Portrait of Seminole Indian Cowboy Charlie Micco at the Brighton Indian Reservation


Seminole Indians dominated Florida’s cattle industry during the early 19th century. The Seminoles themselves, not originally cattle people, inherited abandoned Spanish livestock in the 16th century and adopted herding into their own culture. Seminole cattle all but vanished as a result of fighting during the Seminole Wars (1817−18, 1835−42, and 1855−58). Following the removal of the vast majority of the Seminoles and the seizure of their cattle, the remaining Florida Indians adapted their herding culture to the abundant supply of wild hogs found in central and southern Florida. The federal government developed a cattle program for the Florida Seminoles during the Great Depression as part of the Indian New Deal. The program was intended to provide an economic foundation for the tribe, and aimed to ultimately wean Seminoles off of a traditional hunting lifestyle no longer feasible in southern Florida. A starter herd shipped from a western reservation arrived in the early 1930s but fared poorly in the Florida heat. Subsequent breeding efforts combined the desirable traits from Florida scrub cattle, descended from the old Spanish stock, with proven beef-producing varieties. The breeding programs eventually resulted in hardy animals capable of withstanding the climate and retaining weight. Charlie Micco, pictured here, was instrumental in the early development of the cattle program at the Brighton Reservation, located on the northwest corner of Lake Okeechobee. Federal officials chose Micco because of his previous experience working cows for white ranchers near Brighton. The government helped manage the Seminole cattle program for several decades. The Seminoles gradually took over total control of the program in the latter half of the 20th century. The photograph is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country.

Last updated: March 14, 2016