September 1, 2022

Our Cattle Industry

Plus: Our New Cattlemen & Cattlewomen Video

In 1521, early Spanish explorers led by Ponce De Leon and seven Andalusia cattle arrived on Florida’s sandy shores. These may have been the first domesticated cattle in the United States and the original ancestors of the hearty scrub cattle we still see in Florida today.


According to Florida Cattle Ranchers, later Spanish settlers brought more herds of cattle with them. As they moved throughout the state many of the cattle strayed or were left behind. The native Seminole tribe domesticated and bred some of this cattle marking the beginning of cattle ranching in America. The remaining cattle were left to roam freely and multiply. They became the herds of the early family ranchers who came to Florida as pioneer settlers in the mid 1800’s. At first, ranching was a means of survival for the settlers. Over time it became a livelihood. Ranching has existed in Florida ever since.


Many of our county’s early settlers became cattlemen or farmers who utilized oxen in their labors.

There were no range laws until the late 1940s so the cattle just roamed free until they were rounded up and tagged.

We still have remnants of some of the cattle trails that were used to get these cattle to a market site - Ft. Pierce, Okeechobee, etc. before trucks were used to haul them. The powerline corridor west of I-95 in the Fellsmere area was developed over an old cattle trail. West of Vero Beach, Ranch Road remains an active cattle corridor.

The county's cattle industry, still in its infancy at the close of WWII, matured in the 1950s.  By 1950, Florida ranked 12th in the nation in beef cattle production. During the next decade, the county's cattle industry became big business.

The story goes that after WWII rustlers from the Fellsmere area crossed the St. Johns marsh on the old wooden bridges of the Fellsmere/Kenansville Grade Road and stole cattle from the ranches on the other side. The ranchers on the Blue Cypress Lake side then burned the bridges to stop the cattle rustling. Today, the Fellsmere/Kenansville Grade Road only goes into the great fishing at the Stick Marsh and to the rowing stands at the C-54 Canal and not across the marsh.

At one time, our county supported nearly 60 cattle ranches and 20,000 cows. By 1997, consolidation within the cattle industry brought that number to 15,000 cows herded on just 8 county ranches.

Above: Gilbert Barkowskie of Fellsmere, early 1970s, was one of the founders of Fellsmere Cracker Days. Barkowskie was named Cattleman of the Century by the Florida Cattlemen's Association. He was one of the earliest cattlemen in the state to improve his herd by cross breeding purebred bulls with scrub cattle. Mr. Barkowskie was also known for gathering the county’s cattlemen for the round ups of the range cattle a couple of times a year.  

Indian River's Cattlemen & Cattlewomen

Watch our newest video!

Watch the Video

Purchase Ghost Hunt Tickets and view more details at:

Are You a Member?

If you are not currently a member of the Historical Society, please consider joining! Memberships are very affordable and help keep the Historical Society afloat!

Individual $25/year

Family $35/year

Patron $100/year

Sustainer $500/year

Thank you in advance. We will appreciate your help! 

Join Here