Cowboys and Indians in Spanish Florida

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Cowboys and Indians in Spanish Florida – Vaqueros y Indios de La Florida

Presented by Elizabeth Neily

In 1521, the Calusa Indians may have become the first “cattle rustlers” in Florida, when they took the six heifers and one bull from Ponce De Leon’s ship on his second voyage to Florida. Thus began the long heritage of Florida’s cattle industry.

When Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded town of St. Augustine, he too brought along a small herd of cattle. The hardships experienced by the settlers in their first years was described in a deposition given during the investigation of the corrupt governors left in charge while Menéndez was away trying to secure a continuous flow of supplies to the new settlement. Pedro Gonçalez, a soldier and citizen of Escalena, Spain, arrived in Florida in 1566 and this was his testimony,

“about forty farmers and soldiers, married and single” at the fort. The farmers cultivated the land apportioned to them with maize [corn], and other vegetables. When asked what ‘cattle’ the governor brought to the country, he said that about two years after he arrived there [1568?], as many as twenty horses and mares were brought, and twelve cows, forty hogs, thirty goats and a few sheep, which was all eaten because of the famine and want that occurred; and the Indians killed the hogs.”

Despite the early hardships, the settlement of St. Augustine survived. Eventually cattle from those seed herds would graze as far away as Paynes Prairie, (La Chua) near Gainesville. The legendary Florida “scrub cow” is the hardy descendent of those early Spanish herds.

As a living history participant in Florida Cracker Cattle Drives, Elizabeth tells the story of Florida’s first cattlemen.

Powerpoint program with reproduction artifacts used by Florida’s first Spanish settlers.