Seminoles with Irons During Round-up and Branding at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation


The cattle industry in Florida began soon after the nation’s oldest city, Saint Augustine, was established in 1565. Spaniards imported livestock to meet the needs of the small but critical colony. By the dawn of the 18th century, Spanish, African, and Native American cattlemen worked cows on the vast wet prairies and scrublands found throughout northern and central Florida. La Chula, the largest ranch in Spanish Florida, boasted thousands of head of cattle in the late 1600s. Seminole migrants took up cattle herding in northern Florida following the destruction of the Spanish mission system in the early 1700s. When, in the 1770s, William Bartram visited the Seminole town of Cuscowilla (also seen as Tuscawilla) located near the former La Chula ranchlands on present-day Paynes Prairie, he witnessed thousands of cattle grazing on the lush grassland. The Seminoles remained Florida’s primary raisers of livestock until the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842. During the Civil War, Florida Crackers, so-called because of the sound generated by their bull whips, supplied the Confederate Army with beef and shipped livestock to Cuba and other Caribbean islands via Punta Rassa near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Florida’s modern cattle industry took off with the arrival of railroads in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, cattlemen developed breeds specially adapted to cope with the extremes of the Florida climate. The open range ended in the late 1940s with the implementation of statewide fence laws. Today, the cattle industry remains a vital component of Florida’s economy, and the state ranks near the top of cattle production in the United States. The Seminole tribe of Florida is one of the state’s largest producers. In this photograph, Seminole cowboys on the Big Cypress Reservation hold irons forged in the shape of their initials in preparation for branding the livestock.

Last updated: October 17, 2014