years ago this August I drove from Boulder, Colorado, to Victoria,
Texas, where I was employed as a teacher. After having spent the night in
Hereford, I continued my
trip south. At mid-morning near Plainview
I came upon acres and acres of cotton plants
on either side of the highway. It was not until I pulled over and turned off the
ignition that I heard the relentless pulsing of the irrigation pumps in the fields.
The sound suggested the sound of a giant heart buried under the soil of the high
Reflecting today on the sight of the cotton
plants, I am reminded that one hundred years ago my father boarded a Cotton Belt
train at Saltillo on his way
to the cotton fields of West Texas. He traveled
to Fort Worth and from there he
took a train to Stamford.
A third train took him to Spur
on tracks that had just been laid. His purpose was to earn enough money during
the harvest season to finance a modest business venture back home in Hopkins County.
railroad from Fort Worth to Stamford
had existed only two years when my father made the trip. Magnus Swenson, a Swedish
immigrant, was instrumental in getting the railroad constructed. Swenson owned
many acres of land in the area. Two years after the Stamford
road was completed, construction began on a railroad to Spur.
Swenson began to sell town lots in the developing town of Spur.
According to Jim Corder in Lost in West Texas, within thirty days after
the railroad was completed the town had 30 businesses, 60 residences, a telephone
system, and water works.
Spur, my father picked
cotton for a farmer of Swedish descent. It
is possible that the farmer was one of several Swedes Swenson encouraged to emigrate
to West Texas. My father shared a bunk house with several other Anglo pickers,
most of whom also came from East Texas.
The Mexican pickers lived in tents on the property. The farmerís wife provided
meals for my father and some of the other pickers.
My father said that
he picked cotton every day, even on Sundays.
Most of the other pickers observed the Sabbath by going to the nearby towns of
Afton and McAdoo
where some played dominoes in the back rooms of general stores. In a game called
Forty-two, two partners opposed two others. Probably money earned from picking
cotton exchanged hands after some of these
After the fluffy cotton
had been picked, there was still cotton in
the dried bolls that did not open fully. My father and some of the other pickers
stayed late into the season in order to pull the bolls so that the machine at
the gins could remove the lint.
It is interesting to reflect on the difference
between the production of cotton one hundred
years ago and the time fifty years ago when I heard the irrigation pumps in the
fields near Plainview. Instead
of waiting for migrant laborers from East
Texas and Mexico, those farmers fifty years ago readied their mechanical cotton
pickers before the harvest season.
23, 2011 Column
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