The Cow Creek Chronicles is the true-life story of a pioneering Florida family and the vast ranch they established. In the first episode, Keightley Raulerson arrives in Fort Pierce in 1896 and later wins political office and helps form the early governments of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County.

His younger brother, Frank, arrives in 1907 with wife, Annie Louise, and their young son, Alfred. Keightley dies in 1913, leaving Frank to oversee a cattle business, slaughterhouse and grocery store.

Frank grows the businesses and wins election to the county commission. He builds the landmark Raulerson Building in downtown and a new home on Orange Avenue in the 1920s boom era.

In the 1930s, he wins office to the Florida Senate. He also begins making large purchases, creating a 23,000-acre ranch along the St. Lucie-Okeechobee county line called Cow Creek. Frank's son, Alfred, is the presumed heir to all that Frank accumulates, but when Alfred dies in a boating accident in 1938, the only heir is Alfred's 8-year-old daughter, Jo Ann. Frank and Annie Louise persuade Jo Ann's mother to let them raise the young girl, arguing that they have better means to do so.

She relents. Jo Ann grows up a child of privilege but is also conflicted. She is both influenced by her grandmother's Victorian-era values and her grandfather's desire to make her a cattlewoman capable of running Cow Creek and his other land holdings.

The death of Jo Ann's father and separation from her mother steels Jo Ann's emotions, allowing her to endure almost anything. Annie Louise dies in 1951 and Frank sells off most of his real estate holdings, except Cow Creek, before his death in 1954, putting his assets in a trust that becomes available to Jo Ann after her 30th birthday and beyond the 1960s.

Jo Ann marries a clothing salesman and lothario, Tommy Sloan, in 1952. She gives birth to their two daughters, Debra and Kathy, while he is in the Army.

On his return home, he begins to learn the ropes of running the ranch and, despite an awkward start, wins his way to becoming president of the St. Lucie County Cattlemen's Association in 1959.

A new generation, a new direction

Jo Ann and Tommy Sloan
Jo Ann Sloan inherited Cow Creek Ranch after the death of her grandfather in 1954. She married Tommy Sloan in 1952, and he began running the ranch after service in the Army. Though he had no experience raising cattle, he slowly learned the ropes and was depicted nationwide as a model rancher by the late 1960s.

After the death of Cow Creek founder Frank Raulerson, his granddaughter, Jo Ann, inherits the 23,000-acre ranch and turns over the reins to her husband, Tommy


By any stretch, the 1960s were a banner decade for the T.L. Sloan family and Cow Creek Ranch, one that would lead them to national prominence.

Jo Ann Sloan had been the inheritor of a multimillion dollar estate, including the 23,000-acre Cow Creek Ranch, from her grandfather, Frank Raulerson, who died in 1954 and had structured his estate putting everything in a trust until after Jo Ann reached her 30th birthday. Jo Ann had married Tommy, also known as T.L., in 1952, fulfilling her grandparents' wish of finding a mate who could help her run the ranch.

But service in the Army and the trust control prevent Tommy from becoming heavily involved in the ranch right away. Overseeing the trust are Raulerson's longtime bookkeeper O.G. Nanney, lawyer L.O. Stephens and Jo Ann's great aunt, Grace Lee.

While Tommy had no ranching experience when he marries Jo Ann in 1952 at the age of 20, he proves himself such a capable rancher that by 1958 fellow ranchers vote him president of the St. Lucie County Cattlemen's Association.

By 1960, Tommy is also gaining local press notices for his ranch work. In a column titled Hammock Country, The News-Tribune reports that "Sloan is responsible for the daily health of his stock, for the maintenance of 36 sections of pasture and for seeing that the herd increases through careful breeding.''

The profile also notes that he was raising "Herefords, Brahmas and selected cross-strains of cattle for sale to all parts of the U.S.'' It describes facilities at the ranch as "machinery for land clearing and planting, homes for the three families who live there year-round, a bunkhouse for the hands, barns and maintenance sheds.''

The article details Tommy's typical work day as leaving Fort Pierce at 5 a.m. for the 17-mile drive to the ranch, "breakfast at 6 and then 12 more hours overseeing the work of seven employees. Much of the time is spent on horseback checking stock or moving herds from one pasture to another,'' the article says, also noting that Tommy tries to improve 500 acres of the ranch each year, "acting on the theory that where 20 acres of raw land is needed to support one animal, one acre of improved pasture will do the job.''

Tommy's work is so hands-on that in 1963 he is charged by a bull and breaks his leg while attempting to drive it to another pasture. It's the same leg that had been injured in a 1958 automobile accident on the ranch. The latest break leaves him with a slight limp for the rest of his life.

The cowboys of Cow Creek created this old-timey photo for Jo Ann and Tommy Sloan in the 1970s
The cowboys of Cow Creek created this old-timey photo for Jo Ann and Tommy Sloan in the 1970s. From left are Jimmy Percy, Will'um Thomas, Curtis Arnold, George "Junior'' and Betty Mills, Jack Murphy and Earl Storey. Matthews the horse is pulling a carriage owned and used by Jo Ann's grandfather Frank Raulerson.

Jo Ann and Tommy were fortunate to be able to rely on a core group of cowboys to help run Cow Creek, some of them going back to Jo Ann's grandfather's ownership.

They found much of their guidance in the form of brothers Curtis and Aubrey Arnold. Both had worked at Cow Creek under ranch foreman John Norman in the late 1940s, served tours in the Army and returned to Okeechobee, eventually working full time at Cow Creek. Aubrey would become the ranch's foreman. Both men were raised in Okeechobee, the sons of a state road department foreman, and were adept at working heavy equipment. Curtis, a quiet man with bright blue eyes, also was instrumental in starting the ranch's citrus groves.

Curtis Arnold
Curtis Arnold, a cowboy-turned-grove-foreman, creates a cow whip out of deer hide. Arnold planted many of the citrus groves at Cow Creek Ranch.

Also working with them was Curtis' brother-in-law, Will'um Thomas, a highly skilled horseman who also worked at Cow Creek in the Raulerson years. Will'um could find - and inject - humor into any almost any situation. Born in Avon Park without a father who would acknowledge him, he referred to himself as "an old woods colt."

Will'um was the next best thing to being a brother to Curtis and Aubrey. Will'um had married Arizona "Punk'' Raulerson in 1943. When Curtis married Punk's younger sister, Vena "Vee" Raulerson, a decade later, the two became lifelong best friends. Punk was a cook at the ranch in the late 1950s, and Will'um often took over the duties when Punk couldn't.

"I've known a lot of ranches and the one thing about Cow Creek is they always had a cook,'' Deroy Arnold, Curtis' son, says. "They had breakfast, lunch and dinner.''

Aubrey's wife, Ethel, whom Aubrey married in 1958, eventually would become the full-time cook at the ranch. Aubrey and Ethel lived in one of the three ranch-hand houses while Curtis and Will'um stayed in the bunkhouse during the week and would return to their homes in Okeechobee over the weekends or, more often, camp with their wives and Deroy on the north side of the ranch where they first had a small trailer and then a cabin.

The four were almost inseparable and together raised Deroy.

"It was like having two sets of parents,'' Deroy says. "If one wouldn't give me what I wanted I'd go to the other one.''

Deroy Arnold
Deroy Arnold grew up at Cow Creek Ranch and his father and uncle worked there since the late 1940s. He's now foreman of Triple S Ranch.

Another fixture in the 1960s was cowboy and strongman Earl Storey. He and wife, Joan, and their children, Little Earl, Morty and Nancy, also lived in one of the ranch houses.

"Earl worked the cow pens in the catch and squeeze shoot,'' says Kent Mills, whose father, the legendary cowboy George Harrison "Junior" Mills, and mother, cook Betty Mills, worked and raised their family at Cow Creek from 1970 to 1977.

"It required a pretty stout fellow to do that and Earl had some pretty strong cannons and was exactly what was needed for that job.''

Earl's pride for Cow Creek ran deep. Besides his cowboy duties, one of his favorite chores was making sure the grass was meticulously mowed around ranch headquarters.

With many ranches using day cowboys - men hired by the day for certain jobs such as roundups or working cow pens - having a core of cowboys who lived at the ranch over several decades was unusual. Kent Mills says his parents had worked at several ranches over the years before landing at Cow Creek.

"Their pay was probably upward of what they had earned from any other place,'' he says. Besides the free meals at the bunkhouse or on-site, the Sloans also gave the full-time cowboys a house to live in and all liberties to the ranch, including hunting rights. Some of the cowboys were even allowed to raise their own small herds on Cow Creek.

"It was like one big family out there,'' says Darren Robertson, who lived for several years at the ranch as a young boy and worked there during the summers as a teen.

Meanwhile, at ranch headquarters at the Raulerson Building in downtown Fort Pierce, O.G. Nanney, longtime bookkeeper for Frank Raulerson and a trustee over Jo Ann's estate, held forth.

The office was on the second floor and had a massive safe with the name Cow Creek emblazoned on the doors. Working for the frugal Raulerson, Nanney knew how to eke a small profit out of the narrow margins that could be found in the mercurial business of cattle-ranching. As one of three trustees managing the estate Jo Ann would have after 1960, he also served as a bridge between Raulerson's parsimony and the more free-spending habits of Tommy.

When Frank Raulerson died, he was land and cash rich. In the years before his death, he had sold two other ranches the size of Cow Creek, creating a large reserve of cash. Estate and trust records were not available for public review, but newspaper accounts estimated Raulerson's estate in 1954 worth at least $5 million in today's dollars. With restrictions on the use of money and the purse strings on the estate held by the financially astute Nanney until his death in 1970, it is likely the estate had grown substantially beyond $5 million during the 1950s and '60s.

Alfred Raulerson
Alfred Raulerson, above, was heir to Frank Raulerson's estate and land holdings, including Cow Creek Ranch.

Frank Raulerson and his granddaughter, Jo Ann
When he died in a boating accident in 1938, Frank Raulerson's only heir became his granddaughter, Jo Ann, seen with him here on horseback.

Kathy and Debra Sloan
Jo Ann and Tommy Sloan's daughters, Kathy, left, and Debra, appeared in a L'il Abner production in 1963 with their pet pig, Spots, a wild hog they domesticated.

Tommy and Jo Ann's daughters, Kathy and Debra, also became involved at the ranch at a young age, learning to ride horses almost as soon as they could walk.

Debra remembers working with the cowboys when she was 5.

"I asked to go work with the cowboys and my father said, 'Well, I don't want to hear "I want a drink of water." I don't want to hear anything,''' she says. "And so they always put me at the tail end of the cows driving them up.''

Debra began driving the ranch Jeeps at the age of 7, and one of her favorite things to do was to run the mineral Jeep and deliver mineral blocks to various pastures around the ranch.

"I would go out with Will'um … and I loved that because he knew all the cool places to go,'' she says. One of their favorite spots was an old citrus grove planted by Seminoles that also had persimmon trees. "He would always go and see if the persimmons were ripe.''

Kathy, a year older than Debra, says that during school they'd mostly spend weekends at the ranch.

"During spring and fall roundup, we'd stay out there, and Debra and I would take the bus from the ranch to school," she says. "A lot of summers we'd go out there and spend all summer.''

Cattleman's Day Parade part of the annual Sandy Shoes Festival
The Cow Creek Ranch unit makes its way down U.S. 1 during the Cattleman's Day Parade as part of the annual Sandy Shoes Festival.

Debra and Kathy Sloan in their outfits for the Cattleman's Day Parade
Debra and Kathy Sloan in outfits their grandmother Honey Sloan made for them for the Cattleman's Day Parade as part of the Sandy Shoes Festival.

During the 1960s, the Sloan family was one of the most prominent in Fort Pierce's biggest annual event, the Cattleman's Day Parade, which became the signature event of the Sandy Shoes Festival.

The parade had started in 1956 as a tribute to five pioneering St. Lucie County cattle-ranching families, including the Raulersons and Sloans, and grew each year, showcasing St. Lucie County's cattle-ranching history.

Riding on their horses as part of the Cow Creek Ranch unit, the Sloans won best family unit in 1963 and 1965, the same year Jo Ann also won the award for best horsewoman.

In the days before Saturday morning cartoons and cable television, the parade, typically held on a Saturday during the peak of tourist season, was the biggest thing going on in Fort Pierce.

It featured dozens of ranch units and often more than 100 horse-riding cattlemen and cattlewomen. From the spectators' points of view, sitting on the curb or standing on the sidewalk, it was a grand display of the town's agricultural roots and seemed almost as if the cattlemen and cattlewomen were riding off their ranches into downtown for the afternoon.

For many years the parade passed right by the Sloans' home on Orange Avenue and 11th Street, with the Cow Creek ranch unit tying up their horses behind the house to attend a big parade after-party each year.

"The Sandy Shoes parade was the only time of year I wore boots and a hat,'' Kathy says. "I usually liked to ride in shorts and barefoot.''

In the early years, Jo Ann and Tommy's mother, Honey Sloan, would sew shirts for those riding in the unit before buying the matching attire from the Farm Supply western store.

"We'd all have matching shirts riding in the parade,'' says Debra.

Memories of the Cattlemen's Parade are cemented in the collective minds of the cowboys' families: Bourbon pints not-so-well-hidden in saddles; the year that a parade-watcher who happened to be a horse trainer helped calm a colichy horse that Junior Mills was riding; and best remembered of all, the year Jack Crain's Model T broke down and Will'um towed it in the parade with his horse, Jack, typical of Will'um's cowboy ingenuity and a scene that made the next day's newspaper.

Tommy Sloan
Tommy Sloan usually led the Cow Creek Ranch unit during the annual Cattleman's Day Parade.

While Jo Ann was the inheritor of the ranch, it was Tommy who exercises chief control over it and the other assets, including the Raulerson Building, which provided steady commercial rental income.

Only a men's clothing salesman when he met Jo Ann, Tommy works his way into becoming part of the power elite of Fort Pierce. Having grown up in modest means, his civic involvement in organizations such as Red Cross, the Jaycees and the Elks, in addition to his leadership of the cattlemen's association, creates a wide network of influential friends. He never loses his boyhood self-assurance and marries one of the largest landowners in the county. With a cigar clinched in his mouth, he begins to exude a sense of money and power to those around him.

People and the press begin to take note. A 1962 article in The News-Tribune credits him with creating a doctoring chute that holds cattle still during the administration of antibiotics and a drenching syringe that stays loaded with stomach worm and liver-fluke medicine through pressure hoses instead of having to reload the syringe after each usage.

The next year, Tommy becomes head of the Florida Beef Council, an arm of the Florida Cattlemen's Association aimed at increasing the consumption of beef. The Sloans also attend the National Cattlemen's Association convention in Las Vegas.

But perhaps feeling overconfident in his establishment support, Tommy in 1966 makes an impressive but unsuccessful run for state House of Representatives on the Democratic ticket against longtime incumbent representative Frank H. Fee. In his concession speech, Tommy says, "Let me assure you that my interest in obtaining good clean government for our area is only strengthened and I will continue to work in every way possible for the advancement of our four counties.''

Tommy's work with the beef council and his ranch garners further statewide recognition. In 1967, the Alachua Lions Club honors Tommy as the man contributing the most to the Florida cattle industry in the past year. The club cites Tommy's work as president of the Florida Beef Council. In the five years Tommy serves as president, the council's contributions increase from $6,000 to $50,000 annually.

During the 1960s, Tommy is able to increase his geographic reach around the state. He gets a pilot's license and buys a Cessna airplane and later a Helio Courier, a plane that can take off and land on a short runway and that can maintain control at speeds as little as 27 mph without stalling, perfect for ranching. He's so smitten with flying that in 1969 he creates a grass runway behind the main ranch headquarters.

Tommy's newfound passion of flying also leads him to another one: owning German shepherd dogs. He meets a dog trainer at an airport one day who has a shepherd and asks her whether it's for sale. She declines to sell it, but tells him about other dogs she has. The discussion leads to Tommy's purchase of Gunner for Jo Ann, the first of many German shepherd dogs the family would have over the years. At one time, the family's shepherd brood would number as many as five.

Headlines from local newspapers show Tommy and Jo Ann Sloan's accomplishments during the 1960s.
Headlines from local newspapers show Tommy and Jo Ann Sloan's accomplishments during the 1960s.

While Tommy is gaining local and state prominence in the 1960s, so is Jo Ann.

She continues playing the role of Nora in Ada Coats Williams' Along These Waters and, along with Kathy and Debra, also appears in another play, 24 Carat, produced by the Fort Pierce Woman's Club. She also plays Mrs. Clyde Platts in a production of Doctor of the River Ridge, a pageant at the Fort Pierce Amphitheater that "continues its historical account of the pioneers who saw the future of a new country and how they met the problems and forged a thriving area out of wilderness.''

A talented floral arranger and gardener, Jo Ann becomes president of the Poinciana Garden Circle and is heavily involved with the St. Lucie County Fair, where she is chairwoman of the booth committee.

Playing to her strengths as a cattlewoman, she helps form the local chapter of the Cowbelles, the auxiliary of the Florida Cattlemen's Association, and hosts its meetings at her home. In 1964, she is elected president of the St. Lucie County CowBelles, a position she holds for three years before becoming president in 1968 of the statewide organization, now known as Florida Cattle Women Inc., a group that works with the Florida Cattlemen's Association to foster the well-being of the beef industry through education and promotion.

Tommy and Jo Ann as they appeared on the Discovery '68 show
Tommy and Jo Ann as they appeared on the Discovery '68 show on national television.

Kathy Sloan unsaddles her horse.
Kathy Sloan unsaddles her horse.

Debra Sloan rides across the television screen.
Debra Sloan rides across the television screen.

The Discovery '68 show
The Discovery '68 show appearing on ABC TV featuring Cow Creek Ranch was entitled Florida: Cowboys, Coconuts and Cattle.

The decade of the 1960s reaches a zenith for Tommy and Jo Ann in 1968, when ABC TV comes calling. Script writer Joe Hurley, intent on producing a show that emphasizes the growth of the cattle industry in Florida and dispelling the notion that all cattle-raising was occurring in the West or Midwest, picks Cow Creek to feature on the Discovery '68 television show. Hurley says he selected Cow Creek over several other Florida ranches because of its "progressive program of cattle production.''

It probably didn't hurt either that Tommy was the head of the Florida Beef Council and the show was done in connection with cooperation of the council and the Florida Cattlemen's Association, of which Tommy would soon become president.

Hurley spent two weeks at Cow Creek writing the show before a 13-member crew descended on the ranch in January 1968, filming over three days at the ranch, along with takes at the Okeechobee Livestock Market.

"I remember they took me out of school to do the filming,'' says Deroy, who was 10 at the time. Deroy appears in several key scenes, including one in which he was throwing a lasso while roping a calf and another one in which he dragged his saddle into the barn after a long day's work. Deroy remembers the film crew would review daily takes in the hay loft above the horse barn, which was plenty dark to accommodate the viewing.

"The directors kept telling me to saddle and unsaddle my horse,'' Kathy says. "They must have done 16 takes. I wanted to tell them, 'I know how to saddle and unsaddle a horse.' "

Looking back, Debra says it was a fair depiction of life at Cow Creek at the time. "Even if I had to saddle and unsaddle the horse way too many times it was a good documentary,'' she says.

The show, titled Florida: Cowboys, Coconuts and Cattle, aired nationally at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, March 10, before 25 million people. The Sloans hosted a huge party at their house for their viewing that included friends, the ranchhands and their wives.

All of their regular cowboys were featured in the show, including Aubrey and Curtis Arnold, Will'um Thomas and Earl Storey.

In the days before all television shows were in color and some were still black and white, the show, hosted by Bill Owen and Virginia Gibson, was presented as an ABC color presentation.

"Cow Creek's owner thinks of the ranch as a factory and of himself as a manufacturer,'' Owen says in the introduction. "His product is beef. Tom Sloan and his wife, Jo Ann, have taken a ranch that was a good ranch for three generations and made it a better ranch.''

The show opens with the cowboys sitting at a picnic table being served breakfast by Ethel before heading out for a cattle roundup.

The show centers mostly on Tommy's running of the ranch, with Jo Ann in a supporting role. Kathy and Debra, 14 and 13 at the time, were also prominently featured. In addition to a cattle roundup, the show features a segment on the ranch's dipping and vaccination program to prevent disease.

"Behind all this - all the ingenuity, all the devices, all the inventions - are the men and woman who have a solid attachment to the land,'' Gibson says in one segment. "Added to that, they have a gift for living alongside the animals with whom they share it.''

From right, Earl Storey and Will'um Thomas made up a core group of cowboys at Cow Creek during the 1960s and 1970s. To Will'um's right are his nephew, Deroy, and two teens hired for the summer, including Bud Hallman, far left, who would become a Sumter County circuit judge.

Tommy's publicity outreach doesn't end with the airing of a national television program depicting him as a model rancher. He soon hosts outdoor writers and editors in a tour to watch ranch operations.

After the Discovery '68 airing, he also works with the Florida Department of Agriculture, hosting several events at the ranch and at home for Puerto Rican ranchers visiting Florida.

The interaction with the ranchers leads to a deal between them and Tommy to ship Brahma- and Hereford-cross yearlings to Puerto Rico, beginning in 1969 from Vero Beach Municipal Airport. Some are replacement heifers to be bred as cows and others are steers that will be raised for slaughter.

Tommy has an even wider international reach in 1969 when he hosts Thai government official Siriwat Sarobo, who observes cattle breeding, feeding and cattle management at Cow Creek so he could help improve ranch production there.

Also in 1969, a new ranchhand arrives at Cow Creek. He's Don Robertson, who just finished a degree in animal husbandry from Texas Christian University. Arriving with him are his fetching red-haired wife, Diane, and their three young children, Robin, Donnie and Darren.

Don and Diane met at Miami Edison High School - she was a majorette and he was a football player - and married young. At Cow Creek, they live in one of the ranch-hand houses, and their arrival brings new energy and dynamic to the ranch.

"We went hog hunting almost every Sunday afternoon,'' recalls Robin, whose last name is now Longstreet.

Added to the mix is a young cowboy named Jimmy Percy, who worked at the ranch as a teen and had met the Sloans through their friend Dr. John Browning's daughter, Cathy. The smart and handsome Percy shows great promise as a rancher, and Tommy and Jo Ann make him an offer he can't refuse when he graduates from high school in 1965 - attend college to study agriculture and after he graduates, they will let him help run Cow Creek.

"He would stay at the bunkhouse during the summers,'' says Jamie Percy of Fort Pierce, Jimmy Percy's son. "Then once he graduated from high school Tommy said, 'If you go to college you can come back and become the general manager of Cow Creek,' so my dad went to the University of Florida for four years.''

Percy isn't the only teen on the rise who would benefit from working summers at Cow Creek. Two others include William H. "Bud'' Hallman III, who would become a Sumter County circuit judge, and David Bloodworth, who would become a lawyer.

Darren Robertson, Deroy Arnold, Stevie Arnold and Donnie Robertson
From left, Darren Robertson, Deroy Arnold, Stevie Arnold and Donnie Robertson astride their horses about 1969 in front of Tommy Sloan's Helio Courier at the runway behind the Cow Creek Ranch headquarters.

By most outward appearances, Tommy and Jo Ann have the world by the tail in the 1960s. They are a modern ranching couple who work together to achieve positive results for their ranch and the people it employs. With their large land holdings, newspaper notices and fancy home and cars, they enjoy an elevated status in Fort Pierce. But not everything is roses.

Early in the 1960s, they are confronted with a family tragedy. When Tommy's aunt and uncle are killed, they leave behind a high-school-age son, Charles Brantley, with nobody to care for him. Tommy and Jo Ann take up the challenge.

"I can remember going to Jacksonville and everybody deciding that Charles would come live with us because we had the most means and opportunity for him,'' Debra recalls.

Debra says it is not unlike what happened to her mother - at the age of 8 she became the ward of her grandparents, who concluded that they had better means to take care of Jo Ann than her biological mother.

Charles lives with the Sloans until shortly after his graduation from Dan McCarty High School in 1965, when he is drafted into the Army and serves in Vietnam.

After his discharge, he returns to Fort Pierce but has a falling out with the family and never sees them again.

Charles Brantley wasn't the only addition to the Sloan family in the 1960s.

One day around Christmas 1965, Tommy loads Kathy and Debra in his Cadillac and drives them to a house in Port St. Lucie.

"Right before we got to the house he said, 'I have a Christmas present for you,' " Kathy remembers him saying. " 'Y'all have a little brother.'''

And so was their introduction to William Thomas "Tee'' Sloan, Tommy's son by his relationship with another rancher's wife. The boy, born Nov. 21, 1963, was raised by his mother, who divorced her husband in 1965, with occasional visits by Tommy.

Debra and Kathy say the extramarital relationship wasn't Tommy's first and that Jo Ann endured Tommy's relationships with other women, including the boy's mother. The girls say he never strayed far from his lady's man image in high school - he referred to himself a "creampuff for the ladies'' in his senior yearbook - and commonly flirted with waitresses serving them.

"He never hid any of his indiscretions,'' Kathy says. "Mother truly loved him because she would never tell him no.

"She could have told him to hit the highway, but in the 1950s, '60s and even '70s divorce was frowned upon, especially for her,'' Kathy says. "She didn't want to start over again. He had a way of making you feel that whatever he said was gospel.''

Observes Kent Mills, who grew up at Cow Creek: "Tommy had some good ways about him, but he also had some bad ways and he had some weaknesses as old as mankind.''

Because Jo Ann's father died when she was 8 and her grandparents took custody of her, separating her from her mother, Jo Ann had learned to endure almost anything. Raised by her domineering grandmother, she had also learned to stay silent and never publicly show her emotions. Her grandfather, Frank, was the head of the household and made all of the business decisions and Jo Ann continued deferring to Tommy on all business matters.

Kathy Sloan with Moses a rescued deer
Kathy Sloan with Moses, a rescued deer that was a Cow Creek fixture for more than a decade. The family also raised a wild hog and wild otter.

The old well, horse barn and truck barn at Cow Creek Ranch headquarters.
The old well, horse barn and truck barn at Cow Creek Ranch headquarters.

Jo Ann Sloan shown here in 1965
Jo Ann Sloan, shown here in 1965, was a passionate gardener.

As parents go in the 1960s, Tommy and Jo Ann were strict.

Kathy remembers Jo Ann focusing on speech. " 'I don't give a darn. You will not say ain't in this house,''' Kathy remembers. "She was always correcting my English. ''

While Jo Ann was stressing manners and being a lady to the girls, Tommy spent a lot of time talking to them about life, sometimes incessantly.

"I used to beg my dad to beat me [instead of] talking to me for 15 minutes,'' Kathy says.

"We didn't get too many I love you's," she adds. "There just wasn't a whole lot of affection.''

Kathy says she began using drugs as an early teen and, at 15, secretly began dating a man 7 years older than she was. She went to St. Edward's School in Vero Beach in ninth grade and Dan McCarty High School in 10th and 11th.

"I don't know how I made A's and B's but I did," she says. "I did a lot of drugs and everybody I hung around with did. I was not a good kid, but I didn't go to jail or anything.''

"Kathy was kind of wild,'' says Debra, who remains close to her sister. "She would push the rubber band until it almost broke.''

Debra says Jo Ann did the best she could with the tools she had.

"Mother was strict. She wanted things done a certain way and she wasn't very flexible. I think that had to do with [her grandmother] Mother Lou and how she was raised. She was a loving parent as well as she could love, and she got better as she got older.''

Jo Ann's exacting standards were always in effect at dinner, which was often served by maids. Silverware had to be set in a certain order, hands had to be in their lap, the girls had to sit up straight and chew with their mouths closed - "all the things she would want for a perfect child.''

Debra says she always tried to do what her parents asked.

"I was a good child,'' she says. "I didn't give them any problems. I didn't want to get into any trouble.''

Honey Sloan, mother of Tommy Sloan
The much-loved Honey Sloan, mother of Tommy Sloan, was everybody's favorite relative.

Mostly, the girls found affection from Tommy's parents, their grandparents Aubrey Sloan, a retired railroad worker they called Aubie, and Honey Sloan, a longtime motor carrier for The News-Tribune. "I got most of my love and affection from Aubie and, mostly Honey,'' Debra says. "She was a sweet woman and good to me. She knew that I didn't get that type of love from Jo Ann or TL.''

Debra says Jo Ann had Tommy take care of disciplining the children. She says Tommy only spanked her once, when she told an off-color joke. As they got older, both girls began referring to their father as T.L., for his initials, Thomas Leighton. Many of Tommy's clothes were monogrammed with his initials, which appeared in other objects throughout the house.

"The best way I can describe T.L.'s parenting philosophy is that children should be seen and not heard,'' says Debra.

On family car trips, Tommy would smoke his long cigars with the air conditioner on and the windows rolled up and the girls couldn't complain. "He had an explosive temper and kept it in check more than you would think,'' Debra says. "But if you hit that button, just watch out.''

The girls say that their parents never discussed business in front of them and that they were unaware of family financial matters in the early years.

As 1969 rolls around, Debra was attending St. Edward's School in Vero Beach, which at that time ended at ninth grade. As 10th grade approached, she suggests to her parents that she attend Chatham Hall, a girls boarding school in Chatham, Va. Tommy and Jo Ann thought it was too far away and, because the family had relatives in Jacksonville, they compromised on the Bartram School for Girls in Jacksonville.

"It wasn't their decision as much as mine,'' Debra says. "I wasn't happy at home.''

Though apart for most of the year, the girls and Jo Ann reunite in the summer in western North Carolina where Jo Ann pursues one of her new passions.

"We'd hole up in a hotel for about a month,'' Debra says. "Mother and I were very interested in ruby mining and Kathy was interested in the guys toting the buckets.''

As the 1970s approach, Jo Ann's continued fascination with North Carolina intensifies and a drive down a dusty country road ushers in a new era for the family.

See the original article in the print publication


Stay tuned for Part III of the Cow Creek Chronicles in the fall edition of Indian River Magazine arriving in early October.

What happens in North Carolina?

What's next for Cow Creek Ranch and its cowboys?

Does Tommy settle down?


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