Reminiscences of Cotton Pickin' Days
J. B. COLTHARP*
W HEN AS KIDS AND YOUTHS WE WORKED IN THE FIELDS CHOPPING
cotton, picking cotton, cutting weeds, shocking grain, and hoe-
ing grass, our parents never let us forget that there was one way to
escape such a life of seeming drudgery and that was to "go to school,
study hard, make good grades, and go to college so you will not have
to earn a living working a Texas farm." Of course, as youths we saw
other peoples' lives through rose colored glasses and frequently viewed
our own as one of toil and drudgery.
When you hoe goose grass from the cotton for hours and hours with
the hot Texas sun beaming down, pick 400 pounds of cotton from dawn
to dark, ride a plow pulled by 6 horses from sun to sun, gather corn
by the wagon load, and then hand scoop it into the barn, when you
do all these things or combinations of them for days and days and
weeks and weeks, you can acquire supreme motivation to get away
from what becomes detestable drudgery.
Some details about some of this seemingly interminable work, pick-
ing cotton for instance. You got up in the dark, ate your breakfast and
got to the field by daylight. The cotton could be wet with a chilly
dew, which could wet your clothes, but worst of all its softened your
fingers so the sharp point on the cotton burrs pricked your fingers until
they might bleed, but you kept on picking. In a little while the sun
would come up and drive the dew away, then the burr points would
get sharper, but you kept on picking.
In Central Texas, even in good cotton years, the cotton plant was
typically 14 to 20 inches high, which meant you stooped over as you
picked until your back ached unmercifully, then you would straighten
up briefly and very briefly, because you didn't have much time to
spare if you were going to pick 250 to 450 pounds per day. As you
momentarily straightened up, your back would hurt a little differently,
then stop, so bend back over, and get with it, no loafing here and
mind you all this time your hands are flying over the cotton plant
*Mr. Coltharp, a retired engineer living in Beaumont, was raised on a cotton farm in
Coryell County, Texas.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 73, July 1969 - April, 1970. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117147/. Accessed March 14, 2014.