Cowboys in Florida?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 25, 2009

Darcy Minter, 775.340.4240
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Cowboys in Florida?

Florida and Louisiana cowboys to share unique occupational traditions
with western counterparts at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
in Elko, Nevada

Elko, Nevada—Few would argue that the cowboy is the iconic image of the American West. Yet, Florida cattle ranching is a far older tradition, beginning in the 16th century when Ponce de Leon first introduced Spanish cattle to the area. Now, Florida has more than one million cattle and eclipses some western states in beef production, including Nevada and Wyoming. Many Florida cowboys are known as "Crackers," a moniker that refers to the pioneer descendents of the state as well as to the sound of the cow whip he (or she) traditionally uses to help move cattle through the Florida terrain. Cowboys from the Seminole Tribe also figure prominently in Florida's cattle history and culture. In Louisiana the swamp or marsh cowboys like to brag that "anyone can herd cows on dry land."

These southeastern cowboys will join their western counterparts at the nation's largest annual celebration of cowboy culture—the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering —in Elko, Nevada, January 23-30, 2010. For eight days the small community of Elko will be host to thousands of cowboys and cowgirls, poets and musicians, artisans and scholars, rural and city people—all of whom share a love of the American West. Tickets can be purchased online at www.westernfolklife.org or by calling 888-880-5885.

"Exploring and sharing cowboy cultures from around the world has become a unique and important part of the Elko Gathering over its 26-year history," explains Charlie Seemann, executive director of the Western Folklife Center, the regional nonprofit that produces the event. "This year we are sticking closer to home and showcasing other American cowboy cultures that are often overlooked. Florida and Louisiana cowboys have adapted to their landscape with tools that are well-suited to their jobs, but are quite different from what the cowboys of the American West use."

The special guests from Florida and Louisiana will participate in storytelling and poetry sessions, discussions about cow dogs, whip-making demonstrations, and workshops where they'll cook swamp cabbage and traditional Creole dishes. Grammy-nominated musician Geno Delafose and his band French Rockin' Boogie will perform their zydeco music and play one of two dances during the Gathering. The Western Folklife Center's Wiegand Gallery will host the exhibition: Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition. Nick Spitzer, the host of the public radio program,  American Routes, will give the annual Humanities Lecture, "Zydeco Trail Ride: Louisiana and Texas Creole Cowboys at Work and Play." The featured poets, musicians, storytellers and traditional artists from the southeast include:

  • Billy Davis of Kenansville, Florida, has spent his life working cattle in south-central Florida, and is a skilled spur-maker and master storyteller.
  • Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie are a Grammy-nominated zydeco band from southwest Louisiana. Geno divides his time between touring and operating his Double D Ranch outside of Eunice, Louisiana.
  • Willie Johns is a Seminole historian and a respected expert in the history and presentation of Seminole cattle ranching. Willie is also a cattleman and a rodeo team roper.
  • Calvin "Buddy" Mills, from Okeechobee, Florida, learned to make buckskin whips from his father, the venerated Cracker cowman George "Junior" Mills. Buddy is also known for harvesting and preparing swamp cabbage.
  • Doyle Rigdon works as a cowboy for the Lykes Brothers' cattle operation, Florida's second largest beef producer. Doyle's poems express the excitement, humor and frustrations of the Florida cowboy.
  • Carl Sharp is known as "Florida's Cracker Cowboy Poet." In 1998 the Florida Legislature proclaimed him a "cultural treasure." He lives in LaBelle, Florida.
  • Iris Wall is the owner of the High Horse Ranch near Indiantown, Florida, and is known for her tales of Cracker life and her traditional cooking, including the preparation of swamp cabbage.
  • Nick Spitzer is the producer and host of American Routes, a weekly two-hour public radio program produced in New Orleans. Nick is a folklorist and a professor of American studies and communication at Tulane University. Nick specializes in American music and the cultures of the Gulf South, and received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Texas in 1986 with his dissertation on zydeco music and Afro-French Louisiana culture and identities.

For more information about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, please visit our website at www.westernfolklife.org. If you are interested in applying for press credentials, complete the online Media Credential Application Form. If you have questions or need more information, please contact Darcy Minter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 775-340-4240.

The mission of the Western Folklife Center is to enhance the vitality of American life through the experience, understanding, and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the American West.

Thank You to our Sponsors

Major sponsors of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering include the Bretzlaff Foundation, City of Elko, Elko County Recreation Board, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Nevada Commission on Tourism, Nevada Humanities, Nevada Arts Council, Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs, the Hartman Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, Wells Fargo Bank, Charter Media, Nevada Energy, Barrick Gold, Newmont Mining Corporation, Anne Pattee, and many more.

Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition was produced by the Florida Folklife Program, Florida Department of State, and Florida Cultural Resources, Inc. Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts/Folk & Traditional Arts, Florida Humanities Council, Florida Cattlemen's Association, Florida Cattlemen's Foundation, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Cracker Cattle Association, Lalla Rook Tompkins, Iris Wall, and Susanne and Pete Clemons. The traveling exhibition was made possible by the Museum of Florida History.