father, Roy Cowser, spent two consecutive harvest seasons in the
cotton fields of West Texas just
after he turned twenty. He told us of some of his experiences there
as one of hundreds of cotton
pickers. In 1911 he boarded the Cotton Belt train (St. Louis Southwestern
Railway), at Saltillo
bound for Fort Worth.
From Fort Worth
he took a train to Stamford
and then boarded a train bound for Spur.
The railroad from Stamford
had just been constructed two years before.
Swante Maagnus Swenson, an immigrant from Sweden, owned many acres
of land in West Texas and micro-managed the affairs on the ranches
located on his property. He organized the Stamford Northwestern
Railway Company. In l908 workers began to construct a railroad from
a site on one of Swenson’s ranches. On November 9, 1909, immediately
prior to the completion of the Stamford and Northwestern Railroad’s
tracks, Swenson began to sell town lots. According to Jim Corder
in his memoir Lost in West Texas, thirty days later the town
had 50 businesses and 60 residences. It also had a telephone system
and water works.
and the towns nearby were begun by entrepreneurs, many of whom had
advertised in Eastern newspapers the opportunities for enterprising
business people in the developing towns of West Texas. Lawrence
Shames wrote about these developers, some of whom paid people to
live in the town until after a census was taken so that exaggerated
population figures could be included in advertisements. These developers
also paid drovers to harness their mules to cabins and drag the
buildings to the new town before a count was taken of houses and
father picked cotton for a farmer
of Swedish descent who had homesteaded acreage near the town of
The Swede may have been encouraged to emigrate to Texas
by S. M. Swenson. Emigrating to Texas
in the 1830s, Swenson was the first Swede to move into that state.
As he acquired more and more land, he encouraged other Swedes to
emigrate. During the decade between 1880 and 1890 one-fourth of
the population of Sweden left the country, many of them coming to
the United States.
As a worker hired by the Swedish family, Cowser shared a bunkhouse
with several other Anglo pickers, most of whom came from East
Texas. The owner provided a cot for each of the workers assigned
to the room, which had an earthen floor. The Mexican pickers lived
in tents on the property, thirty or forty of them sleeping inside
From his employers, Cowser learned some expressions in Swedish;
years later he taught me and my brother to count to ten in the language.
Once he tried to help us translate a couple of recipes written in
Swedish that we found in our mother’s cook book.
Recreation opportunities were few for transient farm workers in
the small towns of Afton,
McAdoo, and Spur,
all in Dickens County. My father mentioned that on Sunday afternoons
some of the other workers played dominoes in the back rooms of general
stores in these towns. Two partners opposed two others in a game
of Forty-two, also popular among the pickers. Instead of joining
the other workers on the excursion into town on Sundays, my father
usually continued picking cotton. At the end of the harvest season
he returned to his parents’ farm four miles south of Saltillo.
the early fall of 1912 my father again took the St. Louis Southwestern
train from Saltillo
to Fort Worth; then
he rode the Fort Worth and Rio Grande tracks to Brady,
which at that time was the end of the line. The railroad reached
Brady in 1904.
He seldom talked about the time he spent picking cotton
With some of the cash my father earned as a cotton
picker, he leased a corner of the general store in Greenwood,
a crossroads community in Hopkins County approximately three miles
from his father’s farm. He bought a press and cleaning fluid and
began to operate a dry cleaning business.
In 1940 my father took the family to Lubbock
to visit relatives. When we drove through Dickens,
he reminisced about the time he spent in the county twenty-nine
G. Cowser December
30 , 2011
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