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Big Cypress cattle drive, rodeo honors the late Bert Frazier

Gray skies and liquid sunshine do not halt the 20th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo. Andre Jumper, at right, leads the drive March 19 through Big Cypress Reservation.
Gray skies and liquid sunshine do not halt the 20th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo. Andre Jumper, at right, leads the drive March 19 through Big Cypress Reservation.

BIG CYPRESS — Honorary Trail Boss Bert Frazier was remembered fondly as a cattle owner, medicine man and church deacon during the 20th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo on March 19 in Big Cypress.

Cattle owners were called cow hunters in the days of the open range and Frazier, 1898-1984, was one of the first.

“They had to chase cows in the woods,” said Jonah Cypress, son of Junior Cypress, one of the first to help establish the Big Cypress cattle enterprise and for whom the cattle drive is named. “Today, we have them fenced in, but they were the ones who paved the way for us.”

Those pioneers are honored annually with the cattle drive, which was created in 1997 by Paul Bowers, Richard Bowers and Moses Jumper Jr. President Mitchell Cypress said the idea stemmed from the state’s Great Florida Cattle Drive in 1995 to commemorate the cattle industry. Cattle were brought to Florida by the Spaniards about 500 years ago.

“Tribal members have been in the cattle industry for centuries,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “In the 1700s they traded cattle with Cuba and the Bahamas. They were in international business before it was a term.”

In Frazier’s day in the 1940s, Big Cypress was 40,000 acres of open range with two or three pens. It would take days to round up cattle.

“This cattle drive is a way of honoring the founding group of cattle owners who got us started,” Rep. Frank said. “Now we’re one of the largest cattle producers in the country. If it wasn’t for their perseverance, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

President Cypress, grandson of the first Honorary Trail Boss Junior Cypress, remembered Frazier from his childhood in Big Cypress.

“He used to ride on an old military split Calvary saddle on a bay horse,” President Cypress said. “I thought he was elderly but he was probably in his prime. He was quite a man and I’m proud the gentleman is being honored today.”

Frazier had two sons, Robert and Henry Bert. Frazier’s grandson Jimmie Bert participated in the cattle drive.

Frazier’s nephew Billy Cypress said his uncle allowed children to fish in a lake near his home – mostly because the kids left him with plenty of fish to eat. At one time he owned the only vehicle on the entire reservation – a truck with long running boards that people would hitch rides on while clinging for dear life. But he was also great about driving people to Immokalee for shopping and other needs.

“I remember him as a medicine man,” Jonah Cypress said. “He used to doctor us. He was a quiet man, a humble man.”

By the 1970s, Frazier’s cattle days were behind him. Frazier became a deacon at Big Cypress First Baptist Church and a healer in the Seminole ways.

“He was a well-respected man,” President Cypress said. “We all looked up to him.”

 

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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