To Fence or Not to Fence

If you get very far off the interstate in Florida, you’re likely to drive past a cow pasture or two. Say what you will about the American West, but Florida has been in the cattle industry for centuries. Many aspects of the business have changed over time, of course. Perhaps the most profound change has been the fence that separates you and your car from those cows as you drive past.

Fenced cattle in Central Florida (circa 1960s).

Fenced cattle in Central Florida (circa 1960s).

A hundred years ago, the idea of fencing the open range was widely considered dangerous to the cattle industry, and any farther back than that it was simply unthinkable. By the 1950s, however, legislators had passed a law requiring cattle owners to confine their animals. This transformation of public opinion on cattle fencing was rooted in the transformation of Florida itself.

Cattle drive at Bartow (circa 1890s).

Cattle drive at Bartow (circa 1890s).

Until the early 20th century, most cattle owners did not fence their cows at all. They allowed the animals to wander the open range, going wherever they could find the best grass. Vast tracts of land were still held at this time either by the state or by absentee owners who made no effort to prevent cattle ranchers from using their property for range purposes. Stamping the cows with unique brands allowed the owners to distinguish their cattle from everyone else’s. When it was time to move the cattle to market or pen the new calves up for branding, the cattle workers would round up the animals, often with the aid of cattle dogs, and drive them to wherever they needed to go. This was a particularly beneficial system for smaller cattle operations, who often didn’t have much land of their own. With a smaller population and less development, the open range system allowed all cattle owners to take advantage of Florida’s expansive territory.

In the days before cattle had to be fenced, there was no telling where you might find cows in Florida. In this photo, several cows enjoy a drink near Wakulla Springs (circa 1920s).

In the days before cattle had to be fenced, there was no telling where you might find cows in Florida. In this photo, several cows enjoy a drink near Wakulla Springs (circa 1920s).

As Florida’s population expanded and railroads and automobiles became more common, modernity came increasingly into conflict with the open range method. Trains and cars often encountered cows on their respective roadways, sometimes with fatal results. Additionally, sometimes cows wandered into towns or homesteads and made nuisances of themselves. Many Floridians began calling for a “fence law” to require cattle owners to confine their cows. Some cattle owners were unopposed to this, especially those who owned more valuable “blooded” cattle. A number of other ranchers depended on the free range system to have enough land to feed and water their cows. They saw the prospect of a fence law as a serious threat.

An automobile accident involving a cow in Volusia County (circa 1920s).

An automobile accident involving a cow in Volusia County (circa 1920s).

The debate could be nasty at times. As property owners began fencing their land to manage the movements of the cows, some disgruntled fence opponents would cut the wires or shoot the cows the fence was meant to contain. The state enacted laws to punish fence cutters, but the perpetrators were often difficult to catch. One cattleman went to extreme measures and tied live rattlesnakes up near all of his fence posts to prevent his wires from being cut!

On June 7, 1949, Governor Fuller Warren approved Senate Bill 34, which finally enacted a law requiring livestock owners to keep their animals off the public roadways. Cattle owners who did not comply faced stiff fines, and potential liability for damages caused by free roaming cows.

Brahman bull standing next to a fence (circa 1950s).

Brahman bull standing next to a fence (circa 1950s).

Be sure to check out our Florida Cattle Ranching photo exhibit for more images relating to this historic Sunshine State industry!

It’s National Barbecue Month!

Aside from a few showers here and there, the weather has been awfully pleasant lately, and that has us thinking about all sorts of outdoor activities, especially picnics and barbecues. May is National Barbecue Month, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to review the role of these delicious social occasions in Florida’s past.

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is 8-month-old Mary Odum enjoying a plate of food during a dedication ceremony for several new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is a group of people enjoying plates of food during a dedication ceremony for new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

The concept of getting a large group of folks together for a good meal outdoors is timeless, and some of our earliest photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are of Floridians enjoying picnics and barbecues with friends, family, churches, and communities.

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

Anytime can be the right time for a barbecue, but special occasions make a particularly good excuse to fire up the grill. Florida communities have often celebrated groundbreaking ceremonies, anniversaries of momentous events, and dedications of new buildings and structures with large barbecues and picnics.

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono's Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono’s Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

 

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Barbecues have also had a close connection with Florida politics. Candidates have long used them as a way to rub shoulders with their constituents during campaigns, to celebrate victories, and sometimes even to celebrate Election Day itself. Politics being what they are, these occasions were at times marked with a little roughhousing between the partisans for each candidate. Ellen Call Long described one such Election Day incident in her book Florida Breezes:

“Around the square, people gathered in knots; candidates or their friends made speeches, and all was good humor and sociability, but these culminated with the barbecue, and as whiskey circulated, many a proud-stepping sovereign of the morning yielded his sceptre to King Barleycorn; and there were uproarious haranguers of what American citizens can’t and won’t submit to; and there were fist fights, and consequent bruised heads, with blacked eyes; and oh, those “sons of the soil” that were so gallant, so solemn in that early day – we must spare them, for I dare say there was at home many a ‘sullen dame, gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm.’”

Thankfully, in more recent times the barbecues associated with Florida politics have been much tamer, as these photos demonstrate.

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida's 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida’s 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida's 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida’s 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

So what are you waiting for? Celebrate National Barbecue Month by planning your own barbecue with friends or family. If you’re looking for a great place to do it, check out the Florida State Parks website to find out more about the 161 park facilities operated by the State of Florida.

Also, have a look at the Florida Park Service photograph collection.