The Bandera Courier
Bandera Courier
Thursday December 14, 2017
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King Cotton

Carolyn B. Edwards

There was a time when farmers grew cotton here in Bandera County. Lowland farms grew the crop that was king of the South. The boll weevil and prolonged drought put an end to all of that by the 1950s. Local farmers switched to other fabric producing crops - angora goats and sheep - or they moved to California to work in the canneries alongside the dust bowl Okies.
A labor-intensive crop before the onset of mechanical harvesters, cotton had to be hand picked from each and every plant as the farmer walked down every single row. The picker pulled a sack into which the cotton was stuffed. When the picker got to the end of the row, or filled the sack, she took it to a trailer or wagon parked in the field where it was weighed, recorded and emptied.
It took 2,000 pounds of picked cotton to make a bale.
Once the 2,000-pound mark was reached, the cotton was taken to the nearest gin which cleaned the cotton by separating it from the hulls and other trash. Then it was compressed into a large rectangular brick, wrapped in burlap and strapped with two metal bands.
The farmer could either sell his bale to the local cotton buyer, which was sometimes a cooperative of farmers, or, if prices were low, take it home and store it for a while in hopes that the price would go up.
Raising cotton began in the spring with plowing the fields and planting furry seeds about the size of a shelled peanut. Once the sprouts came up, laborers had to go down each row with a hoe, thinning the plants to about six inches apart and taking out any weeds that came up in the midst of the cotton plants, hence, "A hard row to hoe."
In a rainy year, hoeing the fields may have had to be done two or three times to control the weeds.
Hoeing was incredibly boring work and produced blisters on the palms of the hands even when wearing gloves. Sometimes, to alleviate the boredom, a worker caught nettles on the blade of the hoe and tossed them high in the air aiming at another worker.
Shortly, the beautiful pale colored flowers burst open on the bright green plants with the softest leaves in the world. Once pollinated, the boll began to form and very soon the flower turned brown and fell off. Through the early summer months, the green bolls continued to swell until they burst open and turned brown, revealing the fluffy white cotton at the heart.
When the days reached a hundred plus degrees, it was time to get out in the fields and harvest the crop. The first bolls of the day would be picked as the sun came up and the last as the sun began to set. Short breaks for water, coffee and a light lunch gave the only relief to bent backs, strained shoulders, sore hands and sweat-salt covered bodies.
Then there was the next day, and the next, and the next. Until all the d----d cotton was picked.