he’s been in the saddle 57 of his 72 years in Florida. The real
cowboying, Coker tells Clark, is done in Florida, not “in the
West where all they do is rope ’n ride.”
“Bring one of those fellows down here, put him in the
woods to look for cattle and bring ‘em in, and the next thing
you know … he’s lost … lost so bad he doesn’t know where
the barn is,” Coker tells the reporter.
Junior Mills is also profiled and talks about managing
wildlife at the ranch. Among other duties, he’s in charge of
keeping the ranch’s hog population down — the hogs root up
ground, making it dangerous for horses and vehicles — and
reports that 400 hogs were harvested in the last three years.
The ranch is managed with some 30 horses and 18 dogs that
are used for herding cattle or recreational hunting.
Also in the series, cowboy Will’um Thomas recalls the days
of the open range before the Fence Act of 1949, driving cattle
to markets in Fort Pierce or Tampa at a time when a cowboy’s
pay was about $1 a day.
For the Tampa trips, he says, “You carried ‘nuff groceries in
your saddle pocket for yourself and your horse to last twothree
days or until you met up with the chuck wagon. All the
cookin’ was done over open fires and you slept rolled up in
The Fence Act required the construction of fences to keep
cattle contained and ended the need for cattle drives. Where
once the cattle were driven to market by cowboys riding on
horses, tractor-trailers began arriving at the ranches and hauling
the cattle to market.
LIFE OF THE RANCH COOK
A big part of one profile focuses on ranch cook Betty
Mills, who begins every day at 5 a.m. cooking for as many
as eight men.
She fixes a breakfast of grits, bacon, eggs and toast. For
lunch — the biggest meal of the day — she prepares turkey
and dressing, potato salad, baked sweet potatoes, sliced tomatoes,
mustard greens, black-eyed peas, lima beans, backed
fresh pork ham with barbecue sauce, rice, gravy, biscuits,
cranberry sauce, banana pudding and a choice of iced tea or
Kool-Aid to drink.
“You never have two days alike on a ranch,” she tells the
reporter. “The men never have the same type of day they had
yesterday. Today, they may build a fence. Tomorrow, they
may gather cows. There’s always variation.”
AN OMINOUS STATEMENT
When ranch owner TL is interviewed, he declines to say
how many cattle the ranch has at that time. “That’s just like
me asking you how much money you have in the bank,” he
tells the reporter.
He speaks with pride about the ranch’s advancement under
his leadership during the last 20 years. “We’ve developed
it and mechanized it to the point we have a good professional
operation. We’re also diversifying — we have orange
and grapefruit groves on the northern edge of the property.”
In the interview, TL laments the falling prices of beef and
the low margins in the cattle business. “I could take what I
have at the ranch, sell it and invest in tax-free municipal
bonds and make more money.”
Because of rising land prices, he predicts fewer ranchers
will get in the cattle business, with a small number of ranches
producing most of the state’s beef.
The statement is ominous.
Like the menacing storm clouds that gather on the ranch >>
TL Sloan became president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association in 1972.
Legendary cowboy Junior MIlls arrived at Cow Creek Ranch in 1970. Mills
later gained fame as a speaker for the Florida Folklife for his knowledge of
cracker cowboy culture and whip-making.