Event Description: Whips will be cracking and horses will be prancing as the Florida Cracker Trail Riders, nearly 170 strong not including horses, mules and wagons, will parade on horseback through downtown Ft. Pierce on Saturday, February 22nd at approximately 10:30 a.m.. The parade celebrates the end of the 120 mile trail ride commemorating Florida’s settlers and their rugged cattle raising heritage. The parade begins on the corner of North Indian River Drive and Seaway Drive and travels south to the Traffic Circle, meanders through the Farmer’s Market and commences at Cobb’s Landing by the traffic roundabout on North Indian River Drive.
Following the Civil War, a rugged brand of individuals settled along Florida’s east coast and central flatlands. They scratched out a living raising cattle, pigs, vegetables and fishing. These early settlers became known as Florida Crackers; a reference to the cracking sound made by the braided, leather whips they used to drive their cattle rather than a food preference or a particular philosophy.
The leather-tough pioneers, known as Cracker Cowmen, from up and down the east coast and throughout central Florida, gathered with their scrub cattle each year; congregating west of Ft. Pierce to drive their giant herd across the State to Punta Rosa, near today’s Sanibel. The passage way between Ft. Pierce and Punta Rosa was the only dry trans-Florida passageway. To the north of Ft. Pierce the Kissimmee River and its floodplains blocked the way and to the south lay the big lake and further south the Everglades made passage impossible.
Ft. Pierce’s historic P.P. Cobb Store figured prominently in the cattle drive. Each day, as the cattle massed west of town, Cobb’s store ran 10 wagons, day and night, taking supplies out to the cattlemen and their herds as they prepared for the month long journey. As they crossed the state they were faced with untold hardship; thieves, snakes, swarms of mosquitoes, swamps and disease were just some of the challenges faced by the cowmen.
Once the cowmen survived the long and difficult journey to Punta Rassa (near present day Bradenton) the cattle were sold to the Cubans who loaded them on ships and sailed south. The Cracker Cowmen, their pockets bulging with gold doubloons, took their bounty back to Ft. Pierce and the P.P. Cobb Store where they purchased supplies and provisions for the coming year before returning to their isolated homesteads and their eagerly waiting families.
Many people mistakenly view the term Cracker as pejorative. The cowmen before them and those who participate in the annual commemorative Cracker Trail Ride relish the moniker cracker as a symbol of individualism, integrity, and a heritage nearly forgotten in the rush to develop Florida’s pristine land.
Many visitors and residents have no idea that Florida is one of the Nation’s top cattle producing states. In fact, Florida boasts the oldest breed of cattle in North America. The cows, known as Cracker Cows, descend from the cattle brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Left behind by the Spaniards to turn wild, these scrawny cows were domesticated by the Seminoles in the 1800’s and in turn by the white settlers who later came to be known as Florida Crackers. Florida’s cattle raising heritage and the Cracker Trail itself is immortalized in Patrick Smith’s must read novel, A Land Remembered.
Following the Cracker Trail parade, the public is invited to join the riders to learn more about Florida history and this historic event by meeting the trail riders and learning about local history and the Florida Cracker Trail Association. Opportunities for children to get their picture taken aboard a horse or mule will be available. Of course, carrots and apple slices are always appreciated.
The Florida Cracker Trail Association is a 501 (C)3, not for profit association dedicated to preserving the unique history of Florida through the reenactment of this historic ride and other educational activities. Visit their website at crackertrail.org for more information about the ride.