The whip in the photos doesn’t look like much, but it is one that I am very proud to have in my collection. Why? Because it was made by my great-grandfather, L.R. “Roy” Bronson. The whip is crude; there is no plaiting, nothing fancy. Most collectors would think it was a piece of rubbish. It’s made from some leather straps, a wooden dowel, some tacks, and a bit of buckskin. According to my grandmother (his daughter), he used it mainly to control his dogs and around the cow pens.
Lest you get the impression that this is simply the work of some poor old cow-poke who couldn’t afford to buy a real cow whip, you should know that Roy Bronson was actually a very wealthy man. His surname is well known and respected among those in the Florida cattle industry. In his lifetime, he owned thousands of acres of land and tens of thousands of cattle.
You see, the thing about my great-grandfather was that he was a crafty old fellow; he didn’t become wealthy by being frivolous with his money. If he needed something, he usually made it himself. Long before people ever thought of digital clocks or putting them in car stereos, Roy had mounted homemade gadgets in all of his vehicles that would hold a pocket watch, so he could tell what time it was as he drove down the road or around his ranch.
You never had to look far to find something he had created in his workshop. When I was a child, most of his farm equipment was already decades old, but all well maintained; most of it is still in operation to this day. As a ranch owner, he was demanding; a perfectionist from what I’ve heard. Yet, many of the men who worked for him held him in high esteem.
Roy Bronson was a true Florida Cracker. A real “cowman;” since childhood really. I remember him talking about how that his father weaned him from his mother by taking him away to go “cow hunting.” Perhaps not even 3 years old and his father was already teaching him to ride and work cattle in the humid, mosquito infested scrubs and swamps of old Florida.
Even in Roy’s waning years, he could vividly recall how on that first cow hunt, he was amazed by the way the horses’ hooves splashed water in the air as they rode through a slough in search of wild scrub cattle.
I was living on his ranch, in his house, when I first started to make Florida cow whips. One morning in the Fall of 1991, grandpa finished his breakfast and stood up to go back to his room. As he did, he dropped his walking cane. Being close by, I picked up the cane and handed it to him. He thanked me and I responded with a simple “your welcome grandpa.” That would be the last time I spoke to him; the last time anyone spoke to him. He died later that morning.
Though he died only a short time after I started plaiting, I will always be grateful to God that Grandpa Bronson lived long enough for me to know him well and to be able to show him that I had learned to make cow whips.
His death was an end of an era in the family; I always sensed that it would be. Indeed, things were never the same. There was the usual sadness at first, then years of senseless litigation. Some of the heirs ended up with land, others got money. In the end, nobody really won. A couple of things I ended up with are some great memories of the old man and this old whip. And I wouldn’t trade those things for all the money, land, and cattle Roy Bronson ever had…
(A special thanks goes out to my grandma, Ruth, for giving me this whip!)