Cowhands in Florida?

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by Elam Stoltzfus

October 21, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 2009 several ranches in central Florida were featured for the Kissimmee Basin: the Northern Everglades documentary and later in 2012 for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee documentary.  Ranches and cowhands (cowgirls and cowboys) in Florida maintain large tracts of land that are an essential piece for healthy wildlife habitat.

When I interviewed Florida rancher Cary Lightsey, he said, “Florida’s had cattle for five hundred years, …and they had buffalo before that.  To me, [it] is a stationary part of Florida ranchland…  And it’s just a great cow state, and a lot of people don’t realize how great of a state that Florida is for cattle”.


Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditioner, Carlton Ward, Jr., commented, “I want the people of Florida and our country to know that there is this amazing culture of people in the Florida ranching community, who have been on that landscape sometimes for nearly two centuries; and it’s because of these ranches that we still have the opportunity to protect the corridor for water and for wildlife”.


Interviewing Carlton and Cary Lightsey reminded me of my time growing up on a dairy farm. Like the ranching communities in Florida, my forefathers, Amish immigrants from Germany, have been working the land in Pennsylvania for centuries. Growing up on a dairy farm taught me how to work hard and forged in me a respect for the land.

As a young boy, free time was spent exploring the woods, observing wildlife, and fishing in a nearby creek. I first went fishing when I was five, and I used one of my mother’s safety pins as the hook. I guess none of the fish were looking to get pinned, so I came back home empty-handed.  Later, I got myself a real fishing hook and snagged reams of bass and brim (“sunnies” in Lancaster, PA, slang) from the local farm ponds.

Working on a farm takes commitment and hard work, dawn ‘til dusk. Come to think of it, I always had a few chores in the barn in the morning before breakfast and before going to elementary school. Wonder what I smelled like? Hmmm…

Growing up with dirt in my fingernails makes me appreciate and respect the ranchers and cowhands here in Florida.  It was an honor for me to work alongside these decent country folk, listen to their stories, and learn about how they truly are “keepers of the land.”

When you travel across Highway 60 from the coasts, or go from Yeehaw Junction to St. Cloud or south through the counties of Glades and Highlands, take time to slow down and drive back the gravel roads, off the beaten path.  You may see a glimpse of cowhands riding horses and rounding up cattle in the pastures of Florida.  Cowboys in Florida are one of our great state’s “signature images” that represent our past, present, and future.

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