Texian Stomping Grounds Page: 27
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"HOPING OUT" IN EAST TEXAS
Syrup is an important item of the farmer's diet, and he strives
to have somewhere among his scattered patches of cotton and
corn a quarter or half acre of ribbon cane upon which he depends
for sweetening to go with cornbread and pork. A black billow-
ing cloud of smoke rising high above the creek-bottom trees in
late November indicates the site of a cane mill, where a roaring
pine knot fire is cooking a run-off of syrup. It is an event eagerly
awaited, for it is the custom of long standing that everybody who
is not working at the mill is invited to come chew cane, drink
cold juice, and eat "buckskin," or foam, while they visit each
Twenty years ago down on Bodan Creek in Angelina County,
Uncle Barney Free staked his old three-roller cast-iron cane mill
down for a run every year and made syrup for everybody around
Pollok. He was the best syrup maker in that part of the country,
where making was a fine art. All the farmers hauled their cane
to him, taking their turn as he made up for all in one continuous
run. The men helped each other, working in two shifts and
taking syrup for payment or swapping work for help to make
their own cane.
Uncle Barney would set up his mill just after the first frost
and rush the season to beat the first hard freeze, which would sour
the cane juice in the stalk. While the cane was being stripped
and cut in the field for hauling, the long copper evaporating
pan was fitted on a make-shift furnace of brick cemented with
postoak mud. The cane mill was placed a short distance from
the pan and set with heavy stakes driven deep in the ground
about the wheels. When hauling from the field began, Uncle
Barney lined the hands up at the mill: skimmers, juice boys, mill
feeders, cane carriers, and, most important of all, a good fireman
who knew how to handle pine knots.
Cane grinding began at daybreak on a frosty morning. A
team was hooked to the long sweep and tied to a lead pole that
drew the mules in a circular tread around the mill. The long-
jointed stalks of cane, fed into the rollers three and four at a
time by a nimble feeder, sent forth a steady flow of juice. Inci-
dentally the cane was not ground at all, but was crushed between
the closely-set rollers, coming out as "mill chewin's," or "bogus."
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Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964. Texian Stomping Grounds, book, 1941; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc67663/m1/35/: accessed December 10, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.