THE GREAT FLORIDA CRACKER TRAIL DRIVE ‘16 AND PIONEER WILLARD REDDITT

Mar 31, 16 THE GREAT FLORIDA CRACKER TRAIL DRIVE ‘16 AND PIONEER WILLARD REDDITT

BY : Nancy Dale, Ph.D. 

Author Of The True Stories Of The Florida Pioneer “Cow Hunters”

863 214-8351 • www.nancydalephd.com

I had the wonderful privilege as an author of Florida pioneer “cow hunters” books to participate as a vendor in The Great Florida Cattle Drive, January 30th. at the Silver Spurs Arena, Kenansville.

It was a pleasure to talk with Doyle Conner, who over the years has headed the celebration, which attracts “cattlemen/women, historians, horse lovers and adventurers” to replicate the rugged 1800’s cattle drives across Florida.   Larry Ellis, also assists in heading up the trail ride.

I also had the great fortune of spending time with pioneer Willard Redditt, 92, whose great, great grandfather and wife in the 1800’s, poled 310 miles south from Jacksonville on the upward flowing St John’s River on a “lighter” boat, putting down roots at Lagrange, north of Titusville (in my book “Would Do, Could Do and Made Do:  Florida’s Pioneer “Cow Hunters” Who Tamed the Last Frontier).  The Cattle Drive afforded me the opportunity to introduce Willard to all those cowboys/cowgirls riding in off the trail drive that came over to talk to one of the” real pioneers.”

Willard explained to an attentive audience gathered around him, what it was like as a rancher in those early days, sleeping days at a time despite adverse weather conditions on the hard ground with no covering.  Willard opened up with more true adventures as the day progressed, reliving the days of Wild Florida.

Many visitors, who read about the cattle drive event in local newspapers, drove many miles and were surprised to learn about the area’s rich cultural heritage.  Just down the highway from the arena is pioneer Doug Partin’s (now deceased) ranch where he trained “buckin rodeo bulls” as well as founded the Silver Spurs Rodeo.  When I interviewed him for the same book, he said,

“Enjoy what’s around, as it may not be there in the future.  I’ve spent my whole life on a horse and my grandchildren won’t see it the way it was.”

The Great Florida Cattle Drive is a tribute to those who ventured with their families into Wild Florida after Andrew Jackson sponsored the “Indian Removal Act,” passed by Congress, constructing forts and establishing a bounty on Native Americans unless they agreed to move to federal “Reservations” as in the Trail of Tears when thousands of Native Americans walked or rode in the freezing cold to Oklahoma.  The passage of the Act spurred three Seminole Indian Wars.

After the 1800’s conflict, southern cattle ranchers were given an incentive to carve a new life in Florida when many packed up their families in covered wagons, gathered-up their herds, and foraged their way into the unknown.  They eventually bred their own stock with Andalusian cattle left in the 1500’s by Ponce de Leon before he returned to Cuba and took his last breath, shot by an Indian arrow.

Polk County rancher Dewy Fussell said that in the “1700’s his great, granddaddy made his way through the Flatwoods into what is now Polk County into the Green Swamp where he homesteaded after a very long journey by horse and covered wagon.  Little baby Lewis, my granddaddy, had to learn how to walk all over again.”

These heritage families such as Willard Redditt’s, Doug Partins’ and Dewey Fussell’s are some of the men and women who struggled to create a new lifestyle in Wild Florida and give birth to the Florida Cattle industry.

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