Florida Cowboy














By the last year of the war(1865), the armies of the confederacy were virtually starving, as well as the citizens of the South.

Food was extremely scarce and where Union troops had moved through an area, they commandeered the food supplies of the Southerners leaving them with little to substain themselves.

The contrast between the federal and Rebel soldier was also startling. But there was food to be had for the South. Unfortunately, it was in Florida where beef, pork and other commodities were available but shipments to the starving south were difficult.

The Union had pretty much blockaded every Southern port, so delivery by water was virtually nil. That left only one route--overland, through Florida scrub, palmetto, and swampland.

First of all let's definite the term, "cracker" It has, when referred to native Floridians, as having a somewhat negative meaning.

Not so.

Florida Cracker refers to original colonial era American pioneer settlers of the state of Florida, and their descendents. The first Florida Crackers arrived in 1763 when Spain traded Florida to Great Britain.

The Florida "cowhunter" or "cracker cowboy" of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy.

Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were bullwhips and dogs. Florida cattle and horses were small. The "cracker cow", also known as the "native cow", or "scrub cow" averaged about 600 pounds, had large horns and large feet. The Cracker Cow - or native cow

The term stems from the early days when Florida cowboy cow cavalrymen, in lieu of the rope used by Texas cowboys, welded a bullwhip, 10 - 12 feet long made of braided leather, and when snapped over a cow's head, made a sharp"crack".

Thus was born the term "cracker"

Everglades Timeline

South Florida in the Civil War (1861-1865)

Everglades Timeline

"...with the passage of the Confederate Conscription Act of 1862, the south Florida bush country soon became the refuge for draft evaders and Union sympathizers."

Taylor, Robert A., "Unforgotten Threat: Florida Seminoles in the Civil War", Florida Historical Quarterly, v. 69 no.3 (1991:Jan), p. 303.

Portrait of confederate soldier who helped to protect Florida's cattle herds. Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida.

"While most of the larger engagements of Florida's Civil War took place in the northern half of the state, south Florida became the scene of widespread, if not large-scale, military activity during the conflict's last year and a half.

Much of this action surrounded Florida's valuable cattle trade
and the determination of each side to control the industry to its own benefit. Though occurring on a small scale, the events carried significant implications and repercussions."

Cole, James David, "Chapter Seven: Cattle Wars" in Far From Fields of Glory : Military Operations in Florida During the Civil War, 1864-1865, PhD Dissertation, Florida State University, 2001.


On January 11, 1861, Florida signed a formal Ordinance of Secession and withdrew from the Union.

When the Civil War began, south Florida was the most remote area in the eastern United States, with approximately 7100 inhabitants. Settlers engaged in subsistence farming. Cattle ranching was becoming an increasingly profitable industry. At the outset of the Civil War, Florida was a confederate state, but the Union had considerable force in Key West, a strategic location at the end of the Florida Keys.

The Union navy's East Gulf Blockading Squadron operated out of Key West. Fortifications at Fort Taylor, Key West and Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas, remained in Union hands throughout the war.<


The Confederate states became increasingly reliant on Florida cattle and salt to feed their troops. This reliance intensified after the Battle of Vicksburg when the South lost its trans-Mississippi supply route.

The Caloosahatchee ( 20 miles from Naples in Everglades City)region of southwes Florida supplied 25,000 herd of cattle to the southern army during the war.


In late 1883, Union Brigadier General Woodbury from Key West took up a position in Fort Myers, on the south Florida mainland, to raid the Confederate's cattle herds. The Union presence attracted Unionists in Florida, who formed a company-sized unit called the "Florida Rangers". This force, which expanded in 1864 to become the Second Florida Cavalry, mounted raids against Confederate positions along the Florida Gulf Coast and against the Confederate cattle operations.

In response, the Confederates organized local citizens, herdsmen and cowmen into the 1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry. The force was better known as the 'Cow Cavalry'.


The first recorded combat of the south Florida 'Cattle Wars' occurred in January at Fort Thompson, an old Seminole War outpost on the Caloosahatchee River. A Union scouting party from Fort Myers tangled with a band of Confederates. Other skirmishes ensued in the region, escalating with the arrival of additional troops from both sides.

But strained relations between white Unionist refugees and black soldiers from the newly-arrived Union forces weakened the north's effectiveness. The Confederate's position improved as a result.


The southernmost skirmish of the Civil War took place in February, when the Cow Cavalry attacked Union-operated Fort Myers. The southern forces were repelled, with light causalities, but Union authorities decided to abandon the Fort soon thereafter.


The Cow Cavalry surrendered on June 5, 1865 in Bay Port, Florida, formally ending the Civil War in South Florida.

Timeline prepared by Gail Clement, University Librarian, Florida International University

Click any of the Seven Stories below and Travel to Florida's Magnificent Everglades.

Florida's Magnificent Everglades - A small group of visitors clusters at the edge of a pond behind the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Two minutes of visiting the Everglades and the first gator had already been spotted. Try spotting a bear that fast in Yellowstone.

"CRACKER" The term stems from the early days when Florida cowboy cow cavalrymen, in lieu of the rope used by Texas cowboys, welded a bullwhip, 10 - 12 feet long made of braided leather, and when snapped over a cow's head, made a sharp"crack".
Thus was born the term "cracker"

Romancing the Swamp Local eco-tour provider wades into the Florida wild. Scared of the swamp? Intrigued by the swamp? Then explore the swamp. It will forever change you.

Everglades Stories - We’re trying to find ways to restore wetlands and to do it in a way that will really benefit the water quality when it finally does leave the land and also to store the water there and not sort of pipeline it straight into Lake Okeechobee and pipeline it into the everglades.

Everglades Cape Sable Through the Everglades to a shore about 20 miles to the west of Flamingo, called Cape Sable.and was said to have a pink beach literally made from shells, and also was habitat to the rare and elusive Cape Sable Sparrow, which we all wanted to see.

Little Everglades Ranch - The Little Everglades Ranch is a pioneer ranch establishing the First Santa Gertrudis herd of cattle in Florida. This breed was established to function in hot, humid and unfavorable environments. The Santa Gertrudis was developed by crossing Indian Brahman cattle with British Shorthorns and was first introduced to the Little Everglades Ranch from the King Ranch ~ Kingsville, Texas in the year 1941.