A Brand You Can Trust

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.

By the time Florida became a United States territory in 1821, Spanish, British, and Native American Floridians had all taken part in developing the region’s cattle industry. Most of the cattle raised in Florida were what we would call “Cracker cows” or “scrub cattle. They roamed freely over the open range. When cattlemen needed to round them up, they would go out on horseback and “pop” them out of the woods with the aid of trained cattle dogs and whips.

Sketch of a

Sketch of a “whip cracker” by Bill Simpson (1961).

With no fences separating one cattleman’s territory from that of another, you can imagine that the herds tended to mingle. This could produce some nasty disputes among the owners, especially when one of them believed the mingling might have been “assisted” by a fellow cattleman.

The solution? Marks and brands. A “mark” or “earmark” was a pattern of cuts and crops made on the ears, while a “brand” was a symbol stamped on the cow’s flank using a hot iron.

Old Spanish cattle brands, as drawn by Joe Akerman for his book, Florida Cowman (1976).

Old Spanish cattle brands, as drawn by Joe Akerman for his book, Florida Cowman (1976).

Beginning in the 1820s, each Florida county had an official in charge of recording the various marks and brands used by the cattlemen to differentiate their cows from everyone else’s cows. The State Archives of Florida holds a number of records relating to this practice, including a book of marks and brands from Escambia County dating back to 1823.

Cover of Escambia County's record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

Cover of Escambia County’s record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

In the earliest days, the vast majority of cattlemen branded their cattle with one or two letters on one flank or the other, as this record indicates:

Page 1 of Escambia County's record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

Page 1 of Escambia County’s record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

 

Later on, some cattlemen became a bit more creative. This was in part to make it more difficult for their brands to be altered or confused. Here we see a particularly fitting brand recorded by William and John Bell in 1866.

Bell-shaped brand recorded for William and John Bell, page 77 of Escambia County's record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

Bell-shaped brand recorded for William and John Bell, page 77 of Escambia County’s record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

For all the mullet connoisseurs out there, this next brand ought to bring out a chuckle. Perhaps the William Murphy who recorded it was also a fan of this North Florida favorite:

Bell-shaped brand recorded for William and John Bell, page 77 of Escambia County's record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

Mullet-shaped brand recorded by William Murphy in 1879, page 107 in Escambia County’s record of marks and brands, 1823-1890s (Series L14, State Archives of Florida).

This book of marks and brands is just one of many, many local government records held by the State Archives of Florida. If you’re considering a project on a Florida community, try searching the Archives and Library catalogs for relevant holdings, or contact us to learn more. We’ll be glad to hear from you!

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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.

Photograph of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings with typewriter

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953)

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.

Photograph of oaks with moss over water from Cross Creek, FL

Cross Creek, FL

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.

MGM set for the film adaptation of The Yearling, 1940 with Gregory Peck & Jane Wyman

MGM set for the film adaptation of The Yearling, 1940 with Gregory Peck & Jane Wyman

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.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home - Cross Creek, Florida

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Cross Creek, FL

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.