Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Picking Cotton

Sent to The Frederick Leader and The Frederick Press, November 15, 2011
This heavily damaged photo shows pioneer cotton pickers, date and location unknown.

Cotton Harvest important in County History
Cotton at Pioneer Townsite

From the earliest days of Tillman County’s settlement in 1901, cotton was king. The area’s moderate weather and rich soil made it an ideal location for growing cotton.
In the years following settlement cotton gins were built throughout the county. Most towns had more than one cotton gin and gins were also built in rural communities throughout the county.
Why so many gins?
Frederick gin yard, 1908
The processing capacity of most gins was limited, and in the early years hauling the cotton to the gin was not always an easy task. The closer the gin was to the field, the better.
From the earliest days, the cotton harvest in the late fall into early winter provided an economic boom for stores and other businesses.
Long cotton sacks for pulling cotton could be purchased in many stores, and most schools dismissed for at least a week in the fall so that students and families could “pull bolls”.
Foster-Harris Gin was located on N. 9th Street, Frederick

Pulling cotton was difficult backbreaking work.
Until mechanical cotton strippers became common in the late 1950s or early ‘60s, the cotton harvest involved pulling the cotton by hand.
A Frederick Press story from October 15, 1953, cited one Frederick resident, Mrs. Bonnie Pennycuff, for setting a cotton pulling record.


“Mrs. Bonnie Pennycuff, 34, mother of five children, has gained herself a new name in the Tillman county cotton fields. She is known as the ‘Human Cotton Stripper’ after pulling 1,117 pounds of cotton in one day, from 8:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.

“Mrs. Pennycuff of South 12th street in Frederick , and daughter of Mrs. Bessie Landrum, has been picking all season and has averaged from eight to nine hundred pounds a day, but she set a new record Thursday when she passed the 1100 mark. She has been working on the Oga Woodmore farm, northeast of town.”

The article is featured on a laminated full page copy of The Frederick Press that is currently on display at the Pioneer Townsite Museum. The paper was given to the Tillman County Historical Society by John David Pennycuff.
In the same issue of The Frederick Press was an indication that mechanical harvesting of the cotton crop was a trend that would soon overtake the traditional manual harvest.
A page one story announced a “Cotton Field Day” in which farmers could observe the best practices for raising cotton. The event, to be held October 20, 1953, at the H.E. McElroy farm northeast of Tipton, featured analysis of fertilizer types and other cotton growth practices. It also included demonstrations of three modern mechanical cotton strippers.
From Laing School, the McElroy farm was located five miles north and one-half mile east. The farm had been site of a plowing field day the previous July.
Within the coming decade, mechanical cotton stripping would become the norm. While the mechanical cotton strippers still involved a great deal of work, they allowed the harvest to be conducted in a cheaper, quicker, less labor-intensive process for farmers.
The mechanical cotton stripper brought the days of hand pulling cotton to a close.
Williams and Miller Gin in Frederick, 1916
Simmons Gin in Frederick, 1920
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors.

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