Image: Remington, Frederic, "A Cracker Cowboy."
Publication by Harper & Brothers, 1895
Frederic Remington And Florida’s Cracker Cowboys
Cowboys & Indians Magazine
By Dana Joseph
When Frederic Remington first encountered Florida’s “cracker” cowboys while on assignment for Harper’s magazine in 1895, he couldn’t have imagined them as future guardians of some of the state’s most important resources. In fact, he didn’t quite know what to make of them at all.
With his artist’s eye, Remington immediately observed that unlike Western cowboys — with their horned saddles, ropes, and lariats used to work longhorns in a landscape of grassy plains and brush — these Florida “cow hunters” rode “[hornless] McClellan saddles, with saddle-bags, and guns tied on before. The only things they did which were conventional were to tie their ponies up by the head in brutal disregard, and then get drunk in about fifteen minutes.” From what Remington could see, “while some of the tail feathers were the same, [the Florida cowboys] would easily classify as new birds.”
“Visiting the lawless gunslinging town of Arcadia in 1895 didn’t exactly present Remington with a complete picture of ‘cracker’ culture. For each drunken ranger he met, there were dozens of noble and sober pioneers quietly persevering with their families throughout the frontier.”
“When Remington arrived in Florida, his romanticized view of the Old West must have been jostled by the rawness he confronted in the Old South. Even though ranching reached Florida years before it reached the West, visiting Arcadia in 1895 would have been like visiting Lincoln County, Nevada, two decades before, predating the civility Remington himself had experienced.”
Read the full article here
This article confirms a few stories I had heard about Remington’s visit. The way I heard it, and tell it often, the artist came looking for cowboys, like the ones he knew in the west, only to be disappointed in the “quality” of men he encountered here in Florida. Remington cut his trip short and wrote his sister that; "there are no cowboys here, only criminals and scoundrels."
I tell that story along with others with the same theme whenever someone new to Florida is shocked by the level of corruption and depravity found here. Yes Florida has always attracted the lost and desperate, those looking for a second chance or an easy buck. From the Spanish looking for the fountain of youth to the blue hair retirees looking for a warm paradise to live out their last years, most come to start over. And with them come the con-artists and criminals ready to feed off the naive and unaccustomed. "And its always been this way", I always exclaim with pride. GL