Book Two in the Naked Eye Series: Vegas, Florida Cowboys and Indians

Most of my writing these past few weeks has been marketing related. I’m jonesing to get back to creative fiction writing. I’ve been toying with the title of the next book. I was going to call it Naked Malice. But Naked Odds seems to suit the characters and gambling component that is expanded on.

We’ll be at SleuthFest in February, and then Vegas in April. There are a couple of scenes that take place in Vegas and I have never been. I’d like to get a feel for both the layout of the Strip and the people. (Being able to take in the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show is an added bonus.)

The Seminole Indians, (Native Americans to be more politically correct), here in Florida have a colorful recent history that is also finding its way into Book Two. Another fascinating tid-bit that I’m working in has to do with the “real” American cowboys. There were even Seminole Cowboys.

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Let’s start with the horse. Horses were not native to North America. Or were they?

Should the wild horses that roam North America be considered native wildlife? They may have been “introduced” by man, but scientific evidence suggests that they are genetically the same as the horses that became extinct on the continent between 11,000 and 13,000 years. In fact, the genus Equus could have been wiped out entirely had it not crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into Eurasia. 

Had it not been for previous westward migration, over the land bridge, into northwestern Russia (Siberia) and Asia, the horse would have faced complete extinction. However, Equus survived and spread to all continents of the globe, except Australia and Antarctica.

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Native status for wild horses would place these animals, under law, within a new category for management considerations. As a form of wildlife, embedded with wildness, ancient behavioral patterns, and the morphology and biology of a sensitive prey species, they may finally be released from the “livestock-gone-loose” appellation.

Those of us who have been here a while equate wild horses with cowboys and Indians. Anyone who grew up in the sixties (with, at most, three TV channels) has seen the Wild, Wild West movies and TV shows, which showcased and romanticized the life of both cowboys and Native Americans. So, where did the cowboy originate? Out west? Most would think so.

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In 1493, on Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. caballus, were brought back to North America, first in the Virgin Islands, and, in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent, in modern-day Mexico, from where they radiated throughout the American Great Plains, after escape from their owners.

Wild Horse Herd stampeding

Wild Horse Herd stampeding

The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend.

However, out west in the 1880s, one loosely organized band was dubbed “The Cowboys,” and profited from smuggling cattle, alcohol, and tobacco across the U.S./Mexico border. It became an insult in the area to call someone a “cowboy,” as it suggested he was a horse thief, robber, or outlaw. Cattlemen were generally called herders or ranchers. They were gentlemen and rarely carried weapons (unlike the the cowboys of the wild west shows).

There is regional history of Cowboys; the Texas Cowboy, the California Cowboy, and others. They developed climate suitable regional attire. Florida has its own history of “Cowboys” and they are a proud bunch.

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The Florida “cowhunter” or “cracker cowboy” of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Texas and California traditions. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were bullwhips and dogs. Since the Florida cowhunter did not need a saddle horn for anchoring a lariat, many did not use Western saddles, instead using a McClellan saddle. While some individuals wore boots that reached above the knees for protection from snakes, others wore brogans. They usually wore inexpensive wool or straw hats, and used ponchos for protection from rain.

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Cattle and horses were introduced into Florida in the 16th century . In the 18th century, CreekSeminole, and other Indian people moved into the depopulated areas of Florida and started herding the cattle left from the Spanish ranches. In the 19th century, most tribes in the area were dispossessed of their land and cattle and pushed south or west by white settlers and the United States government. By the middle of the 19th century white ranchers were running large herds of cattle on the extensive open range of central and southern Florida.

Horses first arrived on the southeast North American mainland in 1521, brought by Ponce de Leon on his second trip to the region, where they were used by officers, scouts and livestock herders. Later expeditions brought more horses and cattle to Spanish Florida. By the late 16th century, horses were used extensively in the local cattle business and by the late 17th century the industry was flourishing, especially in what is now northern Florida and southern Georgia. The horses brought to North America by the Spanish and subsequently bred there included Barbs, Garranos, Spanish Jennets, Sorraias, Andalusians and other Iberian breeds. Overall, they were relatively small and had physical traits distinctive of Spanish breeds, including short backs, sloping shoulders, low set tails and wide foreheads.

The vaquero tradition has had little influence in Florida.

The early cattle drivers, nicknamed Florida Crackers and Georgia Crackers, used the Spanish horses to drive cattle. The cowboys received 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. Through their primary use as stock horses, the type developed into the Florida Cracker horse, known for its speed, endurance and agility. From the mid-16th century to the 1930s, this type was the predominant horse in the southeastern United States.These were replaced mostly by thoroughbreds after introduction of “screw worms” from imported cattle, and the Spanish breeds nearly went extinct.

Long before Mickey Mouse came to town, the major attractions in the Kissimmee/Orlando area were the local rodeos. You can still experience the traditional culture of Kissimmee’s cowboys through the Kissimmee Sports Arena Rodeo. The rodeo runs at least twice a month on Friday nights at 8 pm. The Florida cowboy, or Cracker Cowboy became a branding symbol in the 1930s-50s.

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There was a local watering hole called the Big Bamboo on highway #192 for decades. It was a bamboo structure that sat in the midst of a pasture when I was a child. All the cowboys came by to wet their whistles after a long day of herding and told their stories. A wrecked plane and rusted out ambulance graced the front yard, the owner keeping them there as conversation pieces. He was a funny old man and refused to sell the Big Bamboo when all of the million dollar hotels were going up around him. It wasn’t until he died at the turn of the 21st Century that his grandchildren sold off the property and the Big Bamboo was no more. It’s where I had my first taste of alcohol while visiting my Uncle Jim, who started Cypress Cove nudist resort.

But I digress.

Several documentaries have been made about the Cracker Cowboys as they fight to defend their ranch land from encroaching development. Here’s a short clip from one of them.

More than one of these Florida Cracker Cowboys makes his way into Book Two of the Naked Eye Series.

Naked Malice, or Naked Odds? ….the story focuses on some gambling and other issues surrounding gambling in Florida and how the Seminoles are dealing with getting rich quick.

10 thoughts on “Book Two in the Naked Eye Series: Vegas, Florida Cowboys and Indians

  1. I am fairly sure the use of “cracker” as a racial slur against whites throughout present day US has its roots in the whip cracking of Florida cowboys. Interesting that the application of the word today has nothing to do with cowboys or horses. All I know about horses in Florida are the ones at Hialeah, Gulfstream and Calder as I lived in North Miami and Aventura for 60 years. Ocala and Davie horse country too as ranching and pleasure riding.

    • There is a Mennonite Ranch near St Cloud and numerous smaller ranches around the Kissimmee-St. Cloud area. I knew of cracker as a racial slur against whites when I was growing up in GA. The whip crackers being the slave drivers. Sad that we have to have those associations in our brains, but maybe subsequent generations won’t. I didn’t know that crackers were cowboys until I saw a documentary on the cowboys about six months ago.

  2. I like the way you are exploring things outside the common perception of Florida. As for wild horses, parts of Nevada get overrun with them from time to time. They take over water holes and prevent things like deer from drinking. Without large predators, a little control is warranted. The mountain lions get a few, but the balance isn’t there. Burros do the same things. I like them, and want them to stay, but in moderation.

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