“Cracker” is a term with many different cultural definitions, but in this part of Florida it refers to the original “cowboys” who herded cattle with the “crack” of a whip. Two centuries before Stetson hats, leather vests and chaps became icons of America’s Wild West, Spanish horsemen were managing large herds of cattle brought here from Spain by Florida’s earliest settlers. Today, that heritage is celebrated annually at the Cracker Day Festival held this year on Saturday, October 21 at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds in Elkton.
Hosted by the St. Johns County Cattleman’s Association, this 64th edition of Cracker Day gives visitors an opportunity to experience the very best of Cracker horsemanship while coming face-to-face with Cracker cattle and horses, all of which are direct descendants of the original Spanish herds. In fact, it’s an immersion experience for the whole family – touch the animals in the petting zoo, try your hand at cracking a whip (with a little practice, you might become a Cracker for a day), taste the food, hear the thundering hooves and even get a whiff of the smells of cattle ranching. Kids can go for pony rides and participate in traditional ranching chores. For those who become addicted to it all, the Tack and Dry Goods Store has complete cowboy outfits for sale – arrive dressed as a Florida beach bum and depart as an authentic character from the Old West. It’s also a fashion statement that ensures no one will stare at you while attending the big whip cracking contest.
Cracker horse races, games and herding demonstrations take place throughout the day. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Farmer’s Market features a variety of boutiques, local products like datil sauces and honey, and wood workers crafting and selling outstanding wooden furniture and décor. Feeling a little hungry after all that whip crackin’, cow pokin’ and howdy pardners? Well, there are plenty of victuals available including barbecue (of course) and special recipes whipped up at a variety of food trucks. Needless to say, there’s plenty of sno-cones, kettle korn, ice cream and cotton candy available.
Gates open at the Fairgrounds at the crack of dawn (6 a.m.) but the first events don’t start until 8 a.m. Cracker Day ends at 6 p.m. Admission is only $5 per car and lots of parking is available. The St. Johns County Fairgrounds are located at 5840 SR 207, Elkton. www.facebook.com/sjccattlemens