Florida crackers were colonial-era Ireland/ Celtic and American pioneer settlers and their descendants in what is now the U.S. state of Florida. The first of these arrived in 1763 after Spain traded Florida to Great Britain following the latter's victory over France in the Seven Years' War.
The term "cracker" was in use during the Elizabethan era to describe braggarts. The original root of this is the Middle English word crack, meaning "entertaining conversation" (as one may be said to "crack" a joke); this term and the Gaelicized spelling "craic" are still in use in Northern England, Ireland and Scotland. It is documented in William Shakespeare's "The Life and Death of King John" Act II. Scene I. (1595): "What cracker is this same that deafs our ears/ With this abundance of superfluous breath?"
By the 1760s, the ruling classes, both in Britain and in the American colonies, applied the term "cracker" to Scots-Irish and English American settlers of the remote southern back country, as noted in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth: "I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." The word was later associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of them descendants of those early frontiersmen who had migrated South. Also used by Florida cowboys, as with picture of Florida cracker Bone Mizell.
In Florida, those who own or work cattle traditionally have been called cowmen. In the late 1800s, they were often called cow hunters, a reference to hunting for cattle scattered over the wooded rangelands during roundups. At times the terms cowman and Cracker have been used interchangeably because of similarities in their folk culture. Today the western term "cowboy" is often used for those who work cattle.
The Florida "cowhunter" or "cracker cowboy" of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were cow whips and dogs. Florida cattle and horses were smaller than the western breeds. The "cracker cow", also known as the "native" or "scrub" cow, averaged about 600 pounds (270 kg) and had large horns and large feet.
Among some Floridians, the term is used as a proud or jocular self-description. Since the huge influx of new residents into Florida in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, from the northern parts of the United States and from Mexico and Latin America, the term "Florida Cracker" is used informally by some Floridians to indicate that their families have lived in the state for many generations. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens."
Cracker Storytelling Festival
Since the late 20th century, the Cracker Storytelling Festival has been held annually in the fall at Homeland Heritage Park in Homeland, Florida. The year 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the festival. The Cracker Storytelling Festival includes many storytellers from around Florida who come to share their stories with visitors. The majority of visitors who attend this event are students, because storytelling is part of the Florida curriculum. The festival also incorporates local crafts and artwork, food vendors and a cracker whip-cracking contest. During the cracker whip-cracking contest, participants compete to see who can crack the most buttery flaky crackers. The winner receives the title of "Head Cracker".
Florida Cracker TrailThe Florida Cracker Trail runs from just east of Bradenton, and ends in Fort Pierce, a total distance of approximately 120 miles (190 km).
In years past, this route was used for both cattle and horses. Today it includes parts of State Road 66, State Road 64, and U.S. Highway 98.
On November 20, 2000, the Florida Cracker Trail was selected as a Community Millennium Trail. The Millennium Trails is a partnership among the White House Millennium Council, the Department of Transportation, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the National Endowment for the Arts and other public agencies and private organizations. The goal of Millennium Trails is the creation of a nationwide network of trails that protect natural environment, interpret history and culture, and enhance alternative transportation, recreation and tourism.
An annual Cracker Trail ride is now held the last full week in February of each year. The ride begins at a site just east of Bradenton, Florida, and ends with a parade through downtown Ft. Pierce, Florida, a total of approximately 120 miles (190 km). Each day's ride is approximately 15 to 20 miles in length. The purpose of the ride is to draw attention to Florida's horse and cattle heritage.
Florida Cracker ArchitectureFlorida cracker architecture is a style of vernacular architecture typified by a wood-frame house. It was widespread in the 19th century and is still popular with some developers as a source of design themes.
"Florida cracker" refers to colonial-era English pioneer settlers and their descendants. There was no air conditioning, and the new immigrants to the Sunshine State had to depend on nature to get some relief from the heat. Houses of this style are characterized by metal roofs, raised floors, and straight central hallways from the front to the back of the home (sometimes called "dog trot" or "shotgun" hallways, similar to the shotgun house design). They built their homes surrounded by wide verandas or porches, often wrapping around the entire home, to provide shade for their windows and walls. Some houses had a clerestory that would improve the ventilation in the interior.
Cracker Country, a rural Florida living history museum, was established in 1978 by Mr. and Mrs. Doyle Carlton, Jr. so future generations might better understand and appreciate Florida's rural heritage.
From the rustic cypress log corn crib to the grand old two-story Carlton house, Cracker Country features thirteen original buildings dating from 1870 to 1912 but actually takes place in 1898. These buildings were moved to their present location from throughout the state. The train station is from Okahumpka, and the two-story Carlton house is from Wauchula. These have been then restored and furnished with antiques of the period.
Cracker Country is located on the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, and is presented by the Florida State Fair Authority.
Florida Cracker Horse
At this point they were superseded by American Quarter Horses needed to work larger cattle brought to Florida during the Dust Bowl, and population numbers declined precipitously. Through the efforts of several private families and the Florida government, the breed was saved from extinction, but there is still concern about its low numbers. Both The Livestock Conservancy and the Equus Survival Trust consider breed numbers to be at a critical point.
CharacteristicsThe Florida Cracker Horse is also known as the Chickasaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse, Florida Cow Pony and Grass Gut. The modern breed retains the size of its Spanish ancestors, standing 13.2 to 15 hands (54 to 60 inches, 137 to 152 cm) high and weighing 750 to 1,000 pounds (340 to 450 kg). They are found mainly in bay, black and gray, although grullo, dun and chestnut are also seen. Roan and pinto colors are occasionally found. They have straight or slightly concave profiles, strong backs and sloping croups. They are known for their speed and agility and excel at trail and endurance riding, and are also used extensively as stock horses. They are sometimes seen in Western riding sports such as working cow horse, team roping and team penning.
The Florida Cracker is a gaited horse, with the breed association recognizing two gaits, the running walk and amble, in addition to the regular walk, trot, canter and gallop. The single-footed ambling gait is known as the "coon rack" by some breed enthusiasts. The foundation genetics of the breed are the same as many others developed from Spanish stock in North and South America, including the Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso and Criollo. The Cracker horse is very similar in type and genetics to the Carolina Marsh Tacky and the Banker horse, both Spanish-style breeds from the eastern United States, but DNA testing has proven that these are separate breeds.
HistoryHorses first arrived on the southeast North American mainland in 1521, brought by Ponce de Leon on his second trip to the region, where they were used by officers, scouts and livestock herders. Later expeditions brought more horses and cattle to Spanish Florida. By the late 16th century, horses were used extensively in the local cattle business and by the late 17th century the industry was flourishing, especially in what is now northern Florida and southern Georgia. The horses brought to North America by the Spanish and subsequently bred there included Barbs, Garranos, Spanish Jennets, Sorraias, Andalusians and other Iberian breeds. Overall, they were relatively small and had physical traits distinctive of Spanish breeds, including short backs, sloping shoulders, low set tails and wide foreheads.
The early cattle drivers, nicknamed Florida crackers and Georgia crackers, used these Spanish horses to drive cattle (eventually known as Florida Cracker cattle). The cowboys received their nickname from the distinctive cracking of their whips, and the name was transferred to both the horses they rode and the cattle they herded. Through their primary use as stock horses, the type developed into the Florida Cracker horse, known for its speed, endurance and agility. From the mid-16th century to the 1930s, this type was the predominant horse in the southeastern United States. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), both belligerents purchased large amounts of beef from Florida, and the Spanish horses bred there were highly desired as riding horses. During this time, there was also a continual introduction of new Spanish blood from Cuba, as horses were traded between the two areas. During the Dust Bowl (1930–1940), large western cattle were moved into Florida, bringing with them the parasitic screwworm. Cattle with this parasite needed to be treated frequently. The cowboys found that the Florida Cracker horses, bred for working smaller cattle, were not able to hold the western cattle. They replaced the smaller horses with American Quarter Horses. This resulted in the Florida breed almost becoming extinct.
20th centuryThe breed's survival during the 20th century is owed to a few families who continued to breed the Cracker horse and kept distinct bloodlines alive. John Law Ayers was one such breeder; in 1984, he donated his herd of pure-bred Cracker horses to the state of Florida. With them, the state started three small herds in Tallahassee, Withlacoochee State Forest and Paynes Prairie State Preserve. By 1989, however, these three herds and around 100 other horses owned by private families were all that remained of the breed. In 1989 the Florida Cracker Horse Association was founded and in 1991 a registry was established. After the registry was created, 75 horses designated as "foundation horses" and 14 of their offspring were immediately registered. These horses came mainly from four lines of Cracker bloodstock and were designated as purebreds by breed experts – partbred horses were denied entry to the registry. As of 2009, around 900 horses had been registered since the foundation of the registry.
Effective July 1, 2008, the Florida House of Representatives declared the Florida Cracker Horse the official state horse. As of 2009 there are three main bloodlines of Cracker stock, as well as a few smaller lines. The state of Florida still maintains two groups of Ayers-line horses in Tallahassee and Withlacoochee for breeding purposes and a display group in the Paynes Prairie Preserve. The state annually sells excess horses from all three herds, and individual breeders also send horses to the sale. The Livestock Conservancy considers the breed to be at "critical" status, as part of the Colonial Spanish Horse family, meaning that the estimated global population of the breed is fewer than 2,000 and there are fewer than 200 registrations annually in the United States. The Equus Survival Trust also considers the population to be "critical," meaning that there are between 100 and 300 active adult breeding mares in existence today. However, breed numbers are slowly on the rise.
Chickasaw HorseThe original Chickasaw horse, bred by the Chickasaw Indians using horses captured from De Soto's expedition, became extinct after being used to create the Florida Cracker Horse and having some influence on the Quarter Horse. Some sources still use the Chickasaw name to describe the Florida Cracker Horses of today. In the 1970s there was a surge of interest in recreating the Chickasaw using horses bearing strong resemblances to the original breed, but this has since died out and the breed association no longer exists.
Florida Cracker Horse