CRACKER COWBOY: The end of the open range in the Big Scrub

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By Bill Roberts
Special to the Beacon

The Martins were an old Cracker family that had settled in the Big Scrub not long after the end of the Second Seminole Indian War. The area was between the Ocklawaha and St. John’s River, and in 1908, became the Ocala National Forest. It was almost a half a million acres and up to the time that I worked there, it had been open range.
Now, in the late 1950s, it was being closed to grazing cattle and the locals were having to get their stock out. Most of the cowmen had seen this coming, but I was helping one of the Martins that had waited until the deadline.
His name was Mayard and he had a partner by the name of Reedy – and along with some other cowboys – we were being pushed to get these cattle. We had penned most of them, but there were probably 50 or 75 head that had gone wild and were having to be roped.
One time in particular that I probably won’t forget, I was chasing a big scrub cow in a real rough area of blackjacks and live oaks. I was riding a bob-tailed, part-thoroughbred gelding that didn’t have good brakes. The old cow had just run under a big live oak and as I swung my loop, I felt the rope jerk out of my hand.
I quickly glanced back and saw my rope hung up on an oak limb. Just as I hollered to Bob to, “Whoa!”, the rope got tight and Bob and I went down in a big pile. The cow was long gone by the time Bob and I got to going again.
These cattle were wilder than the deer they grazed with, but we finally got most of them out of the Big Scrub.