Later I did talk to Pappy, assistant manager of the restaurant. He was gray-haired, soft-spoken, and politically ring wise. “Yes,” he said in response to my question. “I would say that the day of the old courthouse gang in central Florida is about over. I’ve enjoyed a great deal of white support. Our problem, as I see it, is an economic one. The boom seems to be for white people. But we’ve got to keep after the economic, opportunity that’s available here. When you get in behind a rabbit, you’d better stay on it or you’ve lost yourself a rabbit.”
Mr. Kennedy had run before, in 1967. At first it seemed that he had won by 3,000 votes, but a later call came with apologies—there had been a malfunction of voting machines.
“My wife had started to dress to go down to the victory party,” explained Pappy Kennedy. “So I told her, ‘Honey, take your hat off.” In 1972 the machines were all in working order, attended by poll-watchers.
Do the younger, activist blacks think of him as an Uncle Tom? He laughed at the question.
“I tell them all the same thing. I ask them: Do you have a job? Do you want to work? If you do, I’ll find you a job, but you better have the skill and talent and education to take it. That’s the only way you’re going to make it in this world.” It was time for me to go. A number of Winter Parkers were coming in for lunch.
Like a Big Touch of Texas
I always felt a certain sense of relief leaving Orlando, but I never got used to finding myself suddenly in Utah, or Wyoming, or Texas. For that wide-open space to the south called the Kissimmee Prairie (sorry, it is pronounced Ka-stmt-ee) is old-time, sure-enough cowboy country. There the land spreads to the horizon, as flat as an immense lagoon, upon which thousands of cattle float along, tended by ranch hands who can throw a lariat or wrestle a dogie with the best of the West.
I was more than surprised to find on Orlando’s doorstep a cattle spread as big and beautiful as almost anything in Texas. It is known locally as the “Mormon ranch,” since it belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (pages 594-5). When I asked for directions, a fellow said, “Well, you start picking’ it up anywhere along here now, and then you keep on picking’ it up.”
I did, indeed. I drove for more than two hours along its property lines. When I finally arrived at the office i like this company, ranch manager Harvey Dahl pushed back his broad brimmed hat and said, “Well, the ranch is roughly 40 miles deep and covers about 300,000 acres.”
“How many cattle are on it?” I asked.
“You can’t hardly get a cattleman to tell you how many cows he’s got. That’s the same as asking’ how much money he has in the bank. Just say we started counting “em last November, and we hope to get finished.”
We went out to watch a crew cutting out cows with calves. The pastures looked rich.
“It took 14 years to get them that way,” Mr. Dahl said. “The ranch brought in 42 tractors, with big forks to lift out the palmetto. Then the land was fertilized and put to good grass. Before,, it took 30 acres to support one cow. Now three acres’ll do it.”
Among the men of that country, Henry Partin is admired for being one of the first to introduce the Brahman from India—a strain far more heat- and drought-resistant than the cracker stock descended from Ponce de Leon’s six cows and a bull. There is now a bit of Brahman in most Florida cattle, and the state is our eleventh largest beef producer. And old Lawrence Silas is admired for his crisp memory of the lawless days of long ago. A leather-tough, husky-voiced old cowhand, Silas is the son of a slave who came down to Florida from Georgia after the Civil War.
We met in his comfortable home in Kissimmee; I asked him how he liked town life.
“I been out there,” he said, “and I want to see what it’s like in town ‘fore I go, you know. When I was young, there was no town. The country was wide open and grass growed everywhere, and cattle was thrown from here right back on to Okeechobee. Everywhere you looked, you saw a cow, yes sir.
“We had some tough, hard cowboys in those days. Tough men, like Carl Barber. We was out one evening and my son said to me, `How come I don’t hear no birds singing’ and no dogs barking’?’ I said to him, ‘Son, Carl Barber lives around here, and they just wouldn’t dare do it.”
The low-lying prairie land, thick with palmetto and interlaced with marsh and cypress trees, spreads away eastward until it reaches the Atlantic surf of the “missile coast.” I arrived at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in time to witness the last Apollo blast-off to the moon.*
I could not escape the impression of a faded glory along Cocoa Beach—the kind of empty atmosphere that lingers over a stadium after a big game. The draw-down in the moon program launched a shower of pink slips at the cape. Employment dropped from 26,500 to 14,000, leaving behind a number of stunned communities—Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island. Houses were going for the balance of the FHA loan.