The Great Florida Cattle Drive

This is the cover for the book “The Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles,” scheduled for release in February 2017. A film documentary on the event is set to come out at the same time. / Courtesy of Live Oak Production Group

The cover story for the Spring 2016 edition of Florida Food & Farm detailed the history of Florida’s cattle industry — which began in 1521, when explorer Juan Ponce de Leon arrived with oranges and cattle from southern Spain.

Sarah Bailey Great Florida Cattle Drive

Sarah Bailey of St. Johns was 90 when she set off on the Great Florida Cattle Drive ’16. She has gone on all three of the drives. “I sleep under the wagon,” she said at the time. Her son, Clark Bailey, drove the wagon and slept under it alongside her. / Photos by J.D. Vivian

A portion of the story described the Great Florida Cattle Drive ’16, held Jan. 23-30 in South Central Florida. About 500 hardy participants braved bad weather — temperatures that dipped almost to freezing, and the rainiest January in years — to drive 500 head of cattle from Whaley Ranch, near St. Cloud, about 30 miles south to Kenansville.

Great Florida Cattle Drive not for everyone 

“It ain’t fer sissies,” quipped Michelle Turner, media liaison for the once-each-decade drive, at Whaley Ranch on the day before the drive began.


Among the participants on the Great Florida Cattle Drive were combat-wounded veterans. The Stoltzfuses have posted a 12-minute mini-documentary about them — “GFLCD Outdoor Operation Freedom – Veterans Story” — on youtube.com.

Elam Stoltzfus said, “This is their story — a story of how they connected with the land, their horses and other riders; of how they mentored a group of young boys while on the drive; and of how they bonded with members of their group to form one unbroken circle.”

In honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, WFSU, the Public Broadcasting Station station for the Tallahassee area, will air the video on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m.

“GFLCD Outdoor Operation Freedom – Veterans Story” has also been accepted into the Equus Film Festival in New York City; it’s the largest horse-related film festival in the world. The festival is set for Nov. 17-20.

Great Florida Cattle Drive

The temperature was 34 degrees at 6:15 a.m. on Jan. 25, when the cowpunchers lined up for grub before beginning that day’s drive.