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Southern Pineywoods: South’s native cattle
Lloyd “Cape” Caperton with a Pineywoods bull
I have always had an interest in southern history and culture. I have run a general store for 40 years that was built in 1853 and used to be owned by my great-grandfather, William E. Stewart. In 2014, I bought back his house that he lost in the early 1930s, and I now sleep in his old bedroom. It isn’t as good as retaking the whole South, but I did get back much of what my mother’s family lost, much due at least in part to government policies.
When I first took over the store, when I was 18, there were still old men in their 80s and 90s who traded and hung out at the store, some who had actual fathers who were Confederate soldiers, and I talked to them almost every day. Some were part Cherokee and had grandparents who told them about the Cherokee migration to Coosa County to avoid the Trail of Tears.
My grandmother/Maw Maw had a maid, an older woman, who could still speak Cherokee; she often cussed in Cherokee when she got mad about something. Most everyone I knew, at least those I enjoyed talking to, unlike many today, regarded big government and big corporations as their enemy, not their friend and not the friends of their rural community.
They and their parents and grandparents lived a self-sufficient lifestyle. They got meat from their own animals, eggs from their own chickens, water from their own wells and springs, grew their own vegetables, heated with their own wood, made their own wine and whiskey, and knew how to handle weapons to both hunt with and often to live by and provide their own law.
Today a lot of this is called organic farming and gardening, and others who live similar are called preppers; those people I knew just called themselves Alabamians and Southerners. In my area they also called themselves Coosa Countians and Weogufkians. To me, these things were the South and Southern Culture. Many today say the South to them means things like football, stock car racing, BBQ, Southern Rock, etc., but the traditional South predates most of these things which are the New South.
The self-sufficient and survival ways of the Old South/Original America is my main interest and what I live by and write about. This sometimes involves politics which sometimes even offends my fellow southerners, but more often, liberals…but then what doesn’t offend liberals? This caused me to lose my “Southern Lines” column in “The Coosa County News” in 2002, although it continued in several other publications. It was suggested by some that I start the column back…for however long. I decided to do this with the history of the Southern Pineywoods Cattle.
The official story is that the ancestors of the Southern Pineywoods Cattle, also called Native Cattle and Cracker Cattle, were first brought to America by Columbus. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if some of them had not already been here. Columbus wasn’t by any means the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean; there were the earlier Vikings and the Carthagenians, Pheoniasians, Basques, Israelites, and others centuries before the Vikings. One reason that the Eastern American Indian Tribes look different from the Western Tribes, but the official government history is that Columbus brought these cattle over. In either case, they have been here longer than anyone can remember.
The better known Texas Longhorn is said to have evolved from wild Pineywoods cattle that later migrated to the West, where they had open range land and grew bigger bodies and grew bigger horns. Here in the sub-tropical rain forests and swamps of the South, they remained smaller and evolved to forage and survive on bushes and weeds and broom sage, rather than prairie grass; much like big Bush Goats, some went wild and were often even hunted, much the same as deer and wild boar.
My MawMaw and step-grandfather told me stories of wild cattle in the area, which were already gone by the time that I came around. The early settlers and American Indians in the South raised and herded these cattle. Back then, before barbed wire, often rather than people fencing in their cattle, people would brand their cattle and would just let them free range and only fenced in their gardens from theirs and others cattle. Salt was put out and used to keep one’s herd in a preferred area.
Those who herded them, either on foot or horseback, often used whips. These cattle herdsmen were referred to as “Crackers.” Years later, those who herded cattle out West were called cowboys, but the Southern Crackers predated the Western Cowboy by several hundred years. Their meat was smoked and eaten; their horns were made into powder horns for black powder guns. They were milked, and their hides were used to make leather shoes and to cane chairs (I still have one of these chairs.). Pineywoods Cattle also supplied the Confederate Army with meat during the War for Southern Independence. Many bulls were castrated and made into steers, were shoed and used as work animals to log with, plow with and to pull wagons, more so than mules and horses. “Gee” was called for them to turn right, “Haw” for them to turn left. I still have some of my great-grandfather’s records concerning these things.
If the Mule Day celebrations wanted to be more accurate, they could incorporate steers into their events!
Pineywoods Cattle almost became extinct, but a few herds survived on some ranches in Mississippi and Florida. These cattle recently gained some popularity among Secessionists and preppers because of the fact that they can survive and thrive, unlike modern breeds, on marginal brush and forage (like most of the hills and lands here in Coosa County) that other cattle would starve on if their feed and grain supply were interrupted. Their ability to do this far surpasses even their cousins, the Texas Longhorn, which I have also raised.
Pineywoods Cattle also are disease resistant and calve with ease. Several years ago, I acquired a few of these myself, which I have also crossbred with other breeds. We keep our freezers, which can be if need be operated from solar cells and batteries, in case the grid goes down, full of steak and hamburger, among other things. Just living the life of an unenlightened Southern Cracker that doesn’t know any better!