The end of the open range in the big scrub

-A A +A

 By Bill Roberts

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 Ocklawaha and the St. Johns rivers, and in 1908 became the Ocala National Forest. It was almost 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 ‘til the deadline. His name was Maynard 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 to 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 Blackjack 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. 

Every now and then, for years after, you would hear of somebody shooting a cow during hunting season and swearing up and down it was a “spike buck.”

Bill Roberts, of Cedar Key, is an artist and Cracker storyteller. He is compiling his stories for a book.