Florida has a rich agricultural history, but one of the historic facts that Florida cattlemen take great pride in is that cattle were introduced into what later became the United States through Florida in 1521. Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish conquistador who first visited Florida in 1513 and later returned in March 1521 with the hopes of colonizing on behalf of Spain on the Southwest coast of Florida near modern day Ft. Myers. He brought 50 horses along and seven cattle to feed the men in this expedition. After skirmishes with the native Calusa Indians, Ponce de Leon received a serious injury, so he and his party hastily abandoned the colony and livestock to return to Cuba in early July, where he soon perished. In 1539, Hernando De Soto returned to explore Florida on behalf of Spain with cattle and horses. In 1540, Don Diego Maldonado brought a large herd of Spanish cattle and horses to the Pensacola Bay area to supply De Soto’s expedition. Maldonado was unable to make contact with the conquistadors, but it was reported that many of the cattle were lost to run wild in the timber of North Florida. In 1565, St Augustine was founded, where once again Spanish cattle were imported with the goal of establishing a ranching industry to support the new colony. This time the colony was successful. A 1700 census of Florida reported there were 34 ranches with 20,000 head of cattle in Florida. By 1840, 30,000 head were shipped out of Florida through the port of Punta Rassa and were sold to Cuban buyers for Spanish gold doubloons. Much of this early history is only available through written documents, but from 1870 forward we have numerous photographs saved in the Florida Memory archives.
I created a video presentation to highlight the rich, 500 year history of cattle production in Florida for a recent Jackson County Cattlemen’s Association meeting. The following video presentation shares over 120 historic photographs and illustrations of cattle ranching from the Florida archive.
If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out others from the Panhandle Ag Team’s featured video archives: Friday Feature Archive