I've had a recent email conversation with a couple of my college buddies about cotton. One of them is from Crosbyton, Texas where his family ran a cotton farm. I've learned quite a bit about raising and processing cotton. In fact, there's too much to put in one post, so I'll chop the topic into 4 posts.
I'll start with picking because it often begins at this time of year. Just a couple of photos showing field laborers at work will indicate the back-breaking nature of picking cotton by hand.
Undated photo of cotton field where Hall Lake is now located.
Probably the same field during a harvest in the late 1950s. (Note the laborers picking by hand.)
A magnification of the laborers.
Pickers dragged a large bag along the ground as they filled it with cotton. Summer heat wasn't the only difficulty. An adult (as you can see in the photo) had to bend over to reach the plants. Eventually, tired backs forced pickers to work from a kneeling position. They often wore knee pads to save wear and tear on overalls and sore knees.
I guess children had an advantage in not having to bend over to reach the plants. This photo shows students at a small school near Corsicana in 1913. Each of them picked cotton before entering school that fall. (Child labor was common in the cotton fields before mechanization.)
|(Traces of Texas)|
My friend up in the South Plains said picking cotton down here is different than it is up there. Conditions up there meant hand-picking required pulling the burr from the plant. (The burr is the dried shell from which the boll emerges.) Down here the conditions (and maybe the hybrids we can grow) allowed pickers to pull the lint from the plant without taking the burr. The lint still contained the seed, but it was far cleaner than cotton picked in north Texas. This difference still applies to mechanical harvesting used today.
Of course, mechanized harvesting became common in the 1960s. The next photo shows an early picker used in the same field south of old Sugar Land. It looks like the machine is mounted on a tractor, although it's probably a permanent attachment.
Rear view of an early mechanized cotton picker in field near Sugar Land.
View of early mechanized cotton picker in field near Sugar Land.
Magnified view of early mechanized cotton picker in field near Sugar Land.
Technological advancements have continued to the present day. Click here to view a modern cotton picker.
Next time a short discussion of hauling cotton.