December 1, 2016

More on Cotton Picking

More About Cotton Picking
With Preston and Mary Brown, next door neighbors to Wes, Sallie, Huddie (Leadbelly) and Elethe Ledbetter.

Question (Monty or Marsha): Did you ever know any of (Huddie Ledbetter's) wives?

Preston: Huddie's wife? Oh, yes ma'm, I knew his wife. The woman he married - he left here, you know, and went to West Texas, and when he come from West Texas, he brought this lady with him. You remember his wife, don't you?
Mary: (No, I don't)
P: Little woman
M: (I never seed her)
P: named Letha. . .
M: I didn't know her. I knew Huddie because he used to come to our school.
P: Named Letha. . . little bitty, I mean she was little, low. I know Queenie's brother, George, he married, Huddie and George was first cousins, and Huddie and him married two sisters, from West Texas. They'd go out there and pick cotton.
Q: That's what they'd do?
P: Yes, Huddie could pick cotton, he made plenty money picking cotton, and so they would go out West and they got going with these girls and he married Eletha, and he brought her here. Farmed right up the road there. . . by Davis's just south of the road, that log house just south of the road.
Q: Did a lot of people do that that were good at picking cotton? They'd go pick in someone else'd plantation?
M: (laughing) Yes, I did. Ooh I used to love to do it.
P: If you were farming, you had cotton, well, people go and pick cotton for you, pay them so much a hundred.
M: I'd pick 200 pounds a day.
[Several voices - P is talking about a truck coming up.]
M: I had a daughter could beat me; I had a son - that one over in Karnack? - he could beat me, I tried my best to beat him, but
Q: And you loved to pick?
P: And they'd bring 'em home and come and get 'em every morning.
Q: Even if you had your own land, you would go pick on someone elses cotton?
P: Oh, yes, you done got your crop gathered
M: Yes, you could pick cotton til January
P: Pick that cotton, man 200 pounds of cotton. You could make you a pack of money in a little while. Cause you could save money then for
M: They weren't paying much money
P: Great big sack be about 35 cents.
Q: What did you like about picking cotton? Cause you could be outside?
M: Mm-hmm, just be outside and be racing with the others -
Q: It's like a contest every day?
M: (warming to her theme) we be racing and trying to beat the others picking cotton, they try to beat me and I try to beat them. I couldn't beat them, I couldn't beat my daughter, though, and I couldn't beat my son (Preston is trying to say something about chopping with a hoe) when they start pulling, they could pull over 200 pounds a day, pulling that cotton. I start staying at home then.
Q: What do you mean by pulling?
M: Just take the cotton and come on up.
Q: The whole branch.
M: Some of them got the stalk and all. Unless it's done rotten,
the cotton done rotted.
Q: But sometimes when you're picking, do you just pick the white cotton part?
M: (Yes) Just the white cotton part.
Q: That's picking! But when you're pulling, you're pulling up the whole plant.
(Preston is talking to Monty throughout)
M: When you're pulling, you catch onto that stalk, and come on up. . .all that cotton into your hand. Bolls and all.
P: . . .long way from that gin, and the cotton going another place(?)
M: We had so much fun, that's one thing I liked, we had so much fun. In the field, laughing and talking, but we would be working.
P: Yes, I sure did like it. Them boys down, there. . .playing around. . .picking 200 pounds of cotton.
M: Yes, I had a nephew could do that, he was about 17, he wasn't 17, about 16 years old, he'd run all over the field and play and play and play, but when he come to the scales, he had 200 pounds of cotton.
Q: So, he had a good time and he was still fast? (yes) Did some people have a good reputation, be proud because they were the best cotton pickers?
M: (laughs) I didn't call myself a good cotton picker, but I could keep up with the rest of them. Sometime there be 4 or 5 of us together and we just be hanging(?) and hanging but one lady, I just didn't like for her to pick beside of me because she'd strip my row just like she'd strip her row, and she was nagging so bad, and I didn't like for her to pick 'side of me. She was older, but she sure could pick cotton.
Q: So, she'd reach over into yours, too?
M: Oh, she'd get off of her row over there in my row. I'd be carrying two rows.
P: Woman could pick cotton, too, couldn't she.
Q: Did you ever get into any fights in the cotton field?
M: No. We didn't get into no fights. Everybody got along good.
P: Nothing but them damn bolls, that's what they're doing. Picking cotton, that's what they were fighting. Fighting them cotton stalks.
M: I chopped cotton, too. I chopped cotton and I picked cotton.
P: (talks about the mechanical cotton pickers). . .that knocked out our whole life.

M: They not only had cotton pickers, they had geese down there, picking the grass. We didn't have to chop cotton sometimes on it.
Q: They had geese?
M: Geese. They had a bunch of geese, they bring them down and turn them loose.
P: (in background) bunch of geese to keep the grass out of the cotton.
M: Sure would clean it too.
P: (Talks about turning the geese out into the field) Save the man 2, 3 dollars a day chopping cotton.
Q: Where did you go fishing? Did you go to the (Caddo) lake to fish?
P: Yes.
Q: Did you have a boat?
P: Oh yes.
M: That's one thing I never learned to do. I never liked to fish, but I love to eat them. I played in the water, but my mother would talk about whipping me and then I had to stop. (Laughter)
Q: So, you used to live on the land where the Ammunition Plant is now? (yes). They bought your family lands?
M: They give us what they wanted us to have, and so many days to move out of the house.
P: All that land used to be nothing but farms. There's a million(?) acres tied up in that plant, wasn't nothing but farms. No trees, nothing on it. People farming.

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