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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Move over Texans; Floridians are the original cowboys. Discover the state’s cattle ranching and cowboy traditions through two new exhibits opening at the Florida Museum of Natural History Feb. 12: “Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition” and “Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier, Photographs by Carlton Ward Jr.”

These free exhibits, on display through May 8, take an in-depth look at Florida’s cattle ranching history and continued impact on the state’s economy

“The cattle ranching story has very local roots — Spanish cattle ranchers settled on Paynes Prairie in the 1600s, and the cattle ranching tradition continues to be strong in North Central Florida today,” said Darcie MacMahon, Florida Museum assistant director for exhibits. “Throughout Florida, ranches are important, not just economically, but also for the role they play in land stewardship and protection of natural areas of critical significance in a state where growth presents so many conservation challenges.”

The Florida Museum is the final venue on the cattle ranching exhibit tour. The exhibit takes visitors on a journey through time, from the Spanish introduction of cattle to Florida in the 16th century to current ranching methods, including breeding hybrid beef cattle and selling yearling calves.

The exhibit explores cattle ranching through the eyes of various cultures, including the Seminole Indians and Spanish colonists. Visitors may view boots, saddles, whips, brands and other items, as well as displays, photographs and paintings that depict the evolution of the state’s cattle ranching industry.

Through “Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier,” photographer Ward shares the grit and beauty of Florida’s heartland and cowboys. The exhibit uses photographs to celebrate the history and traditions of cattle ranching.

Ward is an eighth-generation Floridian with a strong connection to ranching, and his photographs appear in both exhibits.

“The exhibit focuses on Florida ranch lands and culture and the environment it protects,” Carlton, said. “It’s an unseen and tremendously important part of Florida.”

Florida’s cattle ranching tradition is one of the region’s most valuable economic resources. Nearly half of all of Florida’s agricultural land is used for cattle ranching and Florida is one of the top five beef producing states east of the Mississippi River.

“Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition” was produced by Florida Folklife Program, Department of State, and Florida Cultural Resources, Inc. Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts/Folk & Traditional Arts, Florida Humanities Council, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Cracker Cattle Association, Lalla Rook Tompkins, Iris Wall, and Susanne and Pete Clemons. Traveling Exhibition made possible by the Museum of Florida History.

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Source: Darcie MacMahon, 352-273-2053,
Writer: Leeann Bright
Media contact: Paul Ramey, 352-273-2054,

Florida Cattle Ranching/Florida Cowboys Opening Day Activities
Saturday Feb. 12

10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Cow Camp Travel back in time and experience a 19th century cow camp. Visitors may see what life was like as a Florida cattleman.

Livestock on the Lawn Meet the cows that started one of Florida’s oldest traditions, cracker cattle. Horses and other livestock will also be displayed.

Roping Activity (Presented by the Florida Cattleman’s Association) Watch as the experts perform exciting roping tricks. Visitors may also learn roping techniques and test their skills on plastic mannequins.

Information Tables Learn about Florida cattle, including information on different breeds, women’s involvement in the industry, and primitive tools and household items used by cattle ranchers in the past.

Spur and Saddle Makers Learn how to make saddles and spurs by watching live demonstrations and view samples of these hand-made items.

2:30 to 3 p.m.

Story Tellers Learn about the Florida cracker experience from talented orators who will tell tales of life on the ranch.

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