Florida Cowboys in Popular Imagination and Politics

Living history demonstration of a Florida cowboy in an 1876-era cow camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park: Lake Wales, Florida (1988)

Living history demonstration of a Florida cowboy in an 1876-era cow camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park: Lake Wales, Florida (1988)

Image Number: COM00601

In 1969, the state of Florida purchased 5,030 acres of land from the William Zipprer estate for use as a state park. Lake Kissimmee State Park was opened to the public in 1977. An additional 900 acres were purchased in 1997 and added to the park's western boundary.

Rep. Dwight Stansel, D-Live Oak, demonstrates as part of "Boot Day" activities his bull whip expertise on the House floor during the 2005 Legislature (2005)

Rep. Dwight Stansel, D-Live Oak, demonstrates as part of "Boot Day" activities his bull whip expertise on the House floor during the 2005 Legislature (2005)

Image Number: MF1284

Florida Governor Farris Bryant poses with employees of Six Gun Territory tourist attraction at the Florida State Fair (196-)

Florida Governor Farris Bryant poses with employees of Six Gun Territory tourist attraction at the Florida State Fair (196-)

Image Number: PT00434

Governor Farris Bryant, a native of Marion County, paused during his annual Governor's Day tour of the Florida State Fair in Tampa to have his picture taken with Ocala's newest tourist attraction, Six Gun Territory. Six Gun Territory was a 200-acre western-themed tourist attraction located on State Highway 40 (Silver Springs Blvd) in Ocala, Florida. Designed by Russell Pearson (who also designed Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO and Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, NC), it opened on February 2, 1963, and remained open until 1984.

Cattle Ranching in the Public Eye

Given the long history of cattle ranching in Florida and the importance of ranching to the state's economy, from small, family-owned herds to large-scale operations with thousands of head of cattle and acres of land, ranching has become an integral part of Florida's culture and a significant political consideration. Towns and counties throughout Florida not only still rely on ranching as an economic engine, but embrace ranching and cow-culture as essential parts of their identity, promoting ranching heritage for tourism as well.

From ranchers who are elected to statewide office to the political and economic clout the industry wields, Cattle Ranching's interests are well-represented in Tallahassee. And for all Floridians, true cowboys, native cattle breeds, generations-old ranches, rodeos, and cattle drives are a part of who they are.

In past decades, dude ranches and "Wild West" shows capitalized on the power of cowboys and ranching in the popular imagination, if not always accurately celebrating the state's native cattle traditions. As a tourist destination, Florida has sometimes catered to the preconceptions of its visitors, while other enterprises, such as living history museums and state and local parks have more accurately portrayed real Florida ranching, from the earliest Spanish missions, to the Cracker settlers and the success of Seminole ranchers.

Whether as attractions for tourists, important economic and political voices, or enduring symbols of Florida's perseverance and diverse cultural heritage, cattle ranches and the men and women who work on them, preserve traditions, entertain, and innovate are a part of Florida's history and future.

Governor Jeb Bush posing with Babcock Ranch cowboys: Punta Gorda, Florida (2006)

Governor Jeb Bush posing with Babcock Ranch cowboys: Punta Gorda, Florida (2006)

Image Number: PT05042

"…Governor Jeb Bush [signing] the Babcock Preservation Act, taking the State a step closer to completing one of the largest and most unique conservation purchases in Florida's history. The new law provides $310 million to acquire nearly 74,000 acres of the Babcock Ranch property, which spans both Lee and Charlotte counties in Southwest Florida. The Governor was joined at the bill signing by members of the Florida Legislature, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Colleen M. Castille and a host of community leaders."

Directors of cowboy week, Hal Davis, left, and Donald Kay, right, practice up on rope tricks: Ocala, Florida (1948)

Directors of cowboy week, Hal Davis, left, and Donald Kay, right, practice up on rope tricks: Ocala, Florida (1948)

Image Number: C009449

"Directors of cowboy week, Hal Davis, left, and Lion's Club president, Donald Kay practice up on rope tricks."

Grand entry of cowboys and cowgirls: Lakeland, Florida (1950)

Grand entry of cowboys and cowgirls: Lakeland, Florida (1950)

Image Number: C012616

Unidentified cowgirls: Kissimmee, Florida (1966)

Unidentified cowgirls: Kissimmee, Florida (1966)

Image Number: C660026

The Silver Spurs Rodeo was founded in 1944 by the Silver Spurs Riding Club in Osceola County.

Rancher, Jim Dandy with his horse Lightning: Pass-A-Grille, Florida (1947)

Rancher, Jim Dandy with his horse Lightning: Pass-A-Grille, Florida (1947)

Image Number: C008300

Dude rancher Jim Dandy of St. Petersburg leaves his horse farm once weekly to instruct "Sunny Hours Wednesday Cowboys" in riding. At the end of the day he treats the children to a one-man horse show on the beach with this 4-gaited "Lightning."

Three boys dressed as a cowboys with their horses: Saint Petersburg, Florida (1947)

Three boys dressed as a cowboys with their horses: Saint Petersburg, Florida (1947)

Image Number: C008311a

Dairymaids and cowhand with cow at Tupperware Jubilee (1955)

Dairymaids and cowhand with cow at Tupperware Jubilee (1955)

Image Number: C021128

Unidentified cowboy gets a soda from the soda shop: Bonifay, Florida (1949)

Unidentified cowboy gets a soda from the soda shop: Bonifay, Florida (1949)

Image Number: C012862

Wild west show at Pioneer City: Davie, Florida (1967)

Wild west show at Pioneer City: Davie, Florida (1967)

Image Number: C670179

Pioneer City was a tourist attraction that featured a faux western town, staged gunfights, a train ride, and a saloon. It operated for only a few years in the 1960s.

Bob Cobb talks to some local cowboys and Patrolman H.M. Whitworth while Silver looks on: Ocala, Florida (1948)

Bob Cobb talks to some local cowboys and Patrolman H.M. Whitworth while Silver looks on: Ocala, Florida (1948)

Image Number: C009387

Accompanying note: "Traffic problem-over parking: Bob Cobb, rider culprit Silver, three year old Brahman Steer, Patrolman H.M. Whitworth surrounded by cowboys. "Meter specifies autos doesn't state time limit for steer. At annual stock show, Ocala."

Wynona Beville and her horse: Lakeland, Florida (1947)

Wynona Beville and her horse: Lakeland, Florida (1947)

Image Number: C002212

Accompanying note: "Wynona Beville, Center Hill, Fla., adds color to any rodeo, with her bright cowgirl clothes and beautiful auburn hair. Comes from a family of pioneer ranchers."