Women of the West — Iris Wall
A Florida Cracker talks about ranching and cow hunting in her home state.
Born in 1929, Iris Wall grew up cow hunting in the Everglades of South Florida. Screw worms that struck her state during the 1940s kept her in the saddle, roping and doctoring afflicted cattle every day.
Iris married Homer Wall in 1948, and they raised three girls and built a successful lumberyard business. They nearly always owned cattle and horses, and when Homer died in 1994, Iris began running the family cattle operation, the High Horse Ranch.
Today, Iris serves on the boards of both the Florida Cracker Cattle Association and the Florida Cracker Horse Association. She was named Florida’s Woman of the Year in Agriculture in 2006.
FLORIDA WAS ONE BIG SWAMP. You’d send your dogs to get your cattle gathered up. We had them little old McClellan saddles with no horns. We didn’t know how to rope worth a flip in the state of Florida. But when we got the screw worms, we began to buy old Mexican saddles and learned to rope.
I WAS BORN right here in Indiantown. I’ve lived here almost my complete life.
I GREW UP cow hunting. I was one of those kids that loved it. It was in my gut. I would ride 13 miles to the Williamson’s ranch and get there at the crack of day to go cow hunting.
WE DIDN’T HAVE FENCES in those days. You always had a section that you kept your cattle in.
I’M A SIMPLE PERSON. The things I love the most in life don’t cost nothing. I love to sit around the fire at night. I love old country people. And I love horses and cattle.
WE HAVE MEN who worked for our lumberyard their entire lives. And [after Homer died] I felt a tremendous responsibility to them. Whatever it took, I had to hold everything together for their future.
HOMER WAS A PRINCE of men. Most people love money and use people. He loved people and used money.
IT BLOWED ME AWAY the first time I went to Texas. People live in durn million-dollar mansions, and they got a roping arena right in the front yard. Everybody in Texas ropes.
PEOPLE FROM THE NORTH just have a different style than we do. They think because we talk real slow that we’re slow of thinking. But we got a pretty good mind. We just don’t push and shove like they do.
THE WHIP was a very important tool. We young-uns and the men would start in the morning and gather about a hundred cattle. Then the men would leave us with those cows and ride out to bring in other cattle. We would just plunk along with them cows. If we heard that whip popping ahead of us, we knew we’d better speed up. If we heard it popping behind us, we just held the cattle up.
MY GRANDMA lived a mile from us. If she wanted us, she’d step out in the yard and pop that whip three times, and we could hear it.
“CRACKER” REFERS to rural folks. You can just spot one. They’re a very basic people. They don’t want to be something that they aren’t. They have a very hard work ethic.
NEVER CAN I REMEMBER wanting something I didn’t have. Success is being happy in your circumstances, whether good or bad.
A CRACKER HORSE is a tough little horse. They’re easy to keep. You don’t never have to worry about them getting overly tired. It’s rare for the heat to get to them. They’ll just stop and blow for a little bit, then go on.
HOMER ALWAYS SAID there wasn’t no worse position in the world than to crawl off your high horse. So after he passed away, we called this the High Horse Ranch.
WE WAS GATOR HUNTERS. If they hadn’t stopped buying alligator hides, they would have never stopped Crackers from hunting gators. You worked for $150 a month, from daylight till dark. And one five-foot gator would bring $35. You know darn well Crackers were gonna hunt gators.
NOBODY WANTS TO PROTECT this land more than I do. I’ve learned to deal with the South Florida Water Management, but they haven’t won every battle. I am determined that they aren’t gonna tell me every single thing I can do. I think I have enough sense to know when to disc my pastures and when to burn my woods. People have to use common sense. Something that will work today might not work tomorrow. Making one rule and saying the whole world has to abide by it just don’t work.
IF THE GOVERNMENT KEEPS taking up ranch land and not giving the rancher any kind of break to keep his land, pretty soon we’ll have to import all of our meat from Brazil and Argentina.