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Monday, January 9, 2017

Florida Crackers--The Original American Cowboys

If I asked you where the first American cowboys were found, what would your answer be?  Texas? Arizona? California?

Would you believe FLORIDA?

Yep. The first recognized cowboys in America were the Florida cowboys, known as "Cracker Cowboys" or "Florida Cowhunters."

When Spanish explorer Ponce de León discovered Florida in 1513, he found the land was mostly wide open green spaces. So, when he returned in 1521, he brought horses and cattle.

He also brought vaqueros. With each return trip, the Spanish brought more cattle and, with them, more vaqueros. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Spanish set up ranches well before the Mayflower pilgrims were even born.

These men who tended the cattle turned Florida into America’s oldest cattle-raising state. These cowboys, called “crackers,” got their nickname from the distinctive cracking of their whips, and the name was transferred to both the horses they rode and the cattle they herded.

Despite the cattle fever ticks, storms, swamps and snakes, before 1700 there were already dozens of ranches along the Florida Panhandle and the St. Johns River, and 30 ranches set up along the Florida Panhandle which had become successful enough that they had begun exporting cattle to Spain's colony, Cuba.

The distinctive stock horse the cowboys rode became known for its speed, endurance and agility. From the mid-16th century to the 1930s, this breed was the predominant horse in the southeastern United States. It’s recognized now as Florida’s state horse.
During the 1860s and the Civil War, Florida became a chief supplier of cattle to the Confederacy -- both for meat and leather. Arguably, Florida’s greatest contribution to the Civil War was the food its ranches provided Confederate troops, which the “Cow Cavalry,” small militia groups made up primarily of Crackers, kept secure.

Let’s here it for the first American cowboys---from Florida.


  1. I knew Ponce de Leon had horses and cattle with him on one of his voyages to Florida, but I didn't know about the "Cracker Cowboys" part of the story. Thanks for this information.

  2. I do love these pieces of history. Thank you for finding and sharing this great information. Doris

  3. It always amazes me how much happened in the United States so early in its history. I have never heard about these "Crackers" managing cattle in Florida--and before the Pilgrims even arrived. Well shoot, who knew? This was such great information. Well done, Tracy!