2010 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada
Roots in the Deep South
For the 26th National Cowboy
Poetry Gathering, the Western Folklife Center, Elko,
Nevada invited the Seminole and “Cracker” cowboys from Florida and
swamp cowboys from Louisiana to be their featured guests. Invited
guests included poets, storytellers, cooks, Creole zydeco musicians,
craftspeople and Seminole Indian cowboys.
cowboy Geno Delafose and his band, French Rockin’ Boogie, performed
during the Gathering and at the Friday Night Dance. Their regional
specialty, Zydeco, is a lively music played for dancing. When he’s
not playing music, Delafose is operating his Double D Ranch outside
of Eunice, deep in Southwest Louisiana’s bayou country, where he
breeds cattle and raises American Quarter Horses.
designed the poster for the 26th Gathering Elko Gathering. Jim is an
award-winning graphic designer and artist from Gainesville, Florida.
people today believe that the cattle industry and “cowboy culture”
were first established in the American West, and over the years
popular movies and media have supported this idea, but Florida is
one of the major producers of beef cattle in America and ranks third
in cow numbers in the United States. Florida's unique ranching
traditions have been adapted to the subtropical climate and
influenced by the state's distinctive history. Florida has more than
one million cattle and produces more beef than some western states,
ranching is one of Florida's oldest and most important cultural and
occupational activities. In 1513, Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce De
Leon, the first recorded European to land in North America, came
ashore in Florida. Upon his second voyage to Florida in 1521, he
brought cattle, horses, citrus, and fellow pioneers to settle the
new land. This expedition landed on the southwest coast of Florida
and off-loaded the first cattle and horses in what later became the
United States of America. Soon after, they were forced to make a
rapid retreat from Florida when Ponce De Leon was mortally wounded
in a battle with the fierce Calusa Indians. The Andalusian-bred
livestock that arrived on that voyage and the voyages to follow ran
wild, reproducing and roaming throughout Florida for hundreds of
years. More Spanish explorers followed, and, as the area became
settled, the Florida cattle industry began to develop.
Seminole Indians rounded up herds of the wild cattle and horses that
were descended from the original Spanish stock and became the first
American cattlemen. Some of those Seminole descendants still
maintain cattle in Florida to this day.
In the 19th
century, settlers who were mainly of Celtic and British descent came
down to Florida from Georgia and the Carolinas. Some brought their
own cattle with them and some rounded up the wild Spanish-descended
cattle. Some of these settlers even purchased cattle from the
Seminole Indians in order to begin their ranches.
pioneering Celtic and British families were a major influence in
settling the state of Florida. Many of these families’ descendants
still own and run the ranches in the cattle heartland of
South/Central Florida today.
“Cracker” has been historically used to refer to these early
settlers and it is a somewhat controversial term. Some claim that it
comes from the rifle-like “crack” of the Florida cowman’s whip; Most
modern Florida cattlemen are proud to be called “Florida Crackers,”
as it symbolizes being part of a unique and little-known culture.
cattle business has flourished since the mid-18th century. In their
part of the country, they say, “anyone can herd cows on dry land!”
with sharing their music and poetry, discussion sessions were held
at the Gathering to point out the similarities and differences in
the cowboy culture of Florida and that of the Great Basin.
One such was a
Roundtable Discussion on Working Cattle Dogs with participants Billy
Davis, Darryl Guillory, Jon Griggs, and Mitch Heguy. The moderator
was Bob Stone of the Florida Folklore Program.
Billy Davis, a
Florida “Cracker,” said, “My dogs are more important than three
extra cowboys when it comes to working cattle in the swamps of
Florida.” Darryl Guillory, a wild cow hunter from Louisiana, said,
“Without my dogs, I just as well stay home.” John Griggs and Mitch
Heguy Elko County ranchers described the use of their dogs. Mitch
said, “In the Great Basin, I use my dogs to drive cattle and hold
them up in a rodear where we can work cattle in a fence corner. Our
dogs are not used so much to find cattle since the country is open
and most cattle can be found.”
about problems the dogs encounter, Billy Davis said, “I will not let
my dogs drink until I ride over and take a look. I train my dogs to
stay back until I tell them to come. The reason for this is that we
have alligators and big snakes everywhere in Florida and they are
hard on dogs. We lose dogs every year to gators, snakes and to
heat.” John Griggs, Elko rancher, replied dryly, “We have very few
gator problems in the Humboldt River Drainage where I live.” He
continued, “However, we use our dogs to drive cattle more than
finding and holding them up.”
and Louisiana cowboys raised mostly Black Mouth Cur hounds and the
Nevada ranchers liked the Border collie.
dogs are bred with one purpose in mind: to produce dogs that work
well with cattle. Specific breeds might be included in the mix.
Probably the most popular is the Southern Blackmouth Yellow Cur,
also known as the Blackmouth Cur.
the origins of the Blackmouth Cur are debated, it is now a
recognized and registered breed. Another dog breed popular in
Florida and Louisiana is the Catahoula Leopard, which has its
origins among the French or Native Americans of Louisiana.
However, the Florida cowman has no interest in purebred dogs; they
are often too nervous, or have other weaknesses. Good cow dogs
might contain strains of cur, for all around endurance and good
working traits; hound, for long wind; and bulldog, for strength and
aggressiveness. Mature male cow dogs usually weigh sixty to seventy
pounds, females five to ten pounds less.
Folklife Center installed a new exhibition in its Wiegand Gallery
for the 26th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, in Elko.
Florida Cattle Ranching: Five
Centuries of Tradition explores the history and
contemporary culture of the Florida rancher and cowboy, known as
"Crackers," a moniker that refers to the pioneer descendents of the
state as well as to the sound of the cow whip he (or she)
traditionally uses to help move cattle through the tough;; Florida
Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition
includes historical and
contemporary occupational gear, clothing and tools of the trade used
by Florida cowmen, as well as photographs and original artwork
depicting them at work and play. This exhibition will be on display
in the Wiegand Gallery until July 24, 2010. The Wiegand Gallery is
open from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday and from 10:00
am to 5:00 pm on Saturday.
As usual at the Poetry
Gathering, numerous concurrent events took place including a ranch
tour and several art and gear shows. Workshops ran the gamut from
traditional rawhide braiding with Doug Grove to digital photography
with Jay Dusard and Kurt Markus.
One of several
good gear shows, the Great
Basin Gear Show and Sale at the Northeastern Nevada Museum was a
collection of cowboy gear from contemporary western artists and
craftsmen which included saddles, bits, spurs silver engraving and
rawhide. JM Capriola and The Elko Convention and Visitors Authority
sponsor the show. Also on exhibit in the Halleck Bar Gallery
complimenting the Gear Show were original paintings by Genny Albitre.
highlight of the music presentations, perennial favorite Ian Tyson,
songwriter and musician, from Alberta, Canada, was named and
presented with the Western Horseman of Year award by editors A.J.
Mangum and Jennifer Denison of the Western Horseman Magazine. Ian
says, "I'm trying
to ride home, to complete the circle in a way that validates my
art. I'd like to continue to be creative, because I still have
something to say."
Folklife Center is committed to sharing cowboy cultures from around
the country and the world at their annual festival. In the past, it
has presented cattlemen and women and their artistic traditions from
places as far away as Mongolia and South America. In 2011, the event
will welcome Csikos, horsemen
from the plains of Hungary. Information on
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
is available online at
www.westernfolklife.org, or by calling 775-778-9695.
courtesy of, Bob Stone Florida Folklife Program and by Lee Raine