By Charles Nelson
A Wimauma reader recently inquired about the significance of a partially hidden granite monument located on US 301, southwest of Balm Rd., near the entrance to the Belmont Subdivision.
The memorial inscription reads, in part: “Dedicated in honor of J. F. (Jule) Sumner and Emma L. Sumner. Descendants of pioneer cattle people in Florida, being honest, hardworking, faithful and God loving servants of the Lord. They were blessed with 20,000 acres of pasture land, a large herd of cattle, two sons and three daughters.”
The monument stands on land once owned by the Sumner family. Let’s take “A Look Back At…Jule Sumner!”
For Jule Sumner, working with cattle was in his blood. He was born in 1884 and grew up on his grandfather’s ranch near Kissimmee, in central Florida. In 1907 the family moved to Hillsborough County and ten years later, Jule bought 240 acres to start his own cattle ranch near Boyette.
Jule reportedly lived by two maxims throughout his life: “Treat your cows right and they will love you” and “Walk with the Lord. He will stick with you.” He married Emma L. Simmons, born in 1896, whose family lived near today’s Big Bend Rd. Emma shared his love of cattle and love of the Lord and together, with their five children, they expanded their cattle holdings to over 15,000 acres and over 800 head of “Cracker” cattle.
Sumner was a cattleman at a time when ranching in Florida faced existential threats. Increasing government oversight, changing markets that favored Western beef and tick and screwworm infestations were just a few of those challenges. Another Hidden Granite Monument On U.S. Hwy. 301 Is Sumner Memorial By Charles Nelson difficult test was the potential loss of the open range which threatened their treasured cowboy way of life.
Since the Spanish first brought cattle to Florida in the 1500s, cattle had roamed freely particularly in the central and southern parts of the state until rounded up by Cracker cowboys and driven to market. As a result, cows could be found just about anywhere, including wandering about on Florida roads. A Sumner family memory relates the story of an Ohio woman who hit one of their cows on Hwy 301. The driver sued the Sumners, but the courts ruled in their favor, saying that the car was intruding on land where the cow belonged. The driver was even required to pay the Sumners’ for the cow.
With both cows and cars sharing Florida roads, accidents were a growing menace. Reported Injuries and death—of both people and cows—were increasingly common. Many businesses demanded a legislative solution to the problem. As a result, fences were mandated for all ranches from 1947 – 1949.
Initially, most ranchers, including Jule Sumner opposed efforts to require fences. Unlike some ranchers however, Sumner took a more pragmatic view. He eventually understood that fencing was coming whether he liked it or not. He also understood that fencing could be a positive change agent as well. As an example, by planting better grasses, fenced cows could eat better food growing Florida cows to compete more favorably in a changing market. His leadership convinced many in the Hillsborough Cattleman’s Association to change their minds.
Jule and Emma Sumner, along with their children and now their grandchildren and great grandchildren, have been important, lifelong contributors to the cattle industry in Hillsborough County—an industry that was a vital part of our history. They deserve a memorial to their contributions.