This is the third in a series of stories about the lives of a pioneering cattle family and the vast ranch they established.
PAINTING BY E.L. KENTON
THE SERIES TO DATE
The Cow Creek Chronicles is the true-life story of a pioneering
Florida family and the vast ranch they established. In
the first two episodes, Keightley Raulerson arrives in Fort
Pierce in 1896 and later wins political office, helping form
the early governments of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County.
His younger brother, Frank, arrives in 1907 with wife,
Annie Louise, and their young son, Alfred. Keightley dies
in 1913, leaving Frank to oversee a cattle business, slaughterhouse
and grocery store.
Frank grows the businesses and wins election to the
county commission. He builds the landmark Raulerson
Building in downtown and a new home on Orange Avenue
in the 1920s boom era.
In the 1930s, he wins office to the Florida Senate. He
also begins making large purchases, creating a 23,000-acre
ranch along the St. Lucie-Okeechobee county line called
Cow Creek. Frank’s son, Alfred, is the presumed heir to all
that Frank accumulates, but when Alfred dies in a boating
accident in 1938, the only heir is Alfred’s 8-year-old
daughter, Jo Ann. Frank and Annie
Louise persuade Jo Ann’s mother to let
them raise the young girl, arguing that
they have better means to do so.
She relents. Jo Ann grows up a child of privilege but
is also conflicted. She is both influenced by her grandmother’s
Victorian-era values and her grandfather’s
desire to make her a cattlewoman capable of running
Cow Creek and his other land holdings.
The death of Jo Ann’s father and separation from her
mother steels Jo Ann’s emotions, allowing her to endure
almost anything. Annie Louise dies in 1951 and Frank
sells off most of his real estate
holdings, except Cow
Creek, before his death in
1954, putting his assets in
a trust that becomes available to Jo Ann after her 30th
birthday and beyond the 1960s.
Jo Ann marries a clothing salesman and lothario,
Tommy Sloan, in 1952. She gives birth to their two
daughters, Kathy and Debra, while he is in the Army.
On his return home, he begins to learn the ropes of
running the ranch and, despite an awkward start, wins
his way to becoming president of the St. Lucie County
Cattlemen’s Association in 1958.
He’s also on several non-profit boards and in 1963
becomes head of the Florida Beef Council.
Feeling confident in his standing in the community, he
makes an unsuccessful bid for the state House in 1966.
At the ranch, Tommy develops a loyal work crew and
mechanizes some of the ranching functions such as the
vaccination and dipping of cattle against diseases. He
learns to fly and purchases a plane that helps him manage
the ranch. He also installs a runway. Jo Ann, active in
the local Cowbelles, the auxiliary of the Cattlemen’s Association,
becomes head of the state CowBelles in 1968.
Word of the couple’s accomplishments reaches a television
producer who in 1968 films life at the ranch for
the ABC television show Discovery. The show elevates
Tommy’s national standing as a rancher.
But the home life isn’t as perfect as pictured. In 1963,
Tommy fathers a son by another rancher’s wife. By the
end of the decade, daughter Debra has left home for
boarding school while older daughter Kathy, a junior
in high school, is experimenting with drugs and begins
secretly dating a man seven years older than she is.
By 1970, a chance drive down a dusty road during
a vacation in North Carolina creates a turn in the