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Crackers, Rum, and the History of Florida

             "No, seriously, where are you from originally?".
             In a time well before the tourists or even the neon-lit, sherbet-painted buildings of the now infamous cities, hundreds of years ago, there was a different Florida. Ponce de Leon, the Spaniard locally known for giving this great state the Fountain of Youth, stumbled upon the Palmetto strewn, critter-infested wilderness land mass of Florida in 1513. Because he couldn't get enough of its white sandy beaches, Ponce returned in 1521 with a herd of horses and seven cattle, Andalusian cattle, the grandpappy of the famous Texas Longhorn. Florida, to Ponce, was one big pastureland. The Spanish, Florida's first major land developers, turned Florida into Americas oldest beef state. Understandably, those early days were hard on the settlers from Spain. The raids from the locals-The Seminole Nation-and the incessantly present mosquitos were taxing. Notwithstanding, despite the snakes, the storms, cattle fever, the storms, the never ending swamp land, and the storms, by the 1700's the Panhandle and the land along the St. John's river was home to dozens of large cattle ranches.
             After Spain's victory over France in the Seven Year War, Spain traded the dangling peninsula of land that is Florida over to Great Britain. The year was 1763. Settlers began to immigrate into the swamplands and riverfronts of the state. These new immigrants to Florida were beef people, starting up ranches and living off of the cattle trade. As these newly minted Floridians moved south, so did the cattle. The search for new pastureland took them through Alachua County and on down to Lake Okeechobee.
             Eventually the rail system reached into Florida from the North. The beef industry grew steadily because the trains could ship the cattle. It was boon time for the state. Towns sprang up all around the large ranches. The floodgates opened from the north and the people arrived via rail, by the hundreds.

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