Cowhands in Florida?

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by Elam Stoltzfus

October 21, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 2009 several ranches in central Florida were featured for the Kissimmee Basin: the Northern Everglades documentary and later in 2012 for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee documentary.  Ranches and cowhands (cowgirls and cowboys) in Florida maintain large tracts of land that are an essential piece for healthy wildlife habitat.

When I interviewed Florida rancher Cary Lightsey, he said, “Florida’s had cattle for five hundred years, …and they had buffalo before that.  To me, [it] is a stationary part of Florida ranchland…  And it’s just a great cow state, and a lot of people don’t realize how great of a state that Florida is for cattle”.


Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditioner, Carlton Ward, Jr., commented, “I want the people of Florida and our country to know that there is this amazing culture of people in the Florida ranching community, who have been on that landscape sometimes for nearly two centuries; and it’s because of these ranches that we still have the opportunity to protect the corridor for water and for wildlife”.


Interviewing Carlton and Cary Lightsey reminded me of my time growing up on a dairy farm. Like the ranching communities in Florida, my forefathers, Amish immigrants from Germany, have been working the land in Pennsylvania for centuries. Growing up on a dairy farm taught me how to work hard and forged in me a respect for the land.

As a young boy, free time was spent exploring the woods, observing wildlife, and fishing in a nearby creek. I first went fishing when I was five, and I used one of my mother’s safety pins as the hook. I guess none of the fish were looking to get pinned, so I came back home empty-handed.  Later, I got myself a real fishing hook and snagged reams of bass and brim (“sunnies” in Lancaster, PA, slang) from the local farm ponds.

Working on a farm takes commitment and hard work, dawn ‘til dusk. Come to think of it, I always had a few chores in the barn in the morning before breakfast and before going to elementary school. Wonder what I smelled like? Hmmm…

Growing up with dirt in my fingernails makes me appreciate and respect the ranchers and cowhands here in Florida.  It was an honor for me to work alongside these decent country folk, listen to their stories, and learn about how they truly are “keepers of the land.”

When you travel across Highway 60 from the coasts, or go from Yeehaw Junction to St. Cloud or south through the counties of Glades and Highlands, take time to slow down and drive back the gravel roads, off the beaten path.  You may see a glimpse of cowhands riding horses and rounding up cattle in the pastures of Florida.  Cowboys in Florida are one of our great state’s “signature images” that represent our past, present, and future.

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12 thoughts on “Cowhands in Florida?”

  1. My Great Grandfather was James P Love. I believe my Aunt has pictures of the tree and old pics of campus. I’ll have to ask her to post them. My Grandmother was Martha Louse.


  2. Great insight and commentary Elam and Brenda! A well kept secret (at least I think it’s true) is that the largest ranch in the world is in FL. I’ve wanted to take our clan there for an “agri-eco-tourism” vacation but have found no such stays offered.


  3. Elam, love the blog! My grandfather, James Pasco Love, left home at 16 to work cattle in North Florida. We tend to think of Cracker Cowboys in south and central Florida but they were upstate as well. He went on to manage plantations and ran the farm at FSCW/FSU for 30 years. My father, Tom Love, and his siblings were raised on campus and they had to move the family home in order to build the Strozier Library. The huge tree in front of the library is actually named “The Love Oak”. Thanks for all you do for and about Florida!

    Kimball Love


    1. Thanks for your comment Kimball! And, yes, we still have an active agriculture community here in the Panhandle. When I was a student at FSU I loved to sit out in Landis Green, and I would always pass by the oak and think about how many students had sat under that same tree and what all it saw. 🙂 Do you know how old it is?

      Nic Stoltzfus


      1. Hey, Nick – welcome home. I have a picture somewhere of the campus back in the early days. I will try to find it for you. Don’t know the age of the tree but there was a twin to it that was diseased and removed. I think it would have to be at least 150 years old. The amazing thing is that one of the branches looks like a whale’s head, including the eye! I have a picture of that somewhere, too. Take care out there in those swamps!


      2. I’ll have to look for the whale’s eye on the tree! Yes, I’ll take care out in the swamps. I’m not too scared of gators because I can see them, but snakes are what worry me. Thank goodness for rattlesnakes and their warning…can’t say the same for water moccasins and copperheads!

        Nic Stoltzfus


    1. Elam – Hendry of Clan MacNachtan book said, Francis Asbury “Berry” Hendry was born November 19, 1833, near Thomasville, Georgia. Berry’s parents were James Edward and Lydia Carlton Hendry. This Hendry line has ancestor Robert Hendry born in Arran, Scotland on 17 Mar 1752 and died 31 Aug 1830, in Liberty Co, GA (buried Old Hendry Plantation Cemetery). Hope this answers some of your questions. Will have to attend the annual Hendry Reunion the first Sunday in May at the Hendry Methodist Church in Shady Grove near Perry and ask about more cowhands. Brenda Rees | Shaping Florida


      1. More cow stories. Seeing that you grew up on a dairy, you might be interested in what was said to be the longest continuous working dairy in its day(1906 until 1949) , Wiscasett, owned by the Smith family. One of the dairy homes can still be seen north of Interstate 10 and 331 in DeFuniak Springs (perhaps near wildlife corridor). The great great nephew of L. I. Smith, E. L. “Sonny” Hollingsworth (son of P. W. Smith, dairyman), lives nearby. L. I. Smith was a banker in Missouri, moved and acquired land in South Dakota, and after visiting Grayton Beach in 1899 moved with family to DeFuniak Springs in 1903 attracted by Chautauqua, beauty and business opportunities including starting a dairy in 1906. I have many pictures and stories from Anna Smith Hollingsworth Reardon, my step grandmother. Brenda Rees | Shaping Florida 10-26-13


  4. My great great grandmother’s (Nancy Jane Hendry Wentworth) relative, Francis Asbury “Berry” Hendry was a Florida cowhand or cracker. Hendry County, Florida was named for him, May 11, 1923. Around 1852 Berry Hendry married Ardeline Ross Lanier and moved to Fort Meade, Florida where they started a cattle ranch. They marked their cattle with a crop and split in one ear and an upper square in the other. They also branded them with a large “A”, Berry’s middle initial and Ardeline’s first initial. Hendry supplied cattle to the Confederate Commissary Department. During Reconstruction, Hendry continued to build his cattle business and expanded into the abandoned officer’s barracks at Fort Myers. Hendry was among the first in Florida to ship cattle to Cuba through Punta Rassa. By 1876 he had 25,000 fenced acres and 50,000 head of cattle. Brenda Rees | Shaping Florida


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