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Cattle drive continues generational legacies in Big Cypress

On horseback, Big Cypress cattle foreman Andre Jumper drives the cattle from the spillway to the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena during the 25th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive on the Big Cypress Reservation on March 25, 2023. In the swamp buggy are honorary trail boss and cattle woman Mary Jene Koenes and her family. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Cattlewomen have always been an important part of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s cattle program. The 25th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive and Rodeo honored two esteemed Big Cypress cattlewomen.

The late Esther Buster was memorialized and Mary Jene Koenes served as the honorary trail boss at the event March 25.

Four Cypress brothers were among the original settlers of the Big Cypress reservation: Charlie, Futch, Wilson and Whitney. Koenes explained that almost everyone in Big Cypress is descended from them.

“Six generations come from them,” Koenes said. “Junior Cypress was from Whitney. Charlie was my great-great-grandfather. So we are one big family here.”

An honorary trail boss usually leads a cattle drive, but Koenes chose to ride in comfort on the Billie Swamp Safari swamp buggy. Members of her large family joined her including some of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Together, they filled the buggy.

Jonah Cypress opens the cattle drive with a prayer on West Boundary Road in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“I am a third generation cattle owner,” Koenes said. “My daughter, Toi, will be the fourth generation.”

Big Cypress cattle foreman Andre Jumper, on horseback and with the help of his three dogs, moved the group of about 18 cattle from the spillway on West Boundary Road to the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena on Josie Billie Highway.

Along the way, seasoned rodeo rider and cattle crew member Cat Tommie joined Jumper after the animals veered off-course and into the woods twice.

Koenes’ daughter Toi Hernandez, son Dalton Koenes and grandson Donald Mathis got off the buggy and went on foot into the woods to help get the cattle back on the road.

“They jumped out to help,” Koenes said about her family. “It’s just in them.”

Between the humans, the horse and the dogs, the cattle complied and made it back on their way to the mid-point stop at Cory Wilcox’s pasture for some water and a rest.

Participants in the cattle drive also had something to drink and a snack as they listened to a few words from Koenes and Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie.

“I was born into the cattle program,” Koenes said. “My grandfather was one of the original cattle owners. We used to watch the Elders work the cows on foot and when we were old enough, we worked them on foot, too.”

Honorary trail boss Mary Jene Koenes, wearing purple shirt and sunglasses near the center, and her family members enjoy their perch in the Billie Swamp Safari swamp buggy for the Junior Cypress cattle drive March 25, 2023, in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Koenes got to see Morgan Smith, another original cattle owner, work the original government cows. Koenes has been in the cattle program for 35 years, but has been working cattle since she was a child.

“I’ve enjoyed this lifestyle,” Koenes said. “I had to fight for where I’m at, but it’s because of that that I’m here today.”

Junior Cypress was the cattle foreman for a long time and passed it on to Jonah Cypress. Now Jumper is in charge and Koenes said she hopes he will grow old with the job.

“I want all these kids to have these experiences. It’s a family undertaking,” Koenes said. “My kids and grandchildren love being out in the pasture and I sure appreciate their help. We’re blessed by the Lord and I have been his shepherd for all these years.”

This was Councilwoman Billie’s first time as a participant in the cattle drive. She is a descendant of Wilson Cypress.

“My uncle Paul is the cattle raiser,” she said. “We’re all family out here.”

Esther Buster was one of the tribe’s first cattlewomen; Junior Cypress was her father. Esther’s granddaughters, Sydnee and Darla Cypress, participated in the cattle drive to honor her memory.

“She was real passionate about owning cattle and she wanted us to get involved,” Sydnee Cypress said.

Esther’s herd went to her three children: Eileen Cypress, Alvin Buster and Eric Cypress.

“She was very devoted to keeping the family legacy alive by being cattle owners,” said Darla Cypress. “She was a huge inspiration in our lives with how dedicated she was and how strong of a woman she was. I’m thankful to be her granddaughter.”

After the rest stop, the cattle drive proceeded to the rodeo arena for a barbeque and a kids rodeo.

Cattle foreman Andre Jumper and his hard working dogs keep the cattle together in a group during the cattle drive. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

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