Back in the 1960s and ‘70s when I was
growing up, the biggest thing to happen
in Fort Pierce every year was the Sandy
Shoes Festival. It was held at the peak of tourist
season each winter and featured everything
from beauty and beard-growing contests to
barbecues and bake-offs. It culminated each
Saturday with the Cattlemen’s Parade, which
featured the typical floats, but was distinctive
because of the hundreds of horse-riding cowboys
and cowgirls representing the various
ranches in St. Lucie County.
We watched the parade each year outside the
home of Tommy and JoAnn Sloan, who lived on
Orange Avenue, the main parade route, and also
owned the Cow Creek Ranch just east of the St.
Lucie-Okeechobee county line. My parents were
friends of theirs and my dad often spent his
Mondays, one of his days off from his newspaper
job, helping out at the ranch.
For the parade, we’d get decked out in our
cowboy shirts, jeans and hats and find a prime
spot to sit on the curb, waiting to see our favorite
ranching unit come by. Some years my
FLORIDA PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
George “Junior” Mills typified the rugged spirit of individuality
and self-reliance of the Florida cowboy.
dad would even ride in the parade aboard the
ranch’s lethargic white gelding named Matthews. For the most part, the Cow Creek troupe
was an eclectic group of cowhands and their families without much organization or pageantry
compared to the other ranching units.
But one year, as the Cow Creek unit came down Orange, a lone cowboy broke from rear
of the left flank. With the precision of a cavalry officer, he trotted up to the front of the unit
and made an about face with his horse. The unit stopped and the cowboys on the left side
of the unit angled their horses in a line. Then, simultaneously, the horses curtsied to the
crowd as the cowboys tipped their hats. The crowd roared with approval, and no other
ranching unit that year had displayed such finesse.
It turned out the cowboy leading the precision drill was none other than George “Junior”
Mills, who had recently moved to Cow Creek with his family and began working on the
ranch, one of many cowboy jobs he held since the age of 14. Mills was a cowboy’s cowboy.
When I’d tag along with my dad out to the ranch on Saturdays for hunting excursions, we
wouldn’t see many of the cowhands because they were out hunting or taking the day off.
But Mills could always be seen busy doing something — scalding a hog, harvesting honey
from his bee boxes or plaiting a cow whip, a skill for which he became quite famous. Mills,
who walked with a crooked gait acquired from years of being thrown from horses, lived as
close to the land as anyone could. He typified the spirit of individuality and self-reliance of
the Florida cowboy. His years of clean living gave him the blessing of years, and he died in
2006 well into his 90s.
I feel lucky to have seen Mills in action, so it was with great excitement that we learned of
the establishment of this year’s Pioneer Festival on Feb. 27, which will feature a parade of
dozens of cowboys and cowgirls finishing up the annual Cracker Trail ride that originates
in Bradenton (see our cover story on Page 10). The Cattlemen Parade, which hasn’t been
held in decades, is a distant but distinct memory for many of us. Let’s hope the Pioneer
Festival will continue as an annual event that allows us to honor the spirit of the Florida
cowboy. And who knows? Maybe some kid will get a chance to know a Florida cowboy.
Publisher & Editor
Susan Burgess, Greg Gardner,
Catherine Enns Grigas,
Jerry Shaw, Sandra Thurlow,
Gloria Taylor Weinberg,
Camille S. Yates
Ed Drondoski, Greg Gardner,
Robert P. Dudley,
Bob Dobens, Carlton Ward Jr.
Michelle L. Burney
Carlton Ward Jr.
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Pierce Magazine is
published annually in
February by Indian River
Magazine Inc., a locally
owned company based at
308 Ave. A, Fort Pierce,
FL 34950. All material
contained herein is
copyrighted by Indian River
Magazine Inc. Member of the
St. Lucie County Chamber
Honoring our cowboy history
Reach Publisher Gregory Enns at 772.940.9005