Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Ranchers recall legacy of black cattlemen in Florida

One of John Brown’s earliest memories is of sitting atop his Uncle Lawrence’s horses, pretending he was a cowboy. It was one of his favorite pastimes growing up in Kissimmee, and it became a love that has carried on throughout his life. Brown’s "Uncle Lawrence" was Lawrence Silas, an iconic figure in Osceola County and regarded as one of the greatest cowboys in Florida’s cattle ranching history. Documents show Silas built a cattle empire in Jim Crow-era Kissimmee, cultivating a ranch that spanned thousands of acres and included hundreds of varied livestock. The tradition of black ranch hands tending herds on the Florida frontier dates to the 17th century. The exhibit shares the little-known story of how those ranchers helped develop the state’s cattle industry, two legacies that Florida Agricultural Museum curator Mary Herron says are intertwined. Herron spent nearly two years researching the information included in the exhibit and built a permanent ode to Florida’s black cowboys, which opened at the Palm Coast exhibition hall in 2009. The touring version was based off that exhibit. It chronicles herding traditions from their African roots through Europe to today’s ranch lands in the Sunshine State. “The cattle industry is really a quintessential part of Florida culture and economic life because it spans the entire range of Florida’s history following European contact,” Herron said...more

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