Ranching In The Sunshine State

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life, Uncategorized

The Sunshine State, Disney World, Universal Studios, beaches, and the Everglades: I bet you know what state I’m talking about. These are the many things that people associate with my home state, Florida. And while they play a big role in our culture and economy, there is another big player that not many people know about: ranching.

Even though cattle were introduced to Florida in the early fifteen hundreds, after a shipwreck on the coast to Florida, the cattle industry had a slow evolution in the state. During colonial times, Florida changed hands on several occasions between Spain and England, until it became a United States Territory in 1819, later becoming a state in 1845. Between the time of cattle’s first introduction to the state and Florida being acquired as a territory, the cattle industry had a different face, compared to its western counterparts at the time. Before it’s American acquisition, the cattle industry in Florida consisted of the homesteads of Spanish colonies (depending on who had control of the area at the time) and the notable herds that were raised by the Seminoles and other Native American tribes in the area. When settlers started to seep out of Georgia and Alabama into the new territory, the cattle industry took a new turn for two reasons. 1) The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forcing the majority of the Seminoles to leave Florida. 2) The new settlers brought a style of farming and animal husbandry and way of commerce to Florida that they had to adapt to suit the climate of this wild new territory. After a significant derailment caused by the American Civil War, the Florida cattle industry was built to an even bigger status with demand for beef by the Spanish army in Cuba, as well as the introduction of the railroad into Florida. Like many places after the reconstruction period of the post Civil War South, business was back and booming.
Cut to the 21st century where a rancher’s daughter (that’s me!) is sitting on her bed typing away about ranching in Florida, having ridden thus far on the legacy of those who came before her (both by blood and tradition), and is now trying to figure out how to carry on that legacy on her own horse.

When I was younger, I always dreamed about ranching on the prairie or in the foothills of the Rockies, but I was so entrenched in the peninsula of Florida, I thought of Alabama as a western state. I learned to love ranching in Florida, and for most of my life that’s all I really knew. I spent my childhood on horseback, chasing my dad through swamps and woods in pursuit of cattle just praying that my horse wouldn’t trip on a log or get bogged down in the mud. Sometimes when we would ride out in the early
mornings and it was so foggy, I would pretend that we were in the old days going out to gather cattle that had been grazing in the swamps all winter. When we would go down to Okeechobee, I thought that was a wide-open space, the tree line was probably ten miles away. The only place that I had seen that you could see until the curve of the earth was at the beach staring out into the ocean. There were times when I would get separated from the crew while trying to drive cattle out of thick woods, and that would make me slightly panic, until I heard the dogs barking while they bayed up the cows.


But the thought of getting lost on a western prairie scared me. In the woods I knew what to do. Find your way out and get out on a hill to look for the trucks, or follow the fence line and you would eventually find your way back. And if I did get lost in the middle of nowhere, I knew what to eat and had plenty of wood for a fire; but on a prairie, there was nothing for miles and miles except grass, my horse, and me. I have seen places out west, and yes, it has confirmed my fear of being lost out on a prairie, but it also awoke some desire that I never knew I had. The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains, it was like I had seen a giant being. I didn’t know what to say, but I guess that is how people feel when they see the ocean for the first time. And the colors! In Florida, everything is green or brown, but out west there are so many shades of orange and green and blue, it’s quite amazing. I have talked to lots of ranchers who have ranched all over the United States, and while I always have questions and am hungry for their stories, I am always surprised that they are fascinated to hear my stories about ranching in Florida.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life, Uncategorized

About Marisol Tarango

Marisol lives on her family’s ranch in Central Florida where she grew up working cattle and horses with her dad and four siblings, while being homeschooled by her mom. Today she balances her life between working on the ranch, working as a church secretary in...

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