Pioneer Frank Raulerson builds a cattle-ranching empire, but who will take it over?
Rise of a Cattle Baron
The brothers Raulerson arrive early to Fort Pierce and help shape the community while also creating their own successful enterprises
BY GREGORY ENNS
Though his name is vaguely remembered today, Cyrus Franklin Raulerson was once one of the most influential politicians on the Treasure Coast. He also was among its wealthiest citizens.
A pioneer in the cattle industry, Raulerson, known as C.F. or Frank, amassed a small fortune raising cattle and buying land for more than four decades. The Raulerson Building in downtown Fort Pierce, designed by noted architect William Hatcher and built in the1920s boom era, is a testament to his vision and legacy, as is the home he built, impressive for the time, just a few blocks away.
In an era when cattle roamed the open range and interior land was seen as having little value, Raulerson purchased tens of thousands of acres to assemble four cattle ranches, including his home ranch at Cow Creek swamp along the border of St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.
With his only child, Alfred, working with him in the cattle business in the 1930s, the future of Frank Raulerson’s family seemed promising. But Alfred died in a boating accident in 1938, leaving 8-year-old Jo Ann Raulerson, Alfred’s only child, as the sole heir to all that Frank Raulerson had amassed.
Believing that they could provide a better life for their granddaughter, Frank and wife, Annie Louise, pressured Jo Ann’s mother, Mae, to give them custody of Jo Ann. Mae relented. Although the custody agreement didn’t involve a divisive court action, it faintly echoed the national case that played out just four years earlier of “poor little rich girl” Gloria Vanderbilt, who, after the death of her father, was entrusted to her aunt over her mother, who was declared unfit. And like the Vanderbilt case, the Raulerson succession involved a large trust fund.
The story of Frank Raulerson and his descendants is of a pioneering Florida cattle family making its way into the modern age. It is a tale of slow, long-term gains and huge, short-term losses, a story of undying devotion and casual betrayal and ultimately, a story of accepting things the way they are.
The C.F. Raulerson family’s appearance in Fort Pierce begins with the arrival of Frank’s older brother, Keightley Braxton, or K.B., in 1896, just two years after the Florida East Coast Railway arrived in Fort Pierce. He’s married – his wife is Elizabeth – and census records list his occupation as butcher. In 1900, he is elected to the Florida House of Representatives, representing Brevard County, which included part of what is now Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties.
Besides his legislative activities in the early days, he is a member of a committee that helps Fort Pierce incorporate in 1901. When St. Lucie County is created in 1905, after being carved out of Brevard County, K.B. becomes one of its first county commissioners. He serves on the first grand jury in St. Lucie County and is active on the Board of Trade, the chamber of commerce of its time.
By 1905, his success reaches a point at which he brings family members into the business, forming the Fort Pierce-based East Coast Cattle Company with younger brothers Frank and C.H. [Herschel] and business partner, J.T. Feaster.
The Raulerson brothers were three of the nine children of Wade Hampton Raulerson, a farmer who arrives in Florida from Georgia in 1860, buying 160 acres in Volusia County under a land grant. Just a few months after his land purchase, he marries a local girl, Catharine Hart. Wade Hampton Raulerson serves in the Confederacy during the Civil War and from the 1860s through the early 1900s he and his family live and raise cattle in Geneva, originally part of Orange County and now part of Seminole County.
While the name Raulerson is prolific in the Florida agricultural industry, these Raulersons are unrelated – at least going back as far as 1820 – to the descendants of the better-known pioneer Peter Raulerson of Okeechobee.
Frank Raulerson, a dozen years younger than his brother K.B., arrives in Fort Pierce in 1907 from Geneva and the family’s cattle operations there. By then, Frank, 33, has a wife, Annie Louise, 29, and a son, Alfred Keightley Raulerson, born in 1904.
This 1905 parade through downtown Fort Pierce celebrated the formation of St. Lucie County. K.B. Raulerson was one of the county’s first commissioners. FLORIDA PHOTOGRAPHIC CONCERN/ST. LUCIE COUNTY REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER
An early Raulerson Grocery Company advertisement.
K.B. Raulerson, seated wearing eyeglasses, was on the first St. Lucie County grand jury, which was formed in 1905. FLORIDA PHOTOGRAPHIC CONCERN/ST. LUCIE COUNTY REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER
At its heart, the East Coast Cattle Company appears to include a slaughterhouse and retail meat operations in Fort Pierce and at least a stockyard in Miami, apparently overseen by C.H. Raulerson. The company eventually expands to include cattle-raising and land buying. A sister company, Raulerson Grocery Company, is formed to handle retail grocery operations.
A 1906 article in the Florida Agriculturalist periodical gives an insight into the East Coast Cattle Company operations in the early days. In the article, K.B. gives a reporter a tour of the company’s stock pen just south of Fort Pierce to see “a carload of cattle and pigs that had just been received for the Fort Pierce market. The shipment was composed of 30 head of beef cattle and 40 hogs.”
The article quotes K.B. as saying that the company received a similar shipment every two weeks “for the market here and Miami,” a reference to the company’s stockyard in Miami. “This shows what can be accomplished in Florida, and no part of the state is better suited for the raising of beef cattle than the section west of Fort Pierce,” the article concludes.
Besides his involvement with the cattle industry, K.B.’s various real estate deals are chronicled in the local newspapers, the competing St. Lucie County Tribune and its rival upstart, the Fort Pierce News. Like his ability to promote his business in the Florida Agriculturalist, K.B. is also adept at self-promotion in his hometown papers. A 1909 article in the St. Lucie County Tribune duly reports an instance in which he entered the newspaper’s offices with “some of the finest specimens of Irish potatoes ever raised in this city.”
The article continues: “The East Coast Cattle Company have also decided to plant on their land next year an orange and grapefruit grove of twenty acres. Mr. Raulerson is elated with the success of his potato venture and predicts a rosy future for that infant industry in this section.”
But K.B.’s trajectory of success doesn’t last long. His health was always precarious, as various newspaper accounts reveal, and in 1913 he is stricken with pneumonia after undergoing a surgical procedure in Atlanta. The 52-year-old K.B. dies at the Marion Hotel there, leaving his second wife, Effie Alderman Raulerson, all his real and personal property.
K.B.’s obituary in the St. Lucie County Tribune reflects on K.B.’s accomplishments and the activities of the East Coast Cattle Company.
“The company [has been] buying cattle in all parts of Florida and Georgia and operating extensive slaughterhouses in Fort Pierce, supplying practically all the native beef used along the East Coast from New Smyrna to Key West, [with] shipments being made on practically every express train leaving this city. The company has also operated in the regular trade in many of the towns along the coast, and in Fort Pierce.”
An early truck pulls wagonloads of materials, apparently during the creation of the 4-mile road that leads from the entrance to the cow pens and barn at Cow Creek Ranch.
Alfred Norman, son of ranch foreman John Norman, drives a tractor cutting torpedo grass, some of the first pasture grass planted on Cow Creek Ranch, in the early 1940s. ALFRED NORMAN COLLECTION
With his brother and president of East Coast Cattle dead, Frank Raulerson steps out of K.B.’s shadow to assume the company’s presidency and follows his brother’s footsteps into public service. Despite having just a third grade education, Frank takes front and center in business and politics. In 1919, as president of the East Coast Cattle Company, he builds a $25,000 cold storage plant in Miami and a $100,000 slaughterhouse in Fort Pierce, according to a Miami Herald article.
The article also notes that the company has an existing cold storage facility in Fort Pierce and quotes Frank as saying that the company’s standards are so high that only four out of five cows are selected to be butchered “as proper food for the public.”
A 1920 article in the Okeechobee Call newspaper also remarks on the scope of the operation he has established: “C.F. Raulerson has been loading 27 cars of beef cattle that will be shipped to Texas. The shipment will make a solid trainload and will be carried to their destination by a special train. The sale of these cattle calls for the delivery of one thousand head and will bring the magnificent sum of $37,000, which is believed to be a record shipment of purely beef cattle from any one place in Florida. The cattle have been raised here in Okeechobee County and are the product of the excellent range and pasture land of this county.”
In 1919, Frank also achieves success in the political arena, winning election to the St. Lucie County Commission and serving on it until the end of 1928.
By 1924, he completes construction of the Mediterranean revival-style Raulerson Building, the landmark William Hatcher-designed structure still standing at the corner of Second Street and Avenue A in downtown Fort Pierce. Besides office space, the building also serves as the home of the Raulerson Grocery Company, which is located on the south side.
Just a few years before the Raulerson building is completed, Frank and Annie Louise build a home at 1033 Orange Ave., large for the time and, with its barrel-tile roof, arched porch and Mediterranean influences, appears very likely designed by Hatcher as well.
Not content to confine himself to the cattle and grocery business, Raulerson in 1926 heads a syndicate that purchases the local News-Tribune, recently created from a merger with the Fort Pierce News and St. Lucie County Tribune. He and the syndicate run the newspaper until selling it in 1929.
In 1927, Raulerson heads a group that forms the St. Lucie County Cattleman’s Association consisting of about a dozen ranchers, becoming its first president in 1930. Also during this period, he becomes a member of the state Livestock Sanitary Board, which issues requirements for how cattle are to be treated in order to stop the spread of diseases such as tick fever and brucellosis.
Raulerson gives up his seat on the Livestock Sanitary Board in 1931 when he is elected to the state Senate, where he serves until 1935, resigning before his second term ends. No explanation is given for the resignation, although it is announced with the same news as his reappointment to the Livestock Sanitary Board – an indication that the proceedings of that board were more important to him than those of the Florida Senate. He serves on the sanitary board through at least the middle of the next decade.
Frank Raulerson’s time on the county commission, the Livestock Sanitary Board and Florida Senate might have given him insight to execute his next business play: purchasing large land tracts on which to graze cattle.
In the first quarter of the 20th century and earlier, land in interior Florida was not seen as valuable. Before the creation of drainage districts, which dug canals and built dikes that made swampland usable for grazing, much of interior South Florida was either marsh or run over with scrub.
In those days, cattle roamed freely, grazing wherever they chose without fences. Branding – a process that uses heated iron seared onto a cow’s hind leg to create a brand – helps cattlemen identify their animals. Thus, early Florida cattlemen placed the value on cattle instead of land and a single steer could command far more money than a single acre. In 1931, for example, cattle had a value of $41 per head while agricultural lands, as Raulerson’s purchases would prove, could be had for as little as a few dollars an acre or less.
Cattle have been part of Florida’s landscape ever since Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in what he called La Florida in 1521. The cattle Raulerson and other early settlers raised were descendants of these animals, which were called cracker cows or scrub cattle.
Cattlemen typically kept females and calves penned for raising and future reproduction but they allowed steers, castrated male cattle, to roam, grazing freely on thousands of acres owned by other people, many of whom had their own cattle grazing on the open range as well.
Once or twice a year the steers, less aggressive than bulls and typically raised for their meat, were rounded up by cowboys on horseback and driven to market. Large drives might end up at stockyards in Tampa while smaller ones would make their way to the Raulerson slaughterhouse in Fort Pierce.
Most of the steers raised in this region were used for beef to be sold in Cuba or Florida, as national consumers preferred heartier beef from the American Southwest in favor of Florida’s scrawny scrub cattle.
To enhance the industry in Florida, some cattlemen tried to import new breeds. But their efforts were thwarted by diseases such as tick fever. The new breeds simply were more sensitive to tick fever than the native cattle. The grip of the disease over the state’s cattle industry became so tight that in 1923 the legislature created a tick eradication program that required cattle to be dipped in vats of arsenic every 14 days until they were tick free. This required the use of fences for quarantining.
Nevertheless, the eradication program succeeded in making parts of Florida tick free and fencing requirements soon were abandoned. The industry enjoyed a resurgence in the 1930s as cattlemen focused efforts on improving breeds and better grazing.
In 1937, a law was passed that allowed the sale of land for back taxes and opened the way for cattlemen to buy land cheaply. The University of Florida’s Institute of Agricultural Sciences reported that the average land holdings of ranches jumped from 88 acres to 870.
Frank Raulerson completed the Raulerson Building in 1924. The Raulerson Grocery Company was located on the south side of the building.
A downtown Fort Pierce landmark, the Raulerson Building still stands today at Avenue A and Second Street. GREGORY ENNS
With open-range cattle causing train and motor vehicle accidents and sometimes overrunning small farms, many states adopted laws requiring cattle to be fenced. By 1949, Florida finally enacted a law requiring the fencing of cattle, the last in the nation to do so.
But it would take several decades before that fateful year for many Florida cattlemen to realize the open range was ending. Not Raulerson. In the 1930s, using a company he formed in 1925 known as the Raulerson Cattle Company, he begins purchasing large tracts of land that will become Cow Creek Ranch.
One of the largest purchases is announced in a May 1937 article in The Miami News, which notes that Raulerson had acquired 6,390 acres at the dividing line between St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties for $13,000, or $2.03 an acre. The newspaper reports that the purchase brings his land holdings to 8,550 acres. “He will use the acreage for pasturage of thoroughbred cattle.”
In August, The Miami News also reports that Raulerson buys another 8,600-acre tract in St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, reportedly for $17,000 [$1.98 per acre], “to further increase his already extensive pasturage.”
Both purchases were made from the Consolidated Naval Stores Company. Founded in 1902, the company harvested gum from long leaf yellow pines to create turpentine, mostly for ship maintenance. The latest acquisition brought Raulerson’s total acreage in the tract to “16,689 acres, all under fence, extending in a 10-mile strip that varies from two to four miles in width,” The Miami News reports.
The purchase of land at the swamp known as Cow Creek was fortuitous, if not intentional, because it assured a water supply for cattle even during the driest years. The creek, fed from the seeping water of a sand ridge through a forest of cypress, is actually more of an expanding and contracting swamp that runs along about six miles from the far eastern border of Okeechobee County east into St. Lucie County.
“That creek would get so big, you’d have to swim your horse across it,” says Alfred Norman, who worked at Cow Creek Ranch as a young man and whose father, John Norman, was foreman from the 1930s through the early 1950s.
With its organic expansion and contraction, the creek also had significance for the native Seminoles living on the ranch through the 1930s. Descendants of Chief Chupco, who live on a small reservation west of Fort Pierce, say their ancestors lived at Cow Creek and there remains archaeological evidence of Seminoles living on the property.
Raulerson eventually would buy enough land to create a 23,000-acre ranch at Cow Creek, large enough to be classified as a township 6 miles long and 6 miles wide. The ranch extended from Okeechobee Road to Orange Avenue. To give an idea of how big the Cow Creek spread was, as visitors entered the main entrance on Okeechobee Road, they’d still have to drive an additional 4 miles on the main ranch road to reach the barn and cow pens.
Raulerson also makes similar purchases farther west in Okeechobee County, buying the Dixie Ranch and the Taylor Creek Ranch, both about 23,000 acres in size. He also would purchase another ranch, Fellsmere Farms in Indian River County, of about 6,000 acres, according to Norman.
Norman’s earliest memories are of Cow Creek Ranch, which had sections with names like Dog Slough, Cypress Creek, Blue Mountain, JB Pasture, Wagon Wheel, Joe Byers Strand and Son Arnold Gulley. “I’ve been over every foot of it,” Norman says. He says Raulerson used a “club brand” for his cattle. The brand is elliptical and appears to be based on a four-leaf clover.
The 85-year-old Norman recalls Frank Raulerson as a tall man who smoked Tampa Nugget cigars and drove a Cadillac. “My dad called him Frank, but everyone else called him Mr. Raulerson,” Norman says
Norman, who began working as a cowboy at Cow Creek after dropping out of fourth grade, says Raulerson was a smart businessman. “He knew what he was doing. To start with, he raised his own bulls and then started using Hereford and Brahma bulls. He didn’t have Angus or nothin’ like that. He had Hereford and Brahma and bred them to the scrub cattle.”
Norman says Frank Raulerson’s younger brother, Lucius “Loosh” Raulerson, was a longtime cook at the ranch. He says Raulerson also for a time was in a cattle partnership with cattleman Nathan “Teet” Holmes.
In those early days of the ranch, much of the work focused on clearing land, improving pastures and putting up fence, Norman says. Cow Creek had a sawmill, which was used to cut cypress from the swamp, among other places. “I remember when it wasn’t nothin’ but rough woods,” he says.
Raulerson also had a herd of sheep and parts of the ranch were leased out to tomato farmers, according to Norman. The tomato farmers helped in ranch development because they had to continuously clear land to rotate their crops due to nematodes, a parasite that attacks the roots of plants.
Besides his business savvy, Frank Raulerson had another quality for which he is still remembered: He was frugal, his only extravagance the car he drove. “He was tight with his money,” Norman recalls. “He was a businessman. He didn’t throw no money away. If he spent a dollar he expected to make 50 cents back.”
Norman says that when and old fence was repaired, Raulerson would have the cowboys remove the old staples and straighten them so they could be used again “He wouldn’t buy no fence posts. He’d cut ’em out of the [cypress] swamp.”
Norman also recollects the well-circulated story about the time cowboys who worked for Raulerson got their money together to buy ingredients to have the cook bake them a pie, an extravagance not on Raulerson’s budget-conscious menu at the ranch. When the pie was done and the cowboys were eating it they offered a piece to Raulerson. But Raulerson demurred, saying it was a luxury they couldn’t have every night. When the cowboys told Raulerson they had pooled their own money to buy the ingredients, Raulerson offered that he’d have a piece after all.
By the 1940s, the days of rounding up cattle and driving them to market by horseback had ended, with tractor-trailers arriving at the ranch to pick up steers, according to Norman.
In his final years, Frank Raulerson continues to build and grow Cow Creek but sells off the Taylor Creek and Dixie ranches, preparing his estate for an easy transition for his granddaughter and sole heir, Jo Ann Raulerson.
“By the time he got elderly, he looked at what he had, and he had three ranches the size of Cow Creek,” says Debra Sloan, Jo Ann’s youngest daughter. “He decided to sell two of the ranches because he didn’t think a woman could handle all that property, and then he put it into a trust until Mother was 30 or so.”
Frank Raulerson’s attention to his estate might not have been so detailed if not for the death of his only child, Alfred.
By newspaper accounts, Alfred enjoyed a privileged youth, accompanying his mother on various trips to visit relatives, including to New York City, to visit Annie Louise’s sister, who was married to a Vaudeville actor.
Although Alfred would follow his father’s footsteps into the cattle business, his mind was elsewhere in his youth. At 17, he marries Thelma Alderman, 18, of Okeechobee. A notice in the Miami Herald says the wedding is performed at the groom’s parents’ home and Frank Raulerson gives the bride away.
But the handsome playboy’s marriage doesn’t last. Alfred apparently divorces Thelma and in April 1923, at the age of 19, marries 20-year-old Willie Mae Ford in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Debra Sloan says it’s likely that Alfred met Willie Mae during a vacation in Arkansas, where Frank and Annie Louise were known to travel.
The marriage to Willie Mae doesn’t last long, either. Records show Alfred, then 23, marries a third woman, 22-year-old Mae Pearce of Okeechobee, on June 15, 1927, in Indian River County. That marriage enjoys more permanence and the couple produces two daughters: Katherine Louise, who was born in 1928 but died just four months later; and Jo Ann, who was born July 22, 1930 and would become the sole inheritor to Frank’s estate and the keeper of the Raulerson tradition.
“He spoiled her,” says Kathy Sloan Blanton, Jo Ann’s oldest daughter. “He doted on her. Nobody could dote on her more. She was just the apple of his eye.”
With a daughter and his marital inclinations stabilized, Alfred joins his father in the cattle business, with the 1931 city directory listing his occupation as cattle raiser.
Newspaperman and historian C.S. Miley said Alfred Raulerson started out with one black calf that later produced six bulls in a row. “It was only after his father gave him a cow and a heifer calf that he had the nucleus of a small herd,” Miley writes. “In time, his cattle roamed over Indian River, Brevard and Osceola counties.”
Despite the fact that they are held in the grips of the Depression, many of Jo Ann’s early birthdays are celebrated in grand style with her extended family.
A 1937 newspaper item reports that “Jo Ann Raulerson, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Alfred Raulerson, was feted with an afternoon party Tuesday at the home of her grandparents, Mr. And Mrs. C.F. Raulerson, the occasion celebrating her seventh birthday anniversary.”
Alfred would only spend one more birthday with his daughter. He is killed Labor Day weekend 1938 when the boat he is piloting at night and carrying wife Mae and fellow boatman Hansel Smith strikes a channel marker and then a dredge pipeline pontoon in the Fort Pierce Inlet near its intersection with the Indian River.
Newspaper accounts report that Alfred, 34, was thrown from the boat and suffered a gash to the head. His body, hit by the boat propeller, was recovered the next day. Alfred’s wife and Smith escape without serious injuries.
With Alfred’s sudden death, Annie Louise and Frank immediately move to take custody of 8-year-old Jo Ann. The Raulersons, apparently without the need for court action, persuade Mae that they could better raise her daughter. “They had the money and they thought it was better,” daughter Kathy says.
“Alfred drank a lot,” Debra says. “Mother never said a thing about Mae being a drinker. I believe that Frank and [Annie Louise] had the means to take better care of Mother.”
Joyce Palmer McCall, who grew up on Orange Avenue a few houses from the Raulersons until moving in the fourth grade, said the Raulersons were caring for JoAnn even before her father’s death. “She always lived with her grandparents when I knew her from first to fourth grade,” says McCall.
“Jo Ann and I spent the night with her mother one night,” says McCall, 91 and now living in Marion, N.C. “She was living in a small house behind the big one. I remember because she put us to bed with wet hair after our hair had been washed.” McCall says going to bed with wet hair was something her own mother had never done.
McCall remembers that she and Jo Ann on Saturdays would often ask her grandfather for a dime each to go to the movies at the Sunrise Theatre. “Her grandfather would pay because my parents didn’t have any money,” she says.
When Alfred Raulerson was killed, McCall recalls seeing Jo Ann soon after. “We were out on the sidewalk and Jo Ann said, ‘My Daddy won’t be home anymore.’ ”
A year after Alfred’s death, Mae would marry Floyd Davis of Duval County. Her daughters say Jo Ann saw her mother occasionally as a child and reconnected in her college years, though Mae died of cancer in 1955, when Jo Ann was 24.
“She never talked much about her mom, especially growing up,” Kathy says. “I’d literally have to pry anything out of her. I’d ask, ‘Did you all get along?’ She just never had a lot to say.”
According to Debra, “When mother grew up in the 1930s she didn’t experience much of what other people felt, the lack of food, money or pretty much anything. I think Mother never lacked for anything except love.”
Jo Ann, who called her grandmother Mother Lou and her grandfather Granddad, was an obedient ward, never complaining or talking about anything unpleasant. The overbearing Mother Lou was exacting about the social expectations she had for Jo Ann and, perhaps sensing that she and Frank were too lenient with Alfred, made sure she kept Jo Ann on a tight tether.
“There wasn’t a lot of physical love back and forth,” Kathy says. “She had a very formal upbringing. Mother Lou made sure she could have tea with the queen or dinner with the president.”
The tragic death of Jo Ann’s father and the separation of her mother at the same time instilled in her an ability to shield her emotions, a trait she would carry into adulthood. With little or no power to influence events around her, the only option was to accept the things the way they were. Above all, her upbringing reinforced the notion that she shouldn’t share or voice her feelings, no matter how bad things got. She simply carried on.
Friends help Jo Ann Raulerson celebrate one of her birthdays in elementary school.
Jo Ann Raulerson’s childhood was largely spent with older adults, as indicated in this photo. From left, seated, are Jo Ann and her grandmother, Annie Louise, and grandfather Frank Raulerson. Her father, Alfred, and mother, Mae, are right of Frank.
Much of Jo Ann’s childhood was spent around relatives two generations older. Not only was there Mother Lou, but she had two great aunts, Grace Lee and Ida Macy, who lived in the houses behind the Raulersons, to hover over her. There was also longtime housekeeper Rogie Wright, who was hired the day Jo Ann came home from the hospital.
“She was just a big sponge,” Kathy says of her mother. “She didn’t have a whole lot of other kids to play with, but she was around the adults and she would learn to do the things adults could do.”
Kathy says the worst thing her mother told her she ever did as a youngster was to buy a comic book, a purchase that Granddad Frank disapproved. “She told me she didn’t say damn until she was 24.”
“You have to understand the generation gap,” Kathy says. “She was very spoiled, but as far as affection goes, they didn’t show a lot.”
While Mother Lou taught Jo Ann the nuances of entering formal society, as the sole heir to his cattle business, Granddad Frank made sure she was equipped to run it when he was gone.
Being raised by a cattleman, Jo Ann learned to ride at an early age and knew the ways of the Florida backwoods. “She knew how to rope cattle and she could crack a bull whip louder than anyone else,” says Kathy, who recalls her mother telling her that she would go on roundups with her grandfather.
“Granddad taught her to do everything the cowboys could do,” Debra says.
Weekdays were spent going to school and weekends were often spent at the ranch, where Jo Ann could pursue her passion of squirrel hunting. Alfred Norman recalls squirrel hunting with her as a child and being impressed at her shot. Debra and Kathy say it was a skill she brought with her to adulthood, often enlisting Kathy and Debra to carry her quarry for her.
“She hunted with a .22 long rifle and she would shoot 99 percent of those squirrels in the head,” Debra recalls. “Most people shoot squirrels with a .410 shotgun. She’d say, ‘Why would you want to use that? You could spoil all the meat.’ “
Perhaps she also gained some of her cooking skills in those early days. As an adult, she’d share recipes on cooking delicacies such as such as squirrel and swamp cabbage, rutabaga and greens, including collards, which she cooked without water. She sometimes even used soft-shell turtle eggs for cake baking.
She also was precocious in another respect. At about the age of 12, she began driving Mother Lou and Granddad Frank on yearly trips to one of their favorite vacation spots, Hot Springs, Arkansas. Kathy and Debra say Frank apparently used his political influence as a former state senator and county commissioner to get Jo Ann an early driver’s license. “Granddad Frank probably went to some judge and said, ‘Jo Ann needs a driver’s license,’ so at 12 she drove them out to Hot Springs,” Debra says.
Jo Ann Raulerson, about the age of 12, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with Granddad Frank Raulerson and grandmother Mother Lou Raulerson, in white. Family members say Jo Ann received an early driver’s license and would drive her grandparents to Arkansas.
Jo Ann Raulerson attended Rollins College in Winter Haven. Her grandparents hoped she would meet a boy who could help her run Cow Creek Ranch. She appeared close to getting her degree but never graduated.
At Fort Pierce High School, Jo Ann didn’t spend a lot of time with students outside of school. Few students knew about her abilities as a young cattlewoman.
A classical beauty with alabaster skin, jet black hair and a lithe form, she was never too far away from Mother Lou and Granddad Frank. “They were really strict with her,” recalls Elinor Phillips Blum, 91, a member of the Class of 1948 with Jo Ann.
Though Jo Ann was known as being wealthier than the other kids, she wasn’t snobby, Blum says. “None of us had any money back then, so she probably was the wealthiest kid in our class. I can just remember her being a really nice, sweet girl. She didn’t flaunt that they had a little more money than anyone else.”
Nevertheless, Mother Lou made sure that the local newspapers shared what she perceived as Jo Ann’s wonderful life. Newspaper accounts record that her 11th birthday was spent with an all-day celebration at the ranch; her Sweet 16 birthday, recorded with a photograph in The Miami News, featured a formal dance at the Indian Hills Country Club; and her 18th birthday was “a gay celebration by a group of her friends” at the Pleasant View Inn.
In high school, Jo Ann belonged to the Glee Club and a theatrical production called Stunt Night. She also appeared in the junior play and was on the yearbook staff. Classmates voted her wittiest. Says an inscription in her yearbook with her senior photo: “She is always bright and witty; her you’ll never have to pity.”
Thomas Kindred Sr., 91 and another member of the Class of 1948, remembers that in their senior year Jo Ann dated Joe Baggett, son of W.C. Baggett, who would become the clerk of courts for St. Lucie County. Joe Baggett was captain of the school band and a member of De Molay, a student fraternal organization. Classmates voted him most talented.
One potential young suitor who didn’t work out was Alto “Bud” Adams Jr., whose parents, Florida Supreme Court Judge Alto Sr. and Carra Adams, owned the neighboring Adams Ranch. “My dad told me my grandmother would make fried chicken on Sunday to bring over to Frank Raulerson,” says Robert Adams, Bud’s youngest son. “They were trying to pair up Dad with Jo Ann.”
After graduation, Jo Ann attends Rollins College, a small private liberal arts school in Winter Park. The college yearbook lists her as attending in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Debra believes that Mother Lou and Granddad Frank were hoping that by sending her to nearby Rollins, also in the heart of Florida citrus and cattle country, Jo Ann might find a mate that could help run the ranch after they were gone.
“Mother didn’t really want to go to Rollins,” Debra says. “That was Mother Lou’s deal. I think Mother probably wanted to go farther away from home and have a little more freedom.”
During a college break, Kindred recalls Jo Ann telling him that she and Baggett were no longer dating. Baggett attended the University of Florida for 2 ½ years before enlisting in the Air Force in 1951. He was from a family of six boys and one girl, with all of the boys serving in the military. He flew 54 firefighter bomber missions in Korea and died during a combat mission in Vietnam in 1965.
“I think Joe Baggett probably did love her but for whatever reason they didn’t hang on together,” Debra says. “In her later years, Mother always spoke very fondly of Joe.”
Though Jo Ann appears close to getting her degree, she never graduates from Rollins. The year leading up to what would have been her graduation was hectic. In March 1951, Mother Lou and Granddad Frank celebrate their 50th anniversary, an event noted in newspapers from Miami to Tampa. But Mother Lou, in declining health, dies nine months later at the age of 71.
Frank’s loss was so profound that he pays for a speaker system to be installed at the Fort Pierce Cemetery that gently chimes music during funerals regardless of the denomination. A tablet in stone at a traffic circle in the cemetery dedicates the system to the memory of Annie Louise.
During Mother Lou’s last months, Jo Ann meets a handsome self-assured clothing and shoe salesman named Tommy Sloan while she was shopping at I.M. Water’s menswear store in downtown Fort Pierce.
“He kind of swooned her,” Debra says. What was even better was that he had the approval of Mother Lou and Granddad. “They wanted her to have somebody who could help run the ranch,” Debra says. “Mother Lou loved him because he brought her booze.”
Jo Ann’s daughters say Aubrey and Honey spoiled their father growing up and instilled in him a sense that he could get whatever he wanted. One of his greatest strengths was getting people to see things his way. “He could sell ice to Eskimos,” Kathy says.
The differences in social stature and wealth between Jo Ann and Tommy were widely known, with Tommy always having to overcome the notion that he was after Jo Ann for her money.
There was also a slight difference in age. Tommy was two years younger than Jo Ann. Later in life, he’d often add a few years to his age to make it appear he was older than he was.
His high school yearbook reveals that his charming ways came early. As a senior, he was class secretary-treasurer and was voted most popular boy in school, quite an achievement since he had been at the school for just two years. He also was voted biggest flirt by his fellow seniors in the Class of 1950. On the gridiron, he played flanker and was known as Choo Choo.
“He was a charmer,” Debra says of her father. “He had a way of coming across to people in a real kind of slick ‘I’m all good, I’m in charge’ attitude. Obviously you can see that from how he was represented in the yearbook.”
The romance between Tommy and Jo Ann was a whirlwind. In April 1952, just four months after Mother Lou’s death and not long after she withdrew from college, Jo Ann and Tommy marry at Indian River Presbyterian Church.
But their wedded bliss doesn’t last long. Sixteen months after their marriage, with the draft still in effect and President Eisenhower ending the paternity deferment for married men, Tommy enlists in the Army, serving stateside for two years beginning in August 1953.
As Tommy leaves for the Army, Jo Ann is five months pregnant with their first child. She gives birth to Kathryn Louise, named after Mother Lou, in November 1953. The News-Tribune records Tommy’s absence: “Mr. Sloan, on duty with the Army at Tacoma, Washington, was expected to arrive here by plane Tuesday afternoon.”
But as one generation arrives another leaves. Four months after Kathy’s birth, Frank Raulerson, in declining health for months, dies at home two days before his 81st birthday. Except for a $50 monthly allowance given to his brother, Lucius, Frank leaves his entire estate, estimated at $5 million in today’s dollars, to a trust in Jo Ann’s name.
The trust is overseen by Frank’s longtime bookkeeper, O.G. Nanney; L.O. Stephens, a lawyer in the Raulerson Building; and Grace Lee, Jo Ann’s great aunt. Under the terms of the trust, Jo Ann would not have direct access to her inheritance until past her 30th birthday.
And while Tommy is away in the Army, their second child, Debra Anne, is born in December 1954.
Despite Tommy’s absence, Jo Ann is surrounded by help. She still has her two great aunts living behind her home and Rogie Wright, who kept house and helped with the girls. She also adores her in-laws, Aubrey and Honey. The Sloans had moved form Avenue E to Rosedale Avenue and begin a tradition of hosting the girls for overnight stays on Fridays.
After returning from the Army in June 1955, Tommy begins focusing on the ranch. The new generation of the Raulerson family – Jo Ann, Tommy and 2-year-old Kathy on Tommy’s saddle – rides proudly on horseback in the first Cattleman’s Day Parade in 1956, which was a tribute to five early cattle families, including the Raulersons.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Alfred Norman recalls that Tommy had a steep learning curve. “He didn’t know what he was doing,” Norman says. And yet, he acknowledged that Tommy slowly learned how to be a rancher, eventually taking control of Cow Creek.
Besides his ranch duties, Tommy immerses himself in the community. By 1958, the 26-year-old Tommy [newspaper accounts say he was 28] becomes head of the St. Lucie County Cattleman’s Association, disaster chairman of the American Red Cross and a director of the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
He captures headlines later that year when a blown tire causes him to crash in a ditch while driving on a dirt road at the ranch. With the car underwater, Tommy escapes through a back window and manages to crawl to Okeechobee Road, where a passing motorist takes him to the hospital. Newspaper accounts report that his leg is shattered and emergency surgery is required.
As the decade of the 1950s closes, Jo Ann is receiving multiple notices for her work with the Poinciana Garden Circle and the Presbyterian church. She literally takes center stage in town when she wins the leading role of Nora in Ada Coats Williams’ Along These Waters, an annual production about early Fort Pierce settlers performed at the Fort Pierce Amphitheater.
As the 1960s get underway, Tommy and Jo Ann take even greater strides, stepping briefly into the national limelight. For better or worse, their decisions would change the ranch her grandfather founded and the family’s direction forever.
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT
Stay tuned for Part II of the Cow Creek Chronicles in the next edition of Indian River Magazine arriving in early May.
Did Granddad Frank adequately prepare Jo Ann to take over Cow Creek?
What role will Tommy play in the ranch’s future?