November 22, 2016

Boll Weevil, Boll Weevil

The Boll Weevil in life and song.

All was not totally sunny in the Cotton Kingdom in those days, as the century drew to a close. The dark cloud on the horizon was a little bug called the Mexican boll weevil.

Shortly after the turn of the century, the boll weevil arrived to wreak havoc on the cotton crops. In 1904 the Texas legislature offered a $50,000 reward to anyone who could solve the boll weevil problem which was costing cotton farmers $50 million in that year alone. Mexican boll weevils, by far the most destructive insects to attack cotton plants in the United States, were first found north of the Rio Grande around Brownsville, Texas, in 1892. Seemingly unstoppable, they kept inching northwards. They made it as far as Caddo Lake in 1904 and kept spreading north and east. They reached the Atlantic coast (Georgia, the Carolinas) by the 1920s.

Many variations of boll weevil ballads spread throughout the cotton kingdom, but most of them featured the farmer being tormented by a cartoonish weevil. In legend and song, the farmer was entirely at the mercy of this pest; his frustration comes out in the song of the charming little bug who's "just looking for a home:"     

Some Typical lyrics:

The boll weevil is a little bug, come from Mexico, they say,
He come to try this Texas soil, thought he'd better stay.

Farmer took the boll weevil, he put him in the ice

Weevil said to the farmer "It's mighty cool and nice."

Farmer took the boll weevil, buried him in hot sand -

Weevil said to the farmer, "I'll stand it like a man."

Weevil said to the farmer, "You'd better leave me alone, 

I ate up all your cotton, now I'm starting on your corn."

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