About River Ranch

RV Resort

River Ranch

History of River Ranch

The Mustang Center

The Mustang Center

Many years ago the original property and thousands of surrounding acres were inhabited by the Seminole and Brahman Indians. Brahman Island in Lake Kissimmee is named after the Indian tribe that used to hunt and fish on this land.

One of the original uses of the ranch was a staging place for the herds of cattle from Sarasota and Melbourne that were exported to Cuba. The trail that was used by the cowboys to move cattle was known as the Florida Trail, which still exists and can be found off the main boulevard entrance of River Ranch.

Kicco was the original town which developed into River Ranch, consisting of small cabins and a schoolhouse. The mail was delivered by steamships to a hook system that was connected to the shore of the river. Food and other essentials were also delivered by boat.

River Ranch has a direct outlet to the Kissimmee River which is known for some of the best bass fishing in Florida and where many tournaments are held. U.S. Skeet and Shoot World competitions were also held at River Ranch.

Perhaps the best known fact about River Ranch is that it holds the record for the longest operating rodeo in Florida. Many local and national champions perform here on a weekly basis. Tater Porter who lives in nearby Kennansville is a world champion Bull Rider. Also, The Saloon which was originally built in Texas in 1918 continues to be a favorite hot spot!

We hope you enjoy your stay at River Ranch. Take a horse ride, hay ride, watch a rodeo, enjoy a night in the saloon and relax in an authentic “Dude Ranch” setting!

Believe it or not, Florida is actually the birthplace of the American cowboy. Long before cowboys became the symbol of the American West in the late 19th century Seminole Indians, Spanish colonists, and American settlers called “Crackers” herded cattle in Florida. Westgate River Ranch is located on some of the same land that those first cowboys roamed years ago.

Fun Facts - Click on titles to expand

Spanish Explorers

In the year 1521 the first cows and horses arrived in North America on the ship of famous Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon as he made his second expedition to the Americas and landed his ship on the Southwest coast of Florida. Ponce de Leon brought with him 25 horses and 50 head of cattle. Within hours of unloading the ship the group was attacked by the native Calusa Indians who drove them back to their ship and scattered the cattle and horses into the swamplands of Florida. Ponce de Leon was mortally wounded by a poisoned arrow and died shortly after returning to Havana, Cuba. In 1565 Spanish explorers under the leadership of Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the settlement of St. Augustine in Northeast Florida. They brought with them more cattle, horses and pigs, as well as oranges and fruit trees from Spain. In the early days of the Spanish settlements in Florida stray cattle and horses would become wild and mix and breed with cows that had originally escaped in 1521. The wild cattle and horse herds grew into the thousands by the mid-1600s. The first account in American history of a clash between Indians and cowboys occurred in 1647 when native Florida Indians attacked Spanish ranchers and raided their cattle herds – scattering even more cattle into the swamplands of Florida.

Florida Crackers

In the early 1700s American settlers began migrating to Florida out of the Carolinas and Georgia. These early settlers quickly took advantage of the wild cattle roaming the state. They often were called “cow catchers” because they would capture the wild cattle and build herds from them that they would then drive to the seaports of Florida and sell to the Spanish that were sailing in from Cuba and Puerto Rico. The cattle would be taken back to Cuba and Puerto Rico to stock the ranches of the Spanish islands and be used as a food source. These first American cowboys eventually became known as “cracker cowboys” and the Spanish cattle and horses that they made their living with were called “cracker horses” and “cracker cattle.” The phrase “cracker” came from the crack of the 10- to 12-foot-long leather bullwhips they used to drive the herds across the marshes and woodlands of Florida. The cracker cowboys lived and worked under very harsh conditions. When famous American painter, sculptor, and writer Frederic Remington first arrived in Florida in 1895 he referred to the cracker cowboys as “wild-looking individuals” riding “emaciated Texas ponies” but the hard-working cowboys soon earned his respect and he painted a series of illustrations of them for Harper’s magazine.

Kicco and the Evolution of River Ranch

The area that became known as River Ranch once served as a stopping point along the trail for the cracker cowboys during their cattle drives across the state. They would meet each other here at certain times of the year and bring together the small herds of wild cattle that they had caught into one large herd. By doing that they could help each other get those cattle to market. History has recorded some of the early day cattle drives as having anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 head of cattle on a single drive. Since Florida was an open range without any fenced pastures, cattle rustling was prevalent throughout the state. In 1861, the State of Florida divided Hillsborough County into Eastern and Western halves – the Eastern half was named Polk in honor of James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the United States. River Ranch lies near the Eastern border of Polk County. Located just a few miles South of River Ranch is the location on the Kissimmee River of a former town that was known as Kicco (pronounced “kiss-oh”), which stood for “Kissimmee Island Cattle Company”.The town grew from the need of the local traffic coming through the area that at the time was either by horseback or by a steam-powered paddle boat along the river. The boats would receive wood to burn in their boilers to make steam and the cowboys would get supplies that were brought in by the boats taking goods from Lake Okeechobee up the Kissimmee River all the way to St. Augustine by connecting to the St. Johns River that flows North up the state of Florida.
The headwaters of the St. Johns River, which is one of only three rivers in the world that flows North, begins just 50 miles East of River Ranch. Kicco served as a thriving company town from 1915 to the late 1920s. The town featured numerous residences, a steamboat landing, school, bunkhouse, mess hall, ice house, company store, and even a few saloons and dance halls. The town faded away in the early 1930s as roads were built and transportation of goods moved from the river waterways to trains and roadways.

The original town site now serves as a conservation and recreation area run jointly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District. Today, visitors to Westgate River Ranch can take an old-fashioned hayride excursion into the 7,000-acre KICCO Wildlife Management Area. The abundant wildlife in the area includes white-tailed deer, alligators, bald eagles, wild turkeys, hawks, feral hogs, sandhill cranes and wading birds. In addition, the threatened crested caracara has been observed in the area.

Florida Trail

A portion of the 1,300-mile Florida Trail (officially known as the “Florida National Scenic Trail”) winds its way through the pine-palmetto flat woods, oak hammock, scrub, and cypress strand of Westgate River Ranch. The Florida Trail is actually one of the old cattle driving trails used by the first cracker cowboys to cross the state with their herds of cattle to get them to the ports and sell to the Spanish. The Florida Trail, one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States, extends from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore in historic Fort Pickens. The Florida Trail was originally established in 1966 by members of the Florida Trail Association.