In looking back through the Gatesville Messenger for 1986 an unusual titled popped up, “Purloined Wagon Found; Lady Sleuths Credited” written by John Middleton. Well, of course I had to read that!
The article told that years earlier the Voss family had donated a huge cotton wagon, with high sides, to accommodate the lightweight cotton it would carry. The seat for the driver was about 6 feet off the ground and the driver had to climb the wagon wheel to get to it. These wagons were common all over Coryell County when cotton was king. In 1970 Sam Powell, Jr. had restored the Voss wagon for the Gatesville Centennial including repairs of the wood and a bright green coat of paint.
When the museum was beginning in 1986 the wagon was discovered to be missing. There were several reports of the restored wagon being seen. The lady sleuths, Roberta Powell and Wanda Floyd took a trip to Giddings, Texas, to connect with the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train that was reported to have the wagon at the time. They inspected all the wagons in the train and sure enough there was the Gatesville cotton wagon. They compared it to a picture taken of the wagon, Sam Powell’s repairs and everything matched, including the paint. They said nothing to the driver of the wagon and headed home.
When our women detectives returned home they notified the Coryell County Sheriff as well as the District Attorney at the time and the hunt began. The sheriff made several trips checking out different information on the wagon, one to Waco, and another to near San Antonio where the wagon was traveling with the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. The driver was a farrier and had received quite a bit of attention for this. No proof was found that he had stolen the wagon and his claim was that he had bought it from someone else,… humm. Good, if questionable answer. He was asked to turn the wagon over to the Sheriff, and he immediately unhitched his team and relinquished the wagon. Soon the wagon was back in Coryell County.
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794 and intended to make money by ginning the cotton for other farmers. Cotton is separated in the ginning process by pulling the cotton fibers off the seeds. Instead of paying Mr. Whitney to gin their cotton however, other cotton farmers built the parts and erected their own gin. Sad to say, Mr. Whitney never made much money off his invention. Fabric made of cotton has been found in burial sites all over the world, for 7,000 years. Egyptians may have cultivated cotton as early as 12,000 B.C.
In 1860 Coryell County produced 49 bales of cotton and it was brought to the gin in wagons pulled by mules or horses. Texas is today the leading producer of cotton in the United States, and produced over 8 million bales in 2010!
Today the old cotton wagon is on display near the log jail in the museum.