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East Word: ‘Mama Rides Shotgun’ on Cracker Trail

Daybreak at Kibler Ranch in February can be downright cold. Smoke from campfires drifts into the heavy air, steam rises off the coffee, and the snorting breath of horses stabs the air.

It’s almost like looking back through the mists of time.

And in a way, the annual Florida Cracker Trail Ride is just that, a look back into history.

It commemorates the cross-state cattle drive by cow hunters more than 100 years ago, and starts in East Manatee and goes all the way to Fort Pierce.

But don’t let the historical aspect throw you. Most of the folks who make the ride are good-hearted, colorful characters, quick with a joke or tall tale, who come back year after year for the friendship and the camaraderie.

They all love to ride, but they also love to swap stories around a fire at the end of each day.

Deborah Sharp, a former reporter for USA Today, has picked up on this and written her second book in the Mace Bauer Mystery series, titled “Mama Rides Shotgun.” The book, full of humor and authentic flavor, is set on the Cracker Trail Ride. It was released July 1.

“I did a six-day, cross-state, camping and horseback ride to research the setting. What was I thinking? I hope you’ll have a chance to read ‘Shotgun,’ or my debut, ‘Mama Does Time’ (2008). They’re traditional, with a Southern-fried edge: Agatha Christie meets ‘My Name is Earl,’” she says on her Web site,

I had several phone conversations in recent weeks with Sharp, and she is planning a book signing at Lakewood Ranch Booksellers in September. We’ll keep you posted as that event gets closer.

Sharp, by the way, is married to veteran NBC newsman Kerry Sanders, a 1982 University of South Florida graduate. The current edition of USF’s alumni magazine has a cover story on Sanders. He’s pictured sitting in the cockpit of a jet fighter.

If you Google USF Alumni magazine, that issue comes right up.

The magazine also features a couple of Manatee County residents, including Roger Frazee, the newly installed national president of the alumni association, and Ron Reagan, speaker pro-tempore of the Florida House.

“Mama Rides Shotgun.” What a great title. I wish it were mine. But unlike Sharp, I lack the ability to stay on a horse six minutes, much less the six days to complete the Cracker Trail Ride, the time needed to do proper research for the book.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.