For the next few months, I’m excerpting chapters from the first of two books about my early years in family medicine in Kissimmee, Florida – The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor. I hope you, your family, and your friends will follow along and enjoy this trip back into the past with me and my family.
CHAPTER 6A – COWBOY COUNTRY
One evening Dan Autry drove me around the lake and out King’s Highway, turning off to meander down an almost-one-mile-long dirt road. “I want to show you the lake from another angle. This is the ranch of my older sister, Connie, and her husband. His given name is Edward Louis, but everyone calls him Geech. He served as the best man at my wedding, and like sis and me, he is a third-generation Osceolean. He and his brothers inherited over twenty-five thousand acres of Osceola County ranch land on which they all were born and raised. Suspect they’ll all die here; that’s if the tourists don’t run ’em off. They’ve wanted to meet you.”
I slowly inhaled the earthy, humid fragrance of the countryside. We passed man-made canals that drained the former swampland and created lush pastures occupied by grazing Brahman and Angus cattle. The early evening air was moist and muggy, and the gentle wind wafting through Dan’s truck enveloped and hugged me. From my earliest camping days as a Boy Scout, I had always loved getting away from the city. The more rural it was, the more at home I felt.
“By nature and nurture,” Dan continued, “ranching is their way of life. The Partins are a breed of folk most people don’t have a clue still exists today: the old-time Florida cowboy. They’ve adhered to a lifestyle and a strength of character that has survived virtually unchanged for centuries. I’m right proud to call ’em family.” Dan laughed and added, “But don’t you dare tell ’em I said so!”
We drove up to a small brick ranch home and parked. “Geech and Connie have been married for nearly fifty years. They built this house themselves with salvaged antique bricks they hauled on a horse-drawn wagon from an abandoned and tumbledown sugar mill erected in the 1880s between here and St. Cloud.”
The house was situated next to a large red barn on the east shore of Lake Toho across from downtown. Palm trees at the edge of the water gently swayed in the evening breeze. We found the older couple sharing a glass of iced tea on their back porch. They rose to greet us.
Geech had a round face, tanned and deeply creased by years of sun and weather extremes. His nose ridge was crooked, likely from past trauma of various kinds. He was short and stocky and well-muscled. He tipped his Stetson and stuck out his calloused hand in greeting. Although his fingers were twisted, gnarly, and ravaged by arthritis and many accidents from cowboying, his grip remained strong and firm. Like all ranchers, he looked you straight in the eye when he shook your hand. I felt he was sizing me up—and it turned out he was!
Connie was average height and, given her age, moved with a surprising gracefulness. Her silver hair crowned a thin face, wrinkled as much from laughter as from ranch living. Her radiant smile exuded welcome. She wore glasses, but one quickly got the idea she could see into your heart. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Larimore. You’re welcome here. Will you have a seat and join us a bit?”
As she went into the house to bring out more iced tea, a large bull walked past the porch and bellowed. “That’s Wrinkles,” Geech proudly boasted. “He’s my favorite, and he knows it. Weighs nearly two tons, but he’s just a big baby. Follows me around the pastures like a puppy.” Geech laughed. How I would grow to love his laughter. It came easily for him. This was his land, and it gave him great pride and comfort.
As Connie poured tea for us, Geech continued. “Florida has the longest history of ranching of any state in the United States,” he explained. “The first cattle were brought here by the expeditions of Ponce de León in 1521 and Don Diego de Maldonado in 1540. Some of their stock escaped and survived in the wild. Organized ranching began around St. Augustine in about 1565 when cattle from Spain and Cuba were imported to feed the settlements. In those days, they called the boys who worked cattle cowmen, but by the late 1800s, folks referred to them as cow hunters because they had to hunt for cattle scattered over the wooded rangelands and swamps during roundups. By the time of my arrival here in Osceola County, we just used the term cowboy.” He finished his tea and looked over the cattle walking toward the lake. “My family inherited not just the land, but over 450 years of heritage.”
“Where’d your family come from? And how many of you were there?”
“The Partin clan arrived in Central Florida from Georgia in the mid-1800s. Daddy was born in Partin Settlement just a bit east of here in 1890. Daddy married Mama—she was a Bass—in 1909. They had five boys and one girl. Me and my brothers and all the sons and grandsons were born within fifteen miles of Kissimmee.”
“How about you, Dan?” I asked.
“Of our crew,” Dan replied, “I’m the young’un. Geech and Connie were born in 1914, me not until 1921.”
Connie laughed. “You just look older than me!”
Dan chuckled. “That’s from growing up with three older and bossier sisters. We were all born in Autreyville, Georgia—and, yes, it was named after a relative. Our family moved here when I was three. We all attended Osceola High School, the home of the Kissimmee Kowboys. That’s ‘Kowboy’ with a K, not a C. Back then, the big rivalry was with the St. Cloud Bulldogs from ’bout ten miles to the east. Guess it’s still a pretty intense rivalry, although Kissimmee usually comes out on top. All of my childhood memories are from right here in Osceola County.”
“Me too,” Geech added. “One of my fondest is that Daddy designed a brand for each of my brothers and me the day we were born. From the time we were old enough to climb on a horse until long after Daddy died in 1974, we all worked side by side virtually every day of the year. We worked together so long that we knew what each other was thinking. Heck, we knew what each other was going to say before he said it. Many a cattle drive forged the unity of our family. We’re a close crew.”
TO BE CONTINUED
This excerpt of The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor is provided with the permission of the publisher Baker/Revell. You can learn more about the book or purchase a copy here.
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