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J. P. "Curly" Dekle

1987 Florida Folk Heritage Award


Florida cowmen use braided leather whips to control the movement of cattle, though the whips seldom actually touch the animals. The cattle respond to the loud “crack” of the whip, without having to be struck. Some people say the name “Florida Cracker” derives from the sounds of cowboys cracking their whips while driving a herd. The Florida cracker whip is characterized by the way the whip body attaches to the hollow wooden handle by means of a leather thong. 

J. P. Dekle, who lived in the northeast Florida town of MacClenny, learned to braid whips from his father, “Judge” Dekle, while growing up on a farm near Lake Butler. A well-respected raconteur, Dekle noted that the farm was "about two wagon-greasings from town. My dad had me out cattle huntin' when I was about seven years old. We had what they called free-ranged [cattle]. We had quite a job when that dippin' [cattle] come in; we dipped every two weeks to get the ticks off. Sometimes, we'd take a dip too, to get the ticks off..." His father taught him the basis for two refinements in whip construction that greatly improved balance, accuracy and loudness. First, Dekle weighed the belly of the whip with SB pellets rolled in a strip of duct tape. Second, unlike most other whip- makers, he braided the outer layer of leather from the tip toward the handle, so that there was no final knot at the tip to interfere with the cracking action. 

Dekle became adept at cracking whips and was renowned for his whip acts performed at rodeos and festivals throughout Florida and other southern states. Over the years he refined his act, which included plenty of country humor and audience interaction. After he retired from the rodeo, he remained one of the state’s finest raconteurs and whip makers.