History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.


Raising beef cattle in Florida began almost with the discovery and exploration by the Spanish people. The first cattle came into Santa Rosa County with Maldonado in October 1540, when the Spanish gentleman bearing that name landed on the shores of Puerta da Anchusi to bring a succor fleet to the great Soto then in the interior.

Twenty-seven years earlier, in 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon had touched the shores of the east coast of Florida. His purpose had been different in its inception for he had come to take something away rather than to bring something. Twelve years before the time of Maldonado, in 1528, his Excellency, Panfilo de Narvaez, Captain-general and Adelantado of Florida had circled the west coast of Florida, but he, too, was looking for something to take away from Florida rather than to bring something to, or to produce something of and for Florida.

Oh, yes, it may as well be true that Maldonado did not have any altruistic motives either, but he did leave some cattle here, on the shores of Bahia Santa Maria de Galvez. Ostensibly the cattle were brought to be slaughtered for food for Soto's men, but although Maldonado was here at the appointed time and place, Soto never appeared. Soto had become afraid that his men would desert his expedition to the ships of Maldonado if he, Soto, made his appearance at Puerta da Anchusi so Soto turned westward from the vicinity of Mauvilla (Mobile) Bay. Quite naturally Maldonado made a continued search from his established base at Puerta da Anchusi (lasting for more than three years) only to learn too late that Soto had lain in his burial place (the Mississippi River) for more than seventeen months. Some of the cattle penned on the Santa Rosa shores of Bahia Santa Maria de Galvez (Puerta da Anchusi) managed to escape, some were released to make maneuverable room on Maldonado's ships, and thus the first of the cattle industry of Santa Rosa County was begun. The esta hadkee echee (echee -deer) of the white man was readily adaptable to the "Indians" way of life.

These cows of the Spaniards, as I have been told, were likely to be blends of solid colors rather than spotted (pied) or any of the "belted" combinations. The most common of these colors was a sort of reddish, grayish or bluish roan. They were by no means the heavy blocky type of animal that we associate today with beef-type animals but would be judged today as a rather lean and scrawny looking animal. They were easily identified by their bones, which, although they were not the longhorn of a later Texas era, were often two to three feet in their spread from tip-to-tip, not of the swept-back buffalo type but of a definite widely spread horizontal type.

There were times and places in that time and in this region when these animals were killed for two or three small items then important in the primitive commerce of this region. Those "old timers" in this region often referred to a beef as having "five quarters," quite strangely. They referred to the two fore (front) quarters, the two hind quarters making four, and they called the head, horns, hide, tallow, tripe, and neatsfoot oil as the "fifth quarter." These items being much used and being of much less bulk were often in greater demand and actually brought considerably more in the trade of the time than the other four quarters combined. Beef in those days, when there were no means of refrigeration, was often prepared by drying because of the economy of time and space. This process of drying beef was accomplished by spreading the freshly killed and prepared beet on an overhead rack under which a smoke (often from hickory wood) was kept going in daylight hours. The coming of night or rainy days saw it spread under shelter. The smoke was simply an agent to keep flies and their resultant maggots away from the meat (not as some people have surmised to give the meat a flavor).

This "fifth quarter" rendered often at the same time as the drying process was prepared for market. Both the "fifth quarter" and the dried beef, called boucan by the Spanish pioneers, were not only items of domestic commerce but were also important items in the foreign commerce of the seaports of the region. Sometimes the boucan became an "unwilling" item of seaboard commerce when the pirates and/or privateers of the time raided the drying racks to secure stores of dried beef for shipboard, thus then, the pirates or privateers were sometimes called b(o)uccaneer.

Except for dried beef (boucan) or the "fifth quarter" the market for beef was sometimes very slow. It was something of a special occasion when a dependable market could be found for beef "on the hoof" and when found, six dollars per head might have been considered a very good price. More often it was four dollars per head or even less, often as low as two-fifty. There were times, of course, when the Army, first those of the Spanish King or his colonial representatives, later in turn the French and British, and finally the Army of the United States, might at some points use quite a few cattle for beef but that even was a very uncertain market. These large orders, too, were often unattainable for the small operator, for he often could not get enough cattle together at one time and place to fill such an order.

When the settler, either a large or a small operator, wished to move a herd of cattle from one place to another, he faced a major problem. He often solved this problem in a quite characteristic pioneer way. Beef, "on the hoof" of course, had one very great advantage over some other products of the forest, field, or stream: it could furnish its own transportation. Even so that transportation, as any transportation, in this region, presented numerous difficulties. Northwest Florida has many streams, not swift nor with steeply-cut banks but which, as a rule, are fairly deep and flow southward. So it was easier for travel to follow a generally north and south pattern. The streams could be "forded" or "ferried," but it was not easy. It is not at all surprising that the trading trails were, for the most part, of a general north and south pattern.

One of these trails is of very special interest to us, for it entirely crosses Santa Rosa County. Over this trail much of the trade, such as it was, had moved in both directions. Cattle, even, had been driven over this trail in both directions. The constituent goods of the "fifth quarter" likewise had moved over this trail, mostly southward. The hides were the basic ingredient of the leather that the Spanish (and others later) so much needed for their boots and saddles, the neatsfoot oil as a dressing for that leather, the tallow for the candles to light their homes, offices, and business places.

I have often cited how an ancestor of my own used this trail over which to move cattle "on the hoof" in a southward direction. Those cattle were to be "finished" on the grassy savannas of the coast country, butchered and dried there (as I have described boucan) and traded to the Spanish for Spanish gold; the latter part of the trading trip was made by coastwise schooners. During the return trip the schooners' holds were filled with fish, which in turn were dried on the same racks used for drying the boucan. These dried fish were then moved northward over the trail, sometimes by packhorse, sometimes on the enormous two-wheeled, ox-drawn carts. The dried fish were exchanged for the surplus cattle from the ranges and canebrake of the central Alabama country. These cattle were to be driven southward over one of the well-worn trails to begin the cycle all over again.

It is of some interest to note here that these dried fish were usually moved in "juniper" tubs and that one of the first manufacturing plants in what is now Santa Rosa County was a "tub factory" in that section of what we now know as Milton in the Ferris Hill section. We do not need to say so perhaps, but these tubs found many uses aside from the original one. Whether they were first used as vessels for fish or boucan, or even for some other pioneer goods, eventually they were likely to find ultimate and lasting use as laundry tubs in pioneer homes.

These juniper tubs from this pioneer factory were in themselves good merchandise, to which when added good workmanship and good care they could easily last an ordinary lifetime. I, myself, have seen some of them in use.

We often hear a great deal of talk about the romance and interest of the brands of the "great west." These brands, as you perhaps already know, were burned on the skin of the live animal with a heated iron. These brands were, according to their way of application, of two kinds: stamped brands made by one application of a composite brand, just as if it were a rubberstamp; or the so-called "running-iron" or a plain rod (like a poker) used to trace out the design of a brand. Needless to say most branding was done by means of the stamp brand. It came, in fact, to be usually suspicious when a "running iron" made its appearance since most of those were used by rustlers and/or other unauthorized persons.

In Florida the "brand" came into use earlier than in any other place of the United States -in fact, in the world. Of course, the early history of brands in this county is difficult to trace since about 1869 all the records of this county were burned with the burning of the local courthouse; however, we have checked the existing records and have pulled out some of the entries there as being characteristic of the brands of this county. We understand that many of those listed in the present records of Santa Rosa County were recorded in the old record and have been here re-recorded.

Below is a listing of some of those old brands:

Recording #


Alfred Holley




Wiley J. Williams




Thomas Ates




Jesse Carter Allen



William Kelker




F. P. Snowden




Blake Burnham




John King



Recently there appeared in a national periodical of wide circulation a full length article dealing with a well-known Florida cattle ranch that has been used by many writers as an outstanding example. That article in "The Saturday Evening Post" took the Heart-Bar ranch of Henry C. Partin and Sons of Kissimmee as the example of a great Florida ranch.

There are perhaps others that could be cited as outstanding examples; yet the Partin ranch is a good example. I have enjoyed a visit to that ranch, and I can think of none of the improved practices recommended for modern ranching that I did not see in use there. Yet there were enough of the characteristic things --things you associate with a typical ranch --to give you the feeling that you were in a different place.

The Heart-Bar ranch, it seems to me, is a typical rather than an unusual thing. Not only are there other great ranches around Kissimmee, but there are some almost over the entire state, especially around Wauchula, Bartow, Arcadia, Ocala, Brooksville, Sebring, Lutz, DeLand, not to mention the many scattered over all north, and northwest Florida, from Jacksonville to Pensacola.

The Bar-over-seven () Ranch of Mrs. Pat Johnson and Son of Kissimmee, the S Bar (S-) Ranch of Sarasota, the double L (LL) of St. Petersburg, the Circle L P Ranch (LP) of Clark, and the L Bar (L-) Ranch of Corabelle to mention only a few of the state's thousands of brands.

We deliberately omitted some of the largest operations such as the big Carlton spread of Wauchula, and the Lykes Brothers' operations.

It is worth noting that one of the larger operations in Florida is also one of the largest in America, that its operation includes everything: cattle ranching, packing house and distribution, even steamship lines. It is no small wonder that Florida now occupies one of the foremost, as well as the oldest, places in the cattle industry.


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