

Those Florida cowboys would take care of the cattle on the prairies south of central Florida. When it came time for the cattle to go to market, the cowboys would drive the herd to Orlando to put them on cattle cars for the train ride to the Chicago stockyards.

It truly was a sight – the cowboys and the herd slowly making their way to the train station – through the middle of downtown Orlando. The cattle drive through Orlando was an event that happened often through the decades.

The last cattle drive into Orlando happened in the mid-20th Century, just before urbanization and new highways took over the Greater Orlando area.


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