Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ponce de Leon left future Clay County cattle ranchers a gift

When Calusa Indian warriors attacked Ponce de Leon and his settlers in 1551, they hastily decamped leaving behind a tiny herd of cows and a bull or two from the mountainous Andalusian region in Spain and cattle have been a significant part of Clay County and Florida history since then. For decades, those tough little Spanish cows almost raised themselves reproducing steadily while wandering free wherever forage took them. Roundups in the spring meant hard work branding calves and separating out those for sale and getting them to market. Overhead was low and productivity high. Florida’s climate produces lush growth of vegetation to support cattle but it also provides the perfect environment for both diversity and profusion of insects. Horseflies were a curse for man and beast alike. Locals tell of seeing cows huddle together and whip their tails for protection both from swarms of horseflies and mosquitoes. But the Texas tick invasion on the horizon would prove a different matter.  Florida ranchers, ever an independent bunch, were not initially convinced that the Texas tick was a problem or that the new scientific solution of dipping cattle in arsenic was the answer. They particularly resented Tallahassee’s compulsory dip law passed in 1923. In Central Florida, 15 dipping tanks were blasted out of the ground with dynamite. Clay County ranchers did not go to that extreme, they just dragged their heels until it became clear that it was going to cost them more not to cooperate. Georgia installed two lines of four-strand barbed wire fence, 15 feet apart for 200 miles from the Chattahoochee River to the St. Marys River. They stationed armed patrols every 20 miles along the Georgia side and threatened to shoot to kill. No cow could be transported into the state unless it was dipped and certified. Quickly other states endorsed the quarantine – that got their attention. Between 1910 and the 1950s the state government built more than 3,000 dipping vats in Florida. Thirty-eight of those were in Clay County. A vat was made of concrete three feet wide, seven feet deep and 30 feet long. It was filled with a solution in a formula prescribed annually by state authorities then bid, purchased and distributed to the sites. All livestock were to be dipped every two weeks...more

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