Captain John Parker was a Seminole War veteran and former sheriff of Hillsborough County. He was the first settler east of Arcadia (before the town existed) in 1858.
He became a cattle baron and established a ranch spanning 125 square miles. It straddled both sides of what is now Highway 70 to the Highlands County border. The Parkers also had land holdings in what is now Highlands and Okeechobee counties.
Captain Parker had five sons with his wife and additional children born to his former slaves. In those rough and tumble days, bushwhacking, mob-like assassinations, cattle rustling, shootouts, and other forms of vigilante justice were common. John got on someone’s bad side and his liquor was poisoned at a revival.
His vast land holdings were left to his sons: Zeb, Hooker, Austin, Smylie, and Accom. They carried on his tradition and lived a successful but wild cowboy life. They executed their share of pioneer justice and assassinations as well, but despite that were well-respected citizens of DeSoto County their entire lives.
They once sold off all of their cattle (35,000 head) in 1916. They were upset about how the business was changing from free range to fence laws. They thought it would never be the same. Eventually, they started again with cattle and livestock but also diversified their business.
Another family tightly coupled with the Ranch was the Browning family. They lived and worked on Parker Brothers’ ranch, with Zeke Browning being one of the ranch managers for years.
The Parker Brothers and Brownings helped found the Arcadia Rodeo in 1928. Buddy Browning was a prominent rodeo competitor on the local circuit. And the Parker Brothers married three Browning sisters, who lived on the ranch their virtually entire lives.
Zeb was the main businessman and president once the ranch was incorporated in the teens. He died in 1934. After the last of the brothers died, the ranch was sold in 1963 to oil magnate Calvin Houghland of Nashville, TN.
Isabel Browning Parker (who married into the Hooker family) said she had ridden every inch of the place working and hunting. She lamented when the ranch was sold. Houghland renamed Parker Brothers Ranch to Bright Hour Ranch, which is still referred to today.
Houghland cared for the land and preserved its operation and natural resources. He died in 2009 at the age of 93. Before his death, he saw that 28,000 acres (of the original 43,000) were set aside forever as a conservation easement. This included the sensitive Tiger Bay Slough.
There is a lot more that can be told about the Parkers, maybe I’ll compile some more stories to share another day!