Museum Talk

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Many of you will recognize the old 10-foot cotton sack hanging at the museum. I remember my first cotton sack and how proud I was. The first thing I did was write my name at the top with those purple, finger-staining poke berries.

Pick sacks were once a big part of the cotton harvest throughout Buffalo Island.

Row after row of picking those white fluffy bolls and I wasn't so happy to have that sack. Picking cotton was hard back-breaking work. We filled our sack, dragged it to the end of the row, weighed it and emptied it in the wagon, then back to fill that sack again.

You only were paid around two cents a pound. This was before the mechanical cotton picker, and the only way to harvest that cotton.

The old stained sack is located in an area of the museum dedicated to the farmers of the Buffalo Island. There are samples of the crops of this area and information on the history of those crops, along with pictures of former cotton picking contests, old gins, a corn shelling machine, cotton scales and more.

In 1850 the first patent was issued for a cotton harvesting machine. Thousands of patents followed. In the early 1930s, John Rust remembered that the morning dew caused the cotton to stick to his fingers. He designed a machine that added water to the spindles. This machine was successful but also picked the leaves and trash.

The cotton picker was improved on and in the 1940s International Harvester produced the first commercial mechanical cotton picker. These first machines were installed on the tractor and only picked one row at a time. Still these pickers were able to replace up to 40 hand laborers.

Improvements to the cotton picker quickly followed with two-row pickers turning to six-row ones. In 2008, module builders were used and in the last few years, we have the hugely expensive module-making cotton pickers. These pickers make a round bale right in the field.

When I first saw one of these huge machines being demonstrated, it reminded me of those plastic Easter chickens that have a jelly bean pop out of its rear.

I am sure that in the future, we will see more changes in the way that cotton is harvested, but it all started with an old cotton sack.

Buffalo Island Museum wants to preserve the past for future generations. Admission is free and we are open Friday and Saturday from 12:30-4 p.m. This summer we are also open from 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Visit our Facebook page for more information and to enter our Mystery Artifact Contest. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the museum, please visit the museum, contact a member, or e-mail us at

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  • I belive its a 9ft cotton sack, I used one picking cotton for Shorty Wagner.

    -- Posted by oldiebutgoodus on Fri, Jul 5, 2013, at 11:12 PM
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