Why do they call Kissimmee Kowtown, with a K?

Many people may know Kissimmee as the gateway to Walt Disney World, but to many locals, the city is known for its rich history in the cattle industry. A history created by our pioneer ranching families helped us earn the nickname, Kowtown. While time and technology have changed in our beloved city, she has grown with it, advancing agri-technology and, yes, even rodeo technology. With fourth- and fifth-generation ranching families and agriculture companies located throughout Osceola County, it’s safe to say that Kissimmee hasn’t forgotten its roots, even in the 21st century. Let’s take a few minutes to look back on our heritage.

Kissimmee Kowtown
Old Kissimmee Courthouse.

With some of the first settlements in Osceola County sprouting up around the 1850s, cattle was primarily used as a source of food. But during the 1860s and the Civil War period, cattle began to drive (pun intended) the economy of our state as the Northern Army blockaded all other sources of food to the Confederate Army. With Osceola County’s vast prairie marshes, farmers began to expand their pasture size, bringing a surge of economic growth to the county. By the late 1870s, the cattle business in Florida increased to more than 500,000 heads, and local cowmen began to earn respected political and educational roles in the community.

By the 1910s, World War I not only had a significant impact on the world’s economy but on our own as well. Despite the desperate need for food sources, many believed Florida cattle to be too small. But thanks to Mr. E. L. Lesley’s wire to the Armour and Company in Chicago, representatives saw the quantity and quality of the cattle in Osceola County and it was all uphill from there. As a result of marketing cattle nationally, Kissimmee soon became known as the “Cow Capital” of Florida. By the 1920s, the Partins and Whaleys introduced the purebred Brahman cattle to the county as a way to expand their own business and put Kissimmee on the map.

Kissimmee Kowtown
Brahman cattle on the Whaleys’ ranch.

By the 1930s, Osceola cowmen were instrumental in the foundation of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, which started in 1934. It represented the first time that the cattlemen had formally organized in an effort to increase their influence within the state. The members helped to establish governing practices like pasture management, cattle upgrading, and fencing standards. In the 1940s, the cowmen’s strength and influence was felt throughout the state as Ray Carroll was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1940 and Mr. Irlo Bronson was elected to Senate in 1942. Their strong leadership had always been present within the cattle industry but now state leaders could see and recognize the value of having Florida cattlemen at the dinner table. And in 1941, during the Governor’s inauguration, the Silver Spurs Quadrille made their first public appearance. This is really where the Silver Spurs Rodeo conversation began.

In the 1950s, Florida livestock became more popular to the midwestern feedlots as cattlemen continued to upgrade their herds through pasture improvements and crossbreeding. However, the 1960s was a decade of change for Osceola County, where modern equipment, management practices, and the growing population caused a shift. The way they did business would forever change. We’re talking about the widespread use of cattle chutes for handling cattle to doctor, mark, and brand their cattle rather than catching them by hand. One of the most monumental changes for Osceola County (and possibly Florida) was the announcement of Walt Disney World being built in 1965. More than 27,000 acres of land, much of which was owned by the founding cowmen families, was sold to build the theme park.

Kissimmee Kowtown
Peggy White tending to her Brahman bull.

The 1970s were a tough decade for the cattlemen as they battled four years of inflation. It was the first time time that expenses had ever accelerated at such a rate. Along with inflation, the county was going through a transformation as Florida’s tourism industry began to boom. This gave way to an increase in taxes as the county tried to improve their infrastructure to support the influx of tourists, putting a further strain on the cattlemen. But fortunately by the 1980s, cattle prices became stable and expenses had leveled out.

As the 1990s and 2000s have progressed, Osceola County has become a tourist hub full of new attractions, restaurants, and entertainment that may seem to overshadow Osceola County’s rich and diverse heritage. But, if you just walk down the streets of Downtown Kissimmee, you’ll find the city adorned with cowboy boots in the sidewalks and Brahman cattle featured in the street lamps. The county even continues to recognize Rodeo Day so children can celebrate rodeo! We are currently home to the largest cow/calf operation in the United States when measured by the number of head, and over 300 farms and ranches still call Osceola County home. Our heritage may seem misplaced to some, but the Silver Spurs Club has and always will be committed to growing and educating those new to its history on how we came to be Kowtown.

The River of the Long Water by Alma Hetherington
Florida Cowmen by Joe A. Ackerman, Jr.
Florida Crop and Livestock Reporting Service in Orlando, FL
Osceola County Centennial 1887 to 1987 by Nelda Tarcai and Patsy Whaley

Want to see what the Silver Spurs Rodeo is all about? Check our event schedule to see when our next rodeo is and when tickets go on sale. Between the action-packed rodeo events and the family-fun activities, you won’t want to miss the rodeo when it comes to town!