In 1970, the couple purchases the Tellico farm outside Franklin,
North Carolina, which becomes a retreat for Jo Ann and her eventual
full-time home. Tommy also invests in several developments
and aviation businesses that never cover the cost of Tommy’s spending
and maintenance of multiple families.
As debts mount, they are forced to sell Jo Ann’s beloved Cow
Creek Ranch in 1976 while maintaining the more profitable grove
sections of the ranch. But as debts and losses continue, the groves
are sold in 1981. A decade later the bank forecloses on the “compound”
and Jo Ann’s ancestral home is lost.
With the North Carolina farm their only remaining property,
they look to create a trout farm to produce income. But the infrastructure
to raise the trout is overbuilt and revenue never covers
expenses. To cover debts, Jo Ann is forced to sell the farm, although
she is allowed to live on it for several years. Tommy dies in 1996.
In the late 1990s Jo Ann leaves Tellico to live in a rented modular
home until daughter Debra buys her one in a new manufacturedhome
community. When Debra is unable to afford to continue to
support Jo Ann, Jo Ann is moved to Grandview Manor Care nursing
home in Franklin in 2015.
Once one of Florida’s largest landowners and one of St. Lucie
County’s richest citizens, Jo Ann dies penniless and without property
on Dec. 22, 2020, at the age of 90.
Through the Cow Creek Chronicles, I’ve tried to tell the story,
or “explain that whole situation,” as my Uncle Eddie would
say. It’s taken nearly two years and tens of thousands of
words and I hope I’ve done the story justice.
Since starting Indian River Magazine 17 years ago, I had
been urged by my mother, Katie Enns, to write a story about
her friend, Jo Ann. As the wife of a newspaper editor, my
mom had developed a nose for a good story. Her most frequent
suggestion was to write about Jo Ann.
I knew Jo Ann’s story would be complicated and sensitive
and put off doing anything for years. Though my mom
hadn’t seen Jo Ann in decades — Jo Ann pretty much had
lived in North Carolina full time since the 1970s — they
stayed in contact through Sunday afternoon phone calls and
always a long call on their shared birthday, July 22.
Over the years, my mom would update me what was going
on with Jo Ann in snippets. Little of it was good and always
seemed to involve a deterioration of living standards. Despite
my mom’s reporting of Jo Ann’s many setbacks, they always
seemed laced with a hint of optimism.
In addition to Jo Ann, my mom also had kept in touch with
Jo Ann’s daughters, Kathy and Debra, whom I hadn’t seen in
nearly 50 years. I never knew how close my mom remained
with them until I began interviewing them and they’d refer
to my mom as Aunt Katie and my dad as Uncle Bobby. Both
Tommy and Jo Ann were only children, so Kathy and Debra
had always considered my parents and a few close others as
their aunts and uncles.
When Kathy called my mom in December 2020 to let her
know of Jo Ann’s death, my mom, who had recently been
diagnosed with terminal cancer, told Kathy, “I’ll be right
there behind her,” as if excited to get to a party which she
was missing out on.
It was only after Jo Ann’s death and my mom’s death a
month later that I began working on the Cow Creek Chronicles.
I began with calls to Kathy and Debra.
Both were amazingly forthcoming. They knew their
mother’s life was remarkable — though in many ways tragic
— and felt hers was a story worth sharing, the good and the
bad. Over the next 18 months, I had dozens of telephone interviews
with them leading up to a visit with them in North
Carolina in April.
I became close to them, mostly through the mutual affection
we had for Jo Ann and Katie but also because of our
shared love of Cow Creek Ranch and the memories we had
there. So it was particularly difficult when Kathy, in poor
health in recent years, died last October as the series was
During the course of my reporting, I found that many of
the people I interviewed had that same affection for Cow
Creek as Kathy, Debra and me. Those memories bond all of
us even though it has been more than half a century since our
As I began working on the series, I knew that getting back
to the main ranch headquarters would be key to telling the
story. For it was there that Frank Raulerson purchased the
first section of property in 1923 that would become Cow
Creek Ranch. The land purchase enabled Raulerson to create
a home base — perhaps just the construction of a line shack
where cowboys could stay overnight — back in the days of
the open range, when cattle grazed on shared property that
had no fences.
As the days of the open range ended — the politically
astute Raulerson saw the end coming — he purchased additional
land sections that would create the 23,000-acre Cow
Creek Ranch. The original section, called the headquarters
or home place, was expanded to included cowpens, a horse
barn, tractor barns, a weekend home for Frank and his family,
a bunkhouse and houses for the ranch hands.
GETTING BACK TO COW CREEK
For years, I had longed to return to Cow Creek, wondering
whether in the last half century since I had seen it, the home
place had been bulldozed and replaced with more modern
buildings. I also yearned to go through the Cow Creek
crossing and its cathedral of cypress once more or to find the
old moss-covered tangerine trees my father said Seminoles
planted on the south side of the ranch. >>
PICKERING FAMILY ARCHIVES
The Sloan family in the 1960s near their home on Orange Avenue. Jo Ann
and TL are in the middle and Kathy is on the left and Debra on the right.