Not everyone thinks of the Sunshine State as being cow country, but in reality Florida has been in the cattle business for about five centuries. When Juan Ponce de Leon arrived on his final mission to Florida in 1521, he brought Spanish Andalusian cattle with him to help provision the growing settlement he hoped to establish on Florida’s Gulf coast. Even after the settlement failed, the cattle remained and multiplied.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was the first Floridian to receive the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel (later named the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). She won the award in 1939 for her book The Yearling.
In 1928, Rawlings purchased an orange grove in Alachua County near Hawthorne, FL. Located between Lochloosa Lake and Orange Lake, the site was called Cross Creek. The surrounding area served as a setting, provided the characters, and influenced the stories of most of her novels and short stories. Themes of rural Florida, the Big Scrub area, and Florida Cracker culture are prevalent in her works.
The plots of her novels revolved around her observations in this area: farming, hunting, the interaction with the environment and its inhabitants, moonshining, and poverty. Rawling’s depictions were so direct from her experience, people she met were named in her novels and descriptions were recognized by the locals resulting in threats and at least one law suit for invasion of privacy.
Her works garnered several awards including an O. Henry Award in 1932 (for “Gal Young Un”) and the Newbery Honor in 1956 (for The Secret River). Several of her works have been adapted for stage and screen. The story rights to The Yearling were purchased by MGM and an Academy Award winning film adaptation was released in 1946, increasing her fame.
Rawlings’ Cross Creek home, where she once hosted Zora Neale Hurston, is now preserved as the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.