When people think cowboy their theme song is usually considered as Home on the Range. That would be correct in Western Cowboy lore but the lyrics don't coincide with America's original cowmen, the cow hunters. Now simply known as the Florida Crackers the title has developed into an entirely new meaning that includes anyone who has been born and raised here.
Unlike western stories about the American cowboy not much is written about the first American cowboys. Here in Florida is where their roots began. Not too much romanticism exists in an environment of sweltering heat, swarms of mosquitoes and sloughing through water all day.
They were called cow hunters or cow men, not cowboys. The tools they had were mainly a spanish bred small, sturdy and agile horse called a Marsh-Tackie that could endure Florida's harsh summer heat. A gun was almost a luxury but their whips were mandatory. It's said that a cow hunter could flick a fly off a cow's butt while not disturbing a hair. At roundup time toward Summer's end the crack of the whip is what got the herds moving and earned these men the nickname by Florida Cracker at the turn of the19th century.
We can thank the Spaniards for getting us into the beef business. Explorations as early as the 1500's are the cause. Shoal waters on Florida's West coast made it difficult for ships to navigate and often they'd have to release horses and cows to lessen the draft in order to proceed. Whereas a longhorn could not survive meandering in water all day the Spanish variety adapted well without damage to hooves or overcome by waterborne infections.
With hearty cows and horses came the rise of the heartiest of cow hunters. "Bone" Mizell. He never owned a home or a bed and if he slept in one it was usuallyin a brothel. His motto seemed to be along the lines of fighting, drinking, screwing, joking and drinking. Oh, and man could he ride, described as phenomenal by his peers of the day. His whip was an 18 footer and he mastered it. Standing 6'5" he was a towering man for his day. Born in 1863 and died in 1921 his claim to fame, other than his legendary carousing, was by becoming the model for Frederic Remington series of paintings in Harper's New Monthly Magazine issued August 1895. The painting above was named "A Cracker Cowboy".
There may have been some reluctance for Remington to cover this story and paint Mr. Mizell due to traveling in central Florida in the middle of Summer however we're so glad that he did. Remington was not ready for the rawness and grit he saw here as opposed to the Western counterpart's portrayal. A year after the fame had worn off, "Bone" Mizell was arrested for cattle rustling. As the story goes "Bone" knew every brand and every owner of each brand and could identify every offspring of each cow in all in nearly all of the Florida ranches. He had just started to tie one on at the local watering hole, The Arcadia Bar & Grille Saloon, and found himself being hauled to jail for the crime by two deputies. Unfortunately "Bone" had rustled the Judge's own cows which made him an unruly and biased victim. Mizell admitted to the crime saying he knew by the brand they were owned by the Judge and asked for a dismissal. When asked why he, the Judge, should grant him one "Bone" went on to explain "Now look a here Judge, I stole hundreds of cattle and put your mark on 'em. Jus 'cause I've stole a few from you, you go and have me indicted. You just better get this whole deal nolly-pressed." I don't know if that's the actual quote but it certainly makes sense why Morgan Bonaparte "Bone" Mizell was immediately released from court that day, March 2nd, 1896 . Florida's "Cowboy" heritage began way before the romantic Wild West variety came along and Bone's rustling arrest may be the last this Country had seen. The lifestyle still exists although the players have calmed down a bit from those early "lawless" days.
"Bone" literally died with his boots on while waiting for a telegraph
at the Fort Ogden, Florida train station, he was 58.