Cotton Was King In East Texas Until Timber Overthrew the Thrown
Stephen F. Austin advertised the rich land lying along the Brazos and Colorado River as prime property to grow the cash crop cotton. In 1825, Leonard Groce introduced what is believed to be the first cotton gin in Austin’s colony, near present-day Hempstead. By 1828, there were four or five cotton gins in East Texas, but roughly 30 years later there were approximately 2,000 cotton gins throughout the state.
Although most of the cotton gins are disappearing from the Pineywoods, there was a time when almost every farming town in East Texas had a cotton gin. East Texas farmers would bring their cotton crop to their local gin to have it cleansed of debris and then processed into bales. The bales were then sold and the money was used to prepare for the hard winter months.
Cotton gins were a social hangout. Farmers and town folk gathered at the gins annually to get a look at the local crop and to exchange tall tales and small-town politics. Others flocked to the gin to watch the impressive work the machines were capable of doing, all in a day’s work.
Cotton was harvested during the late summer months and the early fall. However, making bales out of boles could start as early as July, and carry on through late October, according to the growing area’s temperatures.
Most slaves that came to Texas travelled here with their owners, and the vast majority lived on large cotton plantations in East Texas.
East Texas folklore regarding cotton ginning generally goes hand-in-hand with horror stories of amputations caused from ginning accidents. The occasional tale of a body in a cotton bale has been passed down from generation to generation. According to one old cotton-ginning tale, a two-year-old went missing; vanished without a trace. There were reports that the toddler had last been seen playing near a gin. According to local legend, the toddler’s body turned up in a cotton bale that had been shipped to England the following spring.
The large Lone Star State has a varied climate and carrying resources, yet cotton is still king in the state. Last year Texas was set to break record cotton producing numbers, yet this year the drought has choked back the cash crop considerably.