When Cotton was King

While working on our 125 Years of History in Mansfield Coloring Book, I came across a lot of information about cotton farming in the Mansfield area. Some of the members of the Historical Society shared their "cotton stories" and other information. The Stewart Gin will be featured in the Coloring Book because Edna Phillip shared that her father worked at this gin. Bill Beard said that, when he was a young boy, hundreds and hundreds of bales of cotton were stored on the grounds around the train depot. He anticipated the time when the bales were all shipped out to the manufacturers, then he could ride his bike all over the empty lots. When you mention cotton to the older residents of Mansfield, a smile comes to their faces as they recall those times.

My dad grew up in west Texas, and I remember jumping in the cotton after it was picked and dumped into the trailers. Those were "pre-trampoline" times. Daddy got on to me every time, but the next day I was climbing back into the trailer to jump again.

Before machines, it took everyone in town to pick the cotton harvest because after the top of the plant was picked the bottom bolls would open. At my great-grandmother's place, the kids got burlap sacks (old potato or feed sacks) with a cotton handle sewn across the opening as a strap. Even the kids would be encouraged to pick cotton. Talk about back-breaking work! The heat in August through October was brutal. The dried-up cotton boll became a burr that stabbed your fingers and turned them black. But, when the farmer got paid for the cotton at the gin, that year's crop either made a nice Christmas for the family - or not.

Cotton's Everyday Influences

Do you remember when someone would ask, "How are you doing?", and the response would be, "I'm fair to middlin"? Middling is the average grade or middle standard for cotton fiber. The cleaner or whiter the cotton, the higher the grade and the higher the price. If your mom bought a Pima shirt that was made from short Egyptian cotton of the highest grade, she would pay more for it.

King Cotton

"King Cotton" brought in 340,000 jobs and over $600 billion in business to the United States. Cotton was grown from California to South Carolina and in every state in the southern U.S. Texas was the number one state for cotton production. The Spaniards brought cotton seed to Florida where it was first cultivated in the future U.S. But, the oldest cotton fabric discovered came from Mexico. Cotton may have grown wild in parts of North America.

According to the records of the FW and NO Railroad depot in Mansfield, 7,300 bales of cotton were shipped out in 1894. Guy M. Stewart's gin operated from the 1920s until 1952. During its peak seasons, men worked day and night to produce between 30 and 40 bales a day. The Murphy gin was another local processor.

Local Cotton Today

Today, there are only the remnants left of a few of the local gins. The gin in Lillian is newer and the walls still stand, but the suction tubes are gone and the grounds are fenced and locked. The gin in Britton is rubble. Stewart and Murphy gins are gone.

There are still several gins in operation to the south of Mansfield, toward Hillsboro. I remember when, on our football trips in the fall, as we would head south on I-35 past Grandview, we would often see cars pulled off to the road side with families viewing the miles of cotton fields. The elders were telling their kids their cotton stories, or they were trying to figure out what all that white stuff was. Some would walk out into the crop and break off a boll to take home as a souvenirs. Would you believe that cotton on stalks is now sold in the flower section of stores?

Although the early Mansfield economy was based on the Man and Feild mill producing flour and corn meal from the crops grown in the area, by the 1900s cotton had become an important local crop. The following small article from the August 12, 1937, issue of the Tarrant County News shows that Mansfield residents were interested in the cotton crop for that year.

Cotton in Mansfield

The first bale of 1937 cotton was brought to Mansfield Tuesday by Mr. J. H. O'Neal of Friendship community. The new bale weighed 473 pounds and was sold to Mr. J. H. Harrison for 11- cents a pound.. A second bale was brought in Wednesday morning by Mr. T.A. Stanton on the H.L. Watson place east of town. It weighed 509 pounds and was bought by Mr. J.H. Harrison for 11-cents a pound.

J.H. Harrison was a prominent local businessman who owned J.H. Harrison Hardware, which was located at 113 Main Street.

Cotton Facts

One bale of cotton, ginned to remove the burrs, leaves and seeds, weighs 500 pounds. It is 65 inches tall and 28 inches wide. One bale can produce:

  • 3,000 diapers, or
  • 1,230 bath towels, or
  • 540 men's shirts, or
  • 325 blue jeans, or
  • Millions of dollars of U.S. currency (on special cotton paper)

Cotton seed (kernels) are used in fertilizers, cattle feed, margarine, salad oil, mayonnaise and soap. Cotton hulls are used in mulch, livestock feed and synthetic rubber. Cotton lint is used in paint, plastics, mops, writing paper, toothpaste and in U.S. currency.

The Life-Cycle of Cotton

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