In the second year of the Museum’s mobile cattle cart exhibit, the cart made an appearance at six events from October of 2017 to May 2018.
Despite its size, it provides a fairly succinct overview of cattle keeping among the Florida Seminoles since the Spanish first introduced “cattle” to the Florida peninsula in 1523. It tells of Micanopy amassing thousands of heads of cattle in the mid-1700s, and the subsequent cause and effects of cattle keeping in the periods during and following the Seminole War. It highlights the re-introduction of cattle to the Seminoles in the mid-1930s and the key figures who played an instrumental role in the emergence of the Seminole cattle program, amid trials and tribulations, to make it the success it is today. Only so much can be captured.
As each generation looks towards the cattle industry’s future and is further removed from those modest beginnings, it helps to be reminded of the earnestness of those who shaped the cattle industry. Perhaps one of these men was a relation of yours, maybe an original trustee of the Seminole Cattle Program, or perhaps the family is your neighbor and you are well acquainted. These family names are part of the history of cattle herding on the Brighton and Big Cypress reservations. Frank Shore, Charlie Micco, Naha Tiger, John Josh, John Henry Gopher, Morgan Smith, Junior Cypress and Josie Billie are hailed for rearing those early reservation herds. But, there’s one name that you may be less acquainted with: Fred Montsdeoca.
Fred Montsdeoca took on the federal government assignment as cattle foreman in 1935, first guiding the Seminoles of Glades County (Brighton Reservation) and later the Big Cypress Reservation. What started out as a daunting project – turning 500 head of Hereford cattle from drought stricken Arizona into a stable Seminole Cattle Program – proved a solid step towards the Tribe’s economic self-sufficiency and a means to secure their independence.
Under his guidance as the official Agricultural agent for Okeechobee County, the Seminole “cowman” learned how integral good livestock management practices, pasture rotation and maintenance, along with modern improvements, were to the overall success and health of the herds. Montsdeoca was an agriculturalist and conservationist with a keen business acumen he willingly passed onto his stewards. Together these ideas became the model for the cattle industry. These practices are still implemented, if not improved upon. Montsdeoca was committed to the Seminole communities and recognized their willingness to learn, “If you can just show them that some program is going to help, they’ll make a go of it no matter what”. But what of the younger Tribal members? Montsdeoca, sought to involve the young boys from the start by having them gain experience roping cattle and cleaning screwworm wounds. It was one way for them to invest in their own future.
For 40 years, Fred Montsdeoca dedicated his time, care, encouragement and expertise to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He was a hardworking, tenacious, yet modest man, who was the last to accept credit for the success of the cattle program, speaking more on what others had contributed to make it a success. Along with William and Edith Boehmer, Montsdeoca was instrumental in advancing the welfare of the Tribe and their place within the larger non-Seminole community. Together they coordinated with Joe Peebles, then the Glades County Board of Commissioner, to set aside a section in the public cemetery for Seminole use. In June 1958, through the combined efforts of Montsdeoca and William Boehmer, the residents of the Brighton Reservation were registered to vote for local and general elections. Though assistance was needed by most to complete the voting process, all who were registered turned out to vote.
Perhaps, it was that Montsdeoca was grounded in the land he had inherited, grounded with his Seminole neighbors he shared the land with. Perhaps it was sense of community-the coming together to lend a hand for the good, which earned Fred Montsdeoca the trust of the Seminole Tribe in their fight for economic independence.