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Cotton Pickin' Stories


Doyle Breedlove writes:


The Cotton Race

 Well I'm looking forward to seeing everyone on
Labor Day.

I wish we could get a hold of a few cotton
sacks and all go out to some farm and pick a little
for old time sake. (Seems like we use to have a little
cotton open by first of Sept--maybe that was first of
Oct. though).


Carroll Bradley and I use to race every
day and I would always out-pick him. (In 1956 I picked
457). Well I didn't move to the first picking field in
later season of 1956 because we were moving to St.
Louis and needed to get the second picking stuff out
of way.


Carroll got off down to a prime first picking
field, got in early when the dew was still on a
little, and picked 505. Son of a gun I hated that.

Carroll was competitive as all get out. I said "well
Carroll that must make you the top picker in Gideon
high school". He said "no, Joe Moore picked more than
me". I'm going to ask Joe when I see him how much he
picked in 1956.


Phyllis Russell writes:


          Missouri is a beautiful state—the gem of the Midwest.  The state features the ancient Ozarks Mountains, covered with abundant evergreen trees and adorned by redbud and dogwood.  The state is bedecked with sparkling waterways.  The mighty Mississippi River forms the eastern border, and the beautiful Missouri River meanders across the state to empty into Ole Man River.  Several smaller rivers, such as the Osage, the White, the St. Francis, and Black Rivers crisscross the state.  There is a small section in the southeast corner of the state that is unlike any other part of Missouri.  The land is flat and fertile.  Broadleaf trees grow in abundance.  It is the only area of Missouri suited to the raising of cotton.

          In the heart of the Bootheel of southeast Missouri lies the small town of my birth, Gideon.  Gideon didn't always look like it does today.  The Commercial Bank of Gideon once occupied a tall brick building on the corner across from Gibb's Saloon.  Bruce French's daddy was president of the bank.  Catty-corner to the southeast of the bank was the post office.  Virginia Lamar's mama worked there.  Directly across from the bank was the Five and Dime, and next to the bank toward the west was the drugstore, with an honest-to-goodness soda fountain.  That was only a small part of the town back then—back when cotton was king, and Gideon was in its heyday.

          On a small farm northeast of Gideon, my family raised cotton, as did most of the farmers in that area.  The work in a cotton field is done today by machines, which are fast and efficient.  However, it wasn't always like that.  The ground was prepared and the seeds were planted by machine, but once the tiny seedlings burst through the rich soil, the grueling, back-breaking work began.  I don't know anyone who worked those cotton fields who doesn't currently have some problems with their back, neck, or legs.

          First, you had to block the cotton.  To do that, you thinned the seedlings to one or two stalks every 6 to 8 inches.  You simply swung a hoe between the stalks you wanted to keep, thinning out the others.  At the same time, you removed any weeds or grass growing among the cotton seedlings.  For the remainder of the summer, you weeded the cotton periodically.

          The sun beams profusely on southeast Missouri all during the spring and summer.  That ole sun is good for the cotton, but not so good for the poor souls who had to chop the cotton in it.

          Before we left for the field each morning, Mama insisted that we don long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats or bonnets to protect us from the sun.  She also insisted on gloves to protect our hands from blisters and calluses.

          I dressed exactly as Mama told me.  The bonnet was the first to go.  You could usually find my bonnet or hat within the first twenty feet of my row.  Next, I shed the right-hand glove.  I'm left-handed, so I didn't need a glove on my right hand.  Besides, the gloves were hot and sweaty.  The left-hand glove soon followed.  The long-sleeved shirt fell somewhere about the middle of my first row.  By the time I came to the end of that first row, I was bare-headed, bare-handed, and wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

          At the end of the first row, we could stop and get a cold drink from the wooden keg left in the shade of the truck.  We used a dipper that everyone drank from, so if one of us got a fever-blister or canker sore, we passed it on!

          About July, you could stop chopping the cotton.  By then the cotton had enough of a head start on the weeds and grass that it would do well.

          Our summer vacation from school was divided into two parts—the first for chopping the cotton and the second for picking it.

          Blooms on the cotton plants, which Mama called "squares", are a lovely sight to see.  They begin as a long pinkish tube-shaped bloom, which blossoms into a beautiful flower.  Soon, small green bolls appear.  By fall, the bolls crack open, revealing the soft, white cotton within.  If you picked the cotton too early, the moisture content would be too high to fetch a good price.  Better to wait until the bolls had dried and hardened, and the cotton was dry and fluffy.

          As soon as the cotton was ready, it was necessary to buy pick-sacks for each of us.  Mine was only 7 feet.  Some were much longer, but, geez, mine was 2 feet longer than I was tall, so it was long enough for me.  And, here we go again with the bonnet, gloves, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.  The gloves had to have the finger-tips cut out so you could grasp the cotton and pull it clean out of the boll.  The gloves had a better chance with me, because the bolls were wicked, and picked your hands to pieces without them.  However, the bonnet didn't fare as well.  How can you ever get a breeze on your face if it is buried in a bonnet?  The jeans, too, usually lasted all day, because it was often necessary to kneel to get the cotton from the bottom of the stalk.  It was easier to just crawl along on your knees.

          One day, Uncle Jack brought a new-fangled contraption to the cotton field.  He told us it was a cotton picker.  Hallelujah! We thought our prayers had all been answered.  Throw away those pick-sacks, and good riddance to them.  But no.  It was not that simple. (It never is.)  We had to pick the first 3 feet from both ends of each row to give the blessed contraption room to turn.

          Not until I had moved away from the farm did they get the technology perfected to the point that the pick-sack was a thing of the past.  Some of my friends took pictures of the last sacks of cotton being weighed and emptied into the trailer.  I didn't take any pictures.  I didn't want to jinx it!

    Doyne Baker and Norma Orton      

 Cotton the King

There are several types of cotton raised in America today. The types raised in the Midwest are shorter fibers. Long fiber requires a longer growing season of 200 days. These vanities are mainly raised in California and the southwest where season runs from early March to October
There are many things that makes cotton the fiber of demand. One, the cotton fiber is hollow which makes it warmer than other fibers. Also it clings together when it is twisted. This allows the fibers to be made into thread.
The cotton industry was started by England after their explorers had discovered the plants being grown in India. The fibers were brought to England and woven into clothing. Although the fibers were accepted by some, most people in Europe were afraid it would decrease the demand for wool. Wool was the mainstay of the European economy. Many countries made it against the law to ware any garment made of cotton. Their people were put to death just for using the fibers. Later it became a very fashionable attire for people of means in both England and France. Cotton material flourished throughout the continent. To minimize the effects on the economy England prevented India from producing any products from the plants. All the fibers were transported to Manchester England to be converted into material and distributed throughout Europe.
A different Varity of cotton was already being raised in the southern colonies in America. Around 1835 England started purchasing cotton from the southern states. Just before the Civil War, the south was sending 2/3 of all the cotton raised to Manchester. Because it was such a valuable commodity to the New England textile mills, the Civil War was delayed for many years.
Cotton was the #1 reason for the war and the #1 reason the war ended. The southern states used the vast amount of money from the sale of cotton to fund the war. When the war began England purchased very little cotton from the south and more from India. Eventually India was supplying all of the needs of England.
Trivia Facts
  • Today 95% of all cotton fibers are used to make clothe

  • Denim and T-shirts use 2/3 of all the cotton

  • 65% of a dollar bill is cotton

  • More than ˝ of the cotton used to make our money are recycled denim scraps.

  • More than 90% of all potato chips are cooked in cotton oil

  • There is zero transitory fat in cotton oil

  • The cotton gin name was because people shortened the word en-gin-e

  • The bowl weevil came up from Mexico in 1890

  • 40 % of the textile workers in America have over 25 years experience.

  • Cotton Farmers use 25% of all the insecticide manufactured for the eradication of insects on the cotton

  • It took one slave 18 mouths to remove all the seeds from one bale of cotton

  • 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin

  • The mechanical picker was invented around 1930

  • It wasn’t a very important invention until the water was added to moisten the rotating fingers

Products made from cotton:
  • Lipstick

  • Nail Polish

  • Hot dog coverings

  • Film

  • Explosives

  • Fertilizers

  • Livestock feed

  • Medicine

  • Packaging material

  • Plastics

  • Stationary

  • Fish Food

  • These are just a few


Fibers removed from the seeds are used for:


  • Women’s products

  • Q-tips
  • Cotton Felts
  • Absorbent medical pads furniture stuffing