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Where Cotton Was King

Cotton was king in the 1950s on the high plains of West Texas when I was growing up, and it played a major role in life since the economy of the community depended on cotton production.

It was big news every fall when the first bale of cotton rolled out of a local gin with the stats on weight and bales per acre. 

Migratory workers poured into the county to help pick the creamy white cotton bolls from the dryland farms, and merchants breathed a sigh of prosperity knowing farmers would have money to spend since a crop was made that year.

Many of my school mates lived on cotton producing farms and worked the fields along with their parents before dawn and after school. They knew the hardships of no rain or not enough rain, blowing sandstorms, and gauging when to plant, fertilize, and pick ‘them cotton bolls’.

Dryland cotton farming was, and is, a hard life, and though I grew up in the midst of cotton land, we were city folks, if you could call living in a town of 5,000 a city, so I didn’t live the life of a farming family. 

Cotton fields were a place of peace for me, and I found tranquility driving along county roads surrounded by even rows of plants waiting patiently on needed moisture. Wide blue skies overhead, the smell of soil, a feeling of being cocooned in a world of quietness, and the comfort of being alone.

That’s what I remember about King Cotton. Not the hard labor, nor the worry and fear that a crop wouldn’t be made, but rather the beauty of acres and acres of white ready to be hauled in slat-sided trucks to be separated from the seeds within the bolls.

It was years after leaving the High Plains before I began to understand the importance cotton played in our lives. As newspaper publishers my parents understood, since our livelihood depended on the success of each year’s cotton crop. But as a kid, I was ignorant of the import of our surroundings. 

In fact, I didn’t grasp the power those miles and miles of flat lands, vast vistas, and clear skies had on me. The pull for a west Texas ‘fix’ still haunts me and fills me with the desire to once again be lost in the hush of long roads bordered by rows and rows of white cotton fields.

I have to make my way back regularly to west Texas for a breath of fresh air with a taste of sand.

5 thoughts on “Where Cotton Was King

  1. It’s a strange, but lovely, phenomenon that memories are enhanced by going back to visit the places where the memory was first made. The nearest thing to time travel we will ever achieve!

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  2. Interesting, isn’t it, what landscape feels like a peaceful place to people? For me, it’s the ocean – or large bodies of water. I’m not really sure why, since my growing up years were spent largely in the midwest, sometimes in or near mountains, with several summers on a Minnesota lake, but never near an ocean.

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