Cotton Paupers


    The 1884-85 Texas State Gazetteer included neither Mulberry nor Rosedale, but Ravenna:

    ... Settled in 1875...contains steam saw and grist mills, cotton gins, 2 churches, and a district school. Cotton, grain and vegetables form the shipments. Stages to Bonham and Ragsdale [or Rosedale?]. Population, 150. Mail, tri-weekly. J. W. Palmore, postmaster.

    G. A. Monckton built the first storehouse and saloon, taken over by Palmore and Cunning-ham before 1884. Their storekeepers were J. W. Cravens and J. F. Anthony. A post office opened in 1879. Carter’s 1885 history of Fannin County described Ravenna as a “peaceful and quiet little town nestled in a valley near where the prairie lands join the Red River bottom....” Incorporated in November 1888: the railroad arrived in ‘91.

    1886 February 11: Ruth Reid released her brother-in-law Sylvanus Reed from her lien on 82.5 acres “upon which [he] had erected a gin....”

    1897 August 20: (Bonham News) Mulberry. Crops, up to a few days ago, were very promising, but boll worms are doing much damage to cotton now.

    1897 September 3: The Cotton Situation. The whole South is watching cotton quotations now and endeavoring to determine what the future of prices may be. Not since 1890 has the world’s stock of the staple been reduced to its present low point, and only once before in the country’s history have the fields promised such a large yield.

    1897 September 24: Mulberry. Cotton pickers are in demand since the rain. Cotton in this country is far better than that of ‘96. It will yield from one-third to one bale per acre.... The gin here is now in operation, but is unable to gin the cotton as fast as the people pick it. Prof. Campbell made a business trip to Bonham this week, and on returning reported cotton a dull sale.

    1897 October 22: Mulberry. Business seems to be on a stand still owing to the weather, but the farmers seem to be in good spirits just the same. Cotton has been gathered very fast, and many say they will get from one-half to one bale per acre.

    1897 October 22: Ravenna. The price of cotton is sadly going down. The price of cotton picking is going up lively.... What in the world are we to do? Why, just quit your foolishness, and pick it yourselves, you dern millionaires!

    1908 April 3: The cotton crop will be the lightest ever planted here, it seems to me that there will not be enough to preserve the boll weevil seed for the 1909 crop. The planting of diversified crops will be fairly good.  We have had fine rains all over the great Red river country. It has rained and drizzled for about two days and nights.

    1908 October 8: ... [on] all creek and river bottom level land, crops of all kinds were almost a total failure. Cotton in some places had immense stalks but short on fruitage. He [Mr. Keeton of Ivanhoe] says that in many places farms for rent were held at six to seven dollars per acre money rent with iron clad mortgages on wagon and teams. He also said he could buy land cheaper in Fannin County than he could rent it in Oklahoma. He shook the Indian dust from his feet and returned to his pale face home. He says further that the people are more dissatisfied there than here, he saw many moving wagons going in all directions, many of them moving back to Dixie.

    1908 October 30: I agree with Bro. Smith.... The farmers have had four years hard experience, which has taught us the lessons of retrenchment and reform. This has been in a small degree beneficial to us. Now in regard to the tide of emigration that is going on from our county. I think I have a solution that will stop it. Let every man that lives in town and has land in the country sell it and on such conditions that the person buying can pay for it. Here are some mistakes made by the persons selling land that I will mention: Wanting one-half paid down, selling in too large tracts, and charging too high rate of interest. Sell your lands in small tracts and charge reasonable per cent. Give the person buying plenty of time in which to pay for his land. Then you will see our county come to the front. Churches and schools will spring up as by magic, public roads and highways will be made passable and our lands will blossom as the rose. Another solution: Let the persons that have land to rent make their places comfortable to live upon, build better houses and barns, hog lots, etc. Give free garden and truck patches; make your renter feel free to plant what he wishes. Don’t compel him to plant a little corn and a whole lot of cotton. Don’t place any restraint upon your tenant so long as he tries to do the thing that is right. Make him feel that the place upon which he lives is home.  The great desire of every man should be to possess at some time a home of his own. God pity the person who never knew what it was to have a place to call home. “How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood when fond recollections present them to view.”  Z. M. Regdon

    Alva Cain remembered a boy who lived with the Plummers. He was coming back from the gin with a wagon and team when a norther came up and it started to rain. For supper the Plummers had boiled eggs. The boy “ate nine” and the next morning he was dead.


Ravenna Gin

    1908 December 1: Ravenna. Our cotton gin here has put up about 400 bales of cotton and about 50 more to gin. About one-fourth of an average crop.... Refuges from the Windy West and Oklahoma are continually dropping in just like they went, except occasionally missing wagon and team or less cash.

    1908 December 4: [Editorial] One landlord told me that he had just [received] an appeal from some of his old tenants that had gone in search of the bags of gold at the end of the rainbow and they said if he would bring them back they certainly would be good—they would stay. This was quite good news.... We have talked with a number of farmers from different sections of the county and almost every one of them report that more land is already rented than has been for two or three years; they all likewise report that people are coming in.  There is one sad thing about, however, and that is, nearly every one of them comes back broke. This should be a lesson to those who have not been satisfied here.

    1908 December 8: [Editorial continuing] Two years ago, and even last year, every train going West went crowded with people leaving this section of Texas. Things were on a boom in the West.... People seemed to be wild. Just because we had a little too much rain the farmers seemed to think it would always be that way; they became disheartened and went away.... Now, every train coming east is laden with people coming back to the best county on earth—North Texas.... I predict that Fannin County is on the verge of a prosperous era. The people are beginning to look this way and want homes....

    Frank Campbell, one of Fannin County’s prosperous farmers and who owns a number of farms on Red river says that [the] country is rapidly filling up with people who have come back from their long search for a better place than this.... This is the year for farmers to get all their land cultivated. Fix up your houses so they will be habitable and you will get a tenant—they are coming this way.

    1908 December 25:  (Old Roustabout) In driving over the county you can generally tell, right now, who will make the best crops next year. It is generally the farmers who break their land by the first of the year. Milton Smith has just returned from an extended hunt through Western Texas and New Mexico.... He found the restless and moving spirit pervading those counties. Milton saw several moving wagon sheets marked “for Old Fannin or bust.” They were returning prodigals and knew which side their bread was buttered on.

    1911 February 3: (Old Roustabout) J. W. Plummer of Mulberry was here [in Bonham] yesterday and sold the last of his cotton crop. He had a patch of cotton of a little less than four acres actual measurement that was very fine, and he told The News in the fall that when he had gathered and marketed all of it he would give a detailed statement of what it brought and what it cost. Yesterday he came in and did so. Here are his figures. The picking and ginning cost him $100. He spent two days breaking the land, and one day in planting, three days hoeing and three days cultivating. He gathered seven bales and these, with the seed, brought him the sum of $640.25. Deducting the cost of gathering and ginning he had left $540.25, which was a little over $60 per day he received for the actual work done on the crop. There isn’t a county on earth that can beat this record. Come to Bonham.

    1911 October 6: Thirty years ago, when cotton began to decline in price, on the market, every cotton owner or holder would withdraw his cotton from the market nearly all over the cotton region, but how is it today? Just the reverse.... But there is a proposition all over the cotton zone to get cotton raisers to hold for 14 cents per pound. Will they do it?

    1911 October 17: Mulberry... Picking cotton is the order of the day.... The school at this place has not started yet on account of the children having so much cotton to pick, but it will soon start....

    1911 October 20: Ravenna’s two gins up to Oct. 14, have ginned 1021 bales and say that the bulk of the crop is in and sold.... Autos have become so common on the streets of Ravenna, that our buggy horses and mules will not shy from them....


Depot in Ravenna

    1911 November 10: (Old Roustabout) It should ever be a pleasure to write something that will tend to make humanity better. On the morning of the great show in Bonham, a great theory occupied the people who were gathered at the Ravenna depot, awaiting the train for the circus. A cotton tenant was in the great crowd trying to squeeze in, as it seemed some would be left for want of seats or standing room. A pickpocket relieved the cotton tenant of his purse containing the proceeds of one bale of cotton including the landlord’s fourth. At Bonham he met his landlord and explained the facts. The landlord replied, “Well, Bud [Province?] I am sorry and glad.”  “How’s that?” “Well, sorry you lost the $50 and glad it wasn’t $100. But I will lose my part as well as you.” Gene Agnew was the landlord. How many landlords would have acted thus?

    1911 November 24: Mulberry...Cotton isn’t near all picked yet....

    1911 December 19: Buster Biard of Paris organized a lodge of Farmers Union at Mulberry last Monday night. Thirty-two joined. They are preparing for 15 cent cotton next year, provided the Union will stick all over the cotton region. But there is the rub. We hope they will be successful, if not, we will soon have a nation of cotton paupers.... The cotton raisers of the Sunny South have the power in their own hands to govern the price of cotton in 1912. Another bumper crop means an over production of splendid material for the honors of the—poor house.  About a twelve million bag crop insures independent citizens at home, with a pocket full of gold bearing rocks. Diversify is my advice.... Young Roustabout

    1912 January 2: Farming Conditions Around Mulberry. J. F. Hall Tells Interesting Story Concerning the Large Cotton Crop...says that some of his tenants have never gotten through picking over their cotton the first time and are abandoning it. He said he offered them twenty-five cents a hundred on his half in addition to their own half if they would go on and finish picking. He says there is a good deal of cotton that has not been picked over the first time and it looks like a snowbank. He said that D. E. Lyday has at least fifty acres that has never been touched and the tenants abandoned it. He went to Dallas Wednesday to try to hire hands to pick it.

    1912 January 30: We endorse what an old farmer on Red River said that he was going to cut his [cotton] crop one-fourth, then diversify his crops so he, his family and stock could live and have something for a rainy day, provided cotton should go to 5 cents per pound.... During the last few days the people have been picking out the frazzled remains of an impoverishing bumper cotton crop and giving half to get the other half.


    1913 March 24: D. E. Lyday Addressed Audience in Paris. As a Member of the Cotton Ports Committee of Which He is Chairman...resides near Mulberry...and who is one of our most prominent farmers...appointed on a committee to investigate the rates over the railroads to New Orleans.... Mr. Lyday said, As cotton growers, we are confronted by two elemental problems: (1) The production of a crop sufficient to supply the physical wants of our families; (2) Search intelligent markets of that crop to produce the greatest returns.... Mr. Chairman, my own farm lies on the south bank of Red River, and the cotton raised on it must be shipped through Galveston, or pay a penalty of fifty cents per bale to get to the New Orleans market, while my Oklahoma neighbor, just on the north bank with whom I often talk across the stream, has the privilege of shipping to Galveston or New Orleans as he prefers, at exactly the same figure. Evidently, Mr. Chairman, unnatural restrictions on commerce must exist when different lots of cotton grown in a half mile of each other, are subject to such different treatment.

    1913 June 20: “To the City Men of Texas” was published in the Bonham News with an Editorial Response on July 1.

    1913 August 29: ...still in the grip of an August drought. But you know, cotton is a sun plant and perchance about as much cotton would be made without a rain as with it. Of course, many squares have fallen from the cotton. They nearly always do. Had everybody made a big crop, starvation prices would have resulted. See?

    1913 September 26: After 6 or 7 days of cloudy and rainy weather, mostly rain, the drought again seems to have set in. During the long siege of rain, much cotton was beaten and blown from the bolls and beaten into the ground. But to make amends many drought starved bolls will grow to perfection to supply the loss. Then much cotton has begun to sprout during the continued rain, but one days sun will stop the sprouting. Of course, there was a considerable loss. But that loss will only help to send cotton up to 15 cents where it should be, according to law of supply and demand....

    1913 November 21: H. S. Shortridge and wife Annie [Reid] sold three more tracts to J. F. Hall: 221 acres + 93.9 acres + 82.5 acres, excepting “the old house and grave yard...the gin lot.”  At year’s end J. F. and Allie agreed: “ secure the payment of a promissory note....

1918 September 27: A message was received in this City yesterday morning...stating that the government will not fix the price of cotton and said to urge the farmers to hold their cotton for 35 cents.

    photo: Cotton pickers, possibly near present-day

        Lake Fannin

    1920 November 25: (Bonham Daily Favorite) J. F. Hall of Mulberry brought eighteen bales of cotton to Bonham and stored it in the warehouse....

    December 2: Bale of Cotton Worth Less Than in Former Years. An actual loss in the value of raw cotton to the producers from the high prices of the early part of this year, due to the general depression and readjustment ranges between $133.75 and $172.25 a bale....


    1920 November 19: J. F. Hall initiated “landlord’s distress proceedings” against J. F. Hickman for $903.20, “the value of supplies and advances [corn, hay, and cotton-seed] to enable [him] to make a gather, house, and put the same in condition to market.” Hickman acknowledged a “rental contract” with Hall; he would pay 1/3 of grain and 1/4 of cotton raised on 200 acres.

    But Hall had “represented that the land...was free from Johnson grass and that the same could be cultivated with ease, and [he] relied on such representation and would not have made a contract for such land except for such representation; that, as a matter of fact, the land...was heavily set in Johnson grass and [he] was compelled to plow same at least 15 times...on account of said grass...great expense in cultivating such land.”

    In a counter claim, Hickman sued Hall for $1,000. The judge placed the case in the hands of Constable W. W. Johnson of Precinct No. 7 who took possession of nine ginned bales and “150 acres of cotton in the field, unpicked and estimated at about eight bales.” Hall asked the judge to order the cotton, “of a perishable and wasting kind,” to be sold.

    1921 May 10: In Hall vs. Hickman the judge ordered the cotton sold: 14 bales to Ben Halsell for $748.43; 1 to Allie Hall for $49.74. Nine bales averaged 532 pounds; one brought less than ten cents per pound.

    August 31: Hall recovered $903 in a judgment against Hickman.

photo: C. C. Wilson in a South Texas

        cotton field

   1936 January 7: The day of J. F. Hall’s funeral in Mulberry, because payments on the $18,000 note were in default from November 1932 thru November ‘35, the First Trust Joint Stock Bank of Chicago “exercised its option to declare the whole amount...due and payable.” The bank’s trustee, C. C. Wilson, took legal title with a deed still using the names of  J. F. Hall and wife Bettie, and R. A. Hall and wife Maude.