Cotton gins appeared in Coryell County very early. According to Coryell County Scrapbook, the first gin in Coryell County was at the turn of the “Old Military Road” about a mile from Fort Gates. No specific date was given, but it was owned by Wiley Squires, the grandfather of Mrs. Ethel Wicker King and her brothers.
In Coryell Museum near the cotton exhibit there is also an 1886 photograph from the Mason Crawford Freight Line showing a 6 mule team pulling 2 wagons hooked together and each were carrying 10 bales of cotton, or approximately 5,000 pounds!! I would never have guessed that this much weight could have been pulled by only 6 mules.
Cotton was a cash crop, but was very hard on the families that planted it. Cotton picking took much more time before combines and defoliants and often picking lasted deep into the fall. The picker would frequently be cut by the cotton burrs surrounding the cotton. I remember ladies wearing gloves with just the tips of the fingers cut out, to help protect their hands
In the 1930’s the cotton farmer would have his whole family out in the field picking until the wagon was full. The picker would fill his long sack with cotton and then weigh it in the field before it was put in the wagon. The sides on these wagons were loaded to carry 1500 pounds of cotton and then it was taken to the gin. The cotton bale weighed 500 pounds! Where did the other 1,000 pounds go? The seed weighs 1,000 pounds from one bale of cotton!!
At first farmers did not know that the seeds were good for animal feed, oil, or the burrs for soil enrichment and they took their seeds home and dumped them in the creek. Today the cotton seed is used for inexpensive animal feed, oil, and the cotton burrs make excellent compost. I have used composted cotton burrs in my own garden and improved the soil.
The Gatesville Messenger has reprinted articles from 1904 and lists 18 gins in Coryell County as the following:
Flat, Purmela, Buchanan Gin, Turnersville, Boaz gin, Bee House gin, Barnette gin in Osage, Dyson gin at King, Pidcoke gin, Conley’s gin in Jonesboro, Wallace Saddler gin in Coryell City, Eagle and Whitson gins, J.M. Rogers gin in Ater, Levita gin, Arnett gin, Evant gin, gin at the Grove,
There may have been many others.
According to A History of Coryell County by Zelma Scott, cotton production varied as the farmers were blessed with rain or cursed with drought. In 1920 running bales of cotton ginned numbered 36,965. In 1925 only 6,832 running bales were ginned. Production varied according to the weather, but by 1935 cotton was no longer the primary cash crop and after the outbreak of World War II there was a sharp decline in agricultural pursuits.
In the book, Harder than Hardscrabble, residents who had lived in what is now Ft. Hood recalled going to the cotton gin. Coryell Museum has this book edited by Thad Sitton for sale in the gift shop. Below are two men reminiscing about their childhood.
Kyle Hilliard recalls, “after our family sold a load of cotton they had cash for groceries and a big block of ice. We got lots of candy and fruit, and it was almost Christmas time, going to the gin. That night we would usually have a freezer of homemade ice cream. The five of us would eat just about a gallon and a half of ice cream. That would be our supper on that day.”
William Ake Powell recalled, “We hauled our cotton to a gin between here and the Flat. Henson Creek crosses there, and right above there the gin used to be right on that creek (Evans’ gin). I liked to go to the gin and get your seed back in there, and you’d get to ride home with the cottonseed. When we’d get through, usually my daddy would buy some summer sausage or bologna and some crackers and maybe three or four bananas. And I’d lie in that cottonseed and eat all the way home. I liked to do that, I liked to go to the gin.”