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Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo reaches 20-year mark

BIG CYPRESS — Cattle and cowboys will take over Big Cypress March 19 for the 20th annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo.

The daylong tradition will warm up with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast roundup at Billie Swamp Safari and then hit pastures and roads with 200 riders and a herd of cattle at West Boundary Road. The route will feature a break for snacks, prayer and speakers at Cory Wilcox’s pasture before its customary pass through the center of the community along Josie Billie Highway.

“Every year the cattle drive bonds our families. It reminds us what those before us sacrificed to make the cattle program what it is now,” 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.

Almost 10 miles long, the drive will reenact the grueling work of the Tribe’s cattleworkers circa 1940 who drove bovine 200 to 300 square miles through unfenced land for weeks until the cattle was corralled for screening, medicine and other reasons.

“Now, it is one day for people to come out and honor the ones who made it happen for us today and just to have a good time,” Jonah Cypress said.

This year’s honorary trail boss distinction goes to the late Bert Frazier, who was a Big Cypress cattle owner and medicine man. Frazier was born on Feb. 15, 1898. He passed away Feb. 1, 1984 at age 85.

Esther Cypress Buster, who rode as an honorary trail boss in 2005 to represent three generations of female cattle owners, remembers Frazier as a private man with a camp on the reservation’s northeast border near the street now called Bert Frazier Road. Buster recalled visiting his home when she was about 8 years old.

“I might have had asthma so he put herbs in water and I had to use it when I got back to my own house,” Buster said. “He was quiet – kept to himself.”

Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Frazier lent his storytelling talent to Ahfachkee School for a reading book used to teach Mikasuki.

The book, printed through the National Bilingual Materials Development Center, Rural Education at the University of Alaska, is now held in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s permanent collection.

Spectators will be permitted to stand or sit along roadways to watch the cattle drive for free.

Guests are also invited to watch the Native kids rodeo at noon and the Eastern Indian Rodeo Association’s all-Native adult rodeo at 7 p.m.

To ride along on a personal horse or Billie Swamp Safari swamp buggy, the cost is $50 (ages 13 and up) or $25 (ages 7 to 12). It’s free for children ages 6 and younger. Cost includes breakfast, midway snacks and a barbecue dinner at 3 p.m.

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