Travis Larson takes his horse out of the old barn so the two can set off to work
Travis Larson raises mostly Brangus cattle at his ranch. cattle on the new version of Cow Creek.
through the Cow Creek Ranch headquarters, which would
explain why the headquarters is so far away from either of
those roads today.
I pretty much conclude that the story of Cow Creek Ranch
has a good ending — the historical nature of the headquarters
is preserved — and the ranch is in the hands of people with a
vision for the future of agriculture.
The Larsons have also restored the name Cow Creek to the
ranch, which had undergone several name changes since the
days of the Sloans. It was known as the V Bar 2 when Charles
Vavrus bought it in 1976 and then the Vernon Smith Ranch
under Smith’s ownership. During the Larsons’ purchase of
the ranch, Travis persuaded his father to return Cow Creek
to the name because of the historical ties and its location on
UP THE CREEK
After our visit to the home place, at my urging we load
back into the trucks and head for the Cow Creek crossing,
which Buddy and Deroy assure me will not be the same as I
remember. I am riding shotgun with Buddy with Deroy and
Alfred in the truck behind.
Driving along, Buddy points to a dike where a barbed wire
fence runs alongside it. Buzzards are perched on the fence, an
“That’s it,” Buddy says. “That’s Cow Creek.”
My heart sinks. Where once was the creek crossing — a
large swamp with a swath cut through a cathedral of trees —
is now merely a dike that you drive over, with culvert pipe
carrying the creek underneath.
Buddy explains that Vavrus, who bought Cow Creek
from the Sloans in 1976, and his manager, Larry Kestner,
had diked the creek and harvested and sold the abundant
cypress in its waters.
The creek, which seemed almost as wide as a football field
in the rainy season, always had presented an obstacle getting
from one side of the ranch to the other and the dike certainly
solved that problem. But removing the creek crossing robbed
the ranch of its soul and South Florida of one of its most
scenic vistas, undoubtedly one held sacred by the Seminoles
who lived by the creek.
We park the trucks where the creek once was, get out and
start sharing memories again. Deroy, Buddy and Alfred talk
about the days of driving cattle through the creek. “I remember
this, right here, you could swim your horse across it,”
says Alfred, who dropped out of fourth grade in the 1940s to
work as a full-time cowboy at Cow Creek.
The visit was especially heartfelt for Deroy, who was observing
his 65th birthday on the date of our return to Cow Creek.
Deroy recalls a day when tin cups were hung from the
cypress trees so cowboys could use them to scoop up water
from a creek so clear you could drink it. He remembers catching
perch out of the creek and frying it up right away.
“This used to be my whole world here,” he says. “This is
where I grew up, where I planned on being my whole life.
My parents were here over 50, 60 years. When I come back
even after all these years it just seems like home.”
We load back into the trucks and head for the main gate
on State Road 70. I’m numb. It was an emotional day for all
of us, where we had some of our earliest and best memories.
Though the creek crossing was gone, we were greatly comforted
that many other parts of the ranch had not changed
and the news of the conservation easement meant much of
the wildlife areas would be protected.
As Buddy is driving across the ranch back to the gate, he
tells me how important Cow Creek was to who he is and
how it formed him as a man. He recalls the wonderful life his
parents gave him there and how Tommy and Jo Ann were
important in creating an environment where those connected
to the ranch were made to feel like they were stewards of a
great cause. >>
Buzzards mark the spot where the cypress-domed Cow Creek once flowed.