NEWS ARTICLES


WHEN COTTON WAS KING

Lexington Progress 5 November 2014
By Patsy Jones Noble

What once was "back-breaking labor" was picking cotton from sun-up to sundown! Things were different from the 1960's back to the era of Eli Whitney's cotton gin invention in 1793. Those cotton fields were filled with pickers wearing straw hats or bonnets pulling seven or nine feet long sacks. Even little children wore homemade flour sacks. Every pound picked helped finish the fields before the rain damaged the crops. Have times changed?

Noticeable today are farmers cutting hay mostly into rolls and cotton picking machines doing the picking. School is no longer dismissed for six-weeks. Students are no longer needed in helping parents and grandparents gather crops.

Years ago Jacks Creek Gin manager was Hal Christopher; Pud and Jimmy Jones were ginners; and Ernest and Lewis Jones were office workers. Loaded cotton wagons were weighed then vacuumed into the gin by Jack Barham, L.C. Trice, or Bonnie Johnson.

Do any readers remember who was pulled into the vacuum? Do you remember a cotton picker turning over and breaking a man's leg on Cecil Barker's place? Was that Billy Kent Pusser?

Those buying cotton-picking machines remembered by this young person around 1963 were Lee Stewart, Glen Nobles, L.C. Smith, William Brower, Clyde and Pete Patterson, and Claude Randolph and Luther Spears bought a two-row John Deere picker together.

Farmers from years ago were Bingham, Bailey, Coady, Crowe, Harvey, Lott, Maness, Morris, Nobles, Patterson, Ross, Randolph, Rhodes, Richardson, Scott, Stewart and Tignor. I adore today modular rectangle bales dressed in pink and farmed by Colbert, Grissom, Rhodes and Wadley. God bless our farmers. God bless veterans - many left farm life to serve in the military.

Fair to middling" might be used in your vocabulary. Cotton was graded with strict-middling (best grade), middling (average), and strict-low (late).

Cotton seed names were Empire, Delta Pine Land, and Half and Half (that's was my daddy choice).

An average picker picked 200 pounds with cotton sacks weighed twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. During 1950's a picker received two dollars for a hundred pounds, but 1960's brought three dollars a hundred. More cotton picked meant more money for bills, necessities, new winter coats and shoes, groceries, and little luxuries.

Noon time pickers looked for a shade under the wagon or near trees for lunch. Pickers ate pork 'n beans, bologna sandwich, or biscuits with breakfast meat, and a fruit. At the end of the day, if the wagon or driver stopped at the store, some lucky folks savored moon pies, RC cola, ice cream, sherbet, Sullivan pecan pies, or penny candy. Sleep came for tired bodies after a bath, hot supper and family time. The next day cotton was picked perhaps in a different patch with a different family. The community worked together to get all cotton to the gin. It was good times being with family and neighbors. It was simply a rural life that provided income. We stayed connected. Cotton picking ended in 1964 and 1966 for many.

Our community had pickers well remembered. Alma Jones and Fran Bailey had big families, but they still picked 180 pounds for Charlie Cochran, Carroll Dodds, and Bradie Bailey, Lomax Maness kids - Andy, Lee, Frankie, Willadean, and Joy picked 200-250 pounds easily. Barbara Scott Rhodes picked 300 pounds and still did bookkeeping for Wallace and Annie Harvey. Sheila Lott Ryals could pick 300 pounds and kept books for Virgil and Ruby Scott, Edward and Frenzolia Young Morris, and Jeff Thomas and Fidelia Ross Morris.

Lloyd, Marvin, and Joseph Richardson well doubled Mike Coatney's age, but each picked close to 400 pounds; Mike was age fifteen. C.T. Wright, Margaret Bingham's brother, was an excellent picker, too. The Ross family - Ludell, Jeremiah, Brady, Earl, Isaiah, Mary, Ezell, and Frank picked 250-300, but Brady Ross was a super picker; he ranged 400-500 pounds. Would you like to pick beside Curly Woody? He picked 500 pounds taking three rows at a time. Curly married Bertha Mae Barham, formerly Mrs. Will Thomas, a cotton-picking friend of the Nobles Family. They lived on Beck Place near Van Griffin farm. Their kids, Brenda, Stanley, and Louise picked, but Melinda and Tangie were city girls. Glen and Linda Ruth Swafford own Beck Place now, but no cotton picking goes on there now.

Gene and Jane Bailey Morris picked a bale in two days. Young Murdell Brewer was taught by Cannon Thomas to pick cotton by reaching for another handful of cotton while the other hand was carrying it to the sack. Idle hands meant less cotton and less money at the end of the day when she was a young teenager. Little sister, Clyde Brewer Butler, was the type to pray for snow as family was picking and cleaning the last field. Sure enough out of the west a light snow drove the family home. Another time Clyde picked a hundred pounds, but she told her daddy if her prayers were answered she'd never do that kind of work again! When Murdell Brewer married Marvin McCall they picked alongside Fenner McCall; they picked three bales weekly in the late 1930's. Mr. Fenner picked clean and proudly placed his cotton on the top as the wagon headed to the gin! It was show and tell time! Also, Melbern Jones picked 250 pounds of clean cotton. Patsy Nobles Jones picked less than 100 pounds of clean cotton, but her little pile was stretched across the wagon as it was headed to the gin for appearance sake, too! Nothing left for us now except fluffy white memories, but sure wish I had a cotton sack for a keepsake.

One bale of cotton makes 313,600 hundred dollar bills; 3,085 diapers; 1,256 pillow cases; 690 terry cloth towels; 215 jeans; 249 bed sheets; 409 men shirts; 2,104 boxer shorts; 2,419 men briefs; 6,436 women briefs; 4,321 socks; and 21,960 handkerchiefs.

Call 989-7485 with tidbits. Did you notice Toby and Gammy Connor's Texas spider was eaten by Mr. Tom Turkey? He's perched next to the highway. Hope his neck stays in place. Shake a tail feather or gobble at him. I hope your week will be blessed.

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