The Fight Against the Pink Bollworm in Texas
TRUMAN MCMAHAN *
ISCOVERY OF A WORM LESS THAN A HALF-INCH LONG AND TINGED
with pink at Hearne, Texas on September 3, 1917, caused an up-
roar in Texas that peaked in the early 192os and then subsided over the
next two decades. The worm was the pink bollworm of cotton (Pec-
tinophora gossypiella Saunders), and in the first three or four years after
it was discovered in a small cotton patch, it stimulated several special
sessions of the Texas legislature, aroused concern in the United States
Congress, and sparked some farmers to open rebellion. The pest's dis-
covery brought Texas, the United States, and politically unstable Mex-
ico into close cooperation and, paradoxically, created discord between
farmers and zealous officials fighting the worm.
This is the story of that divisive fight and that admirable cooperation.
It details the first few years of the controversy when officials in the
United States and Texas agricultural departments believed that the
pink bollworm could be eradicated and that, if it wasn't, it would mean
certain ruin for cotton farmers on whom the entire economy of the
South depended. According to Perry L. Adkisson, chancellor of Texas
A&M University and a leading entomologist of the state, the eradi-
cation attempt, abrasive in its earliest years, finally evolved into the
present cultural control program in which the pink bollworm is no
longer considered a serious pest.' Even as laborers destroyed cotton
where the pink bollworm was found-under the supervision of federal
and state officials-the little worm continued its advance until even-
tually it had infested most or all cotton-producing counties in the state.
Today few sharecroppers farm cotton in Texas, and production has
*'Truman McMahan is a retired newspaperman and free-lance writer He has worked for the
Austin Amencan Statesman, the Houston Post, and the San Antonio Evening News, and for the
Texas Department of Agriculture. For twenty-five years he and his wife Lila owned and pub-
lished The Colorado County Citzzen, a weekly newspaper, in Columbus, T'exas.
'"Agricultural Oral History Interview with Pern y L. Adkisson," directed by Ii vin M May, Jr.,
transcript (Archives, 'lexas A&M University Library, College Station), lo.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed April 26, 2015.