Tobacco leaf cutter at BI Museum

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One of the old farm tools at the Buffalo Island Museum is the tobacco leaf cutter. It is made of cast iron and is "The Champion Knife Tobacco Leaf Cutter" made by the Enterprise Manufacturing Company in 1875.

Tobacco leaf cutter on display at the BI Museum in Monette.

Tobacco has a long history. Drawings in 600 to 900 A.D. of the Mayan Indians show tobacco use. The American Indians grew tobacco before Columbus set foot on this land. The Caddo Indians, Quapaw, Osage, and Cherokees smoked tobacco through a pipe for special religious and medical purposes (peace pipe).

In 1612, the settlers of Jamestown, Vir., grew tobacco as a cash crop, and this was the first crop grown for money in North America. By the 1800s many people had begun using tobacco, but the average person only smoked about 40 cigarettes a year. The first commercial cigarettes were made in 1865 by Washington Duke. He sold these to soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

The census of 1880 shows that there were 1130 farms in Craighead County, and that Craighead was the sixth tobacco growing county in Arkansas with 24,942 pounds of tobacco grown. The varieties grown were White Burley, Virginia Golden Leaf, Yellow Pryor and Orinoco.

Many farmers only grew a small amount for their own use. Tobacco seeds are very tiny, like ground pepper. The farmer may plant the seeds indoors to get an early start. When the weather warms and frost is no longer a concern, he plants his tobacco about three feet apart. In a few months, the plants are seven feet tall, the leaves two feet long, and the tobacco is ready to harvest.

The center rib is cut out with a tobacco leaf cutter, and the leaves are hung upside down in a dry place, usually from the rafters in the barn. Some cure the tobacco for only three months, but curing for a year or longer makes a more flavorful tobacco. The dried leaves are then sliced and chopped with the leaf cutter, ready to roll into a cigar or cigarette.

One lady I talked to remembered her grandfather planting tobacco in grandmother's flower beds. The tobacco plant is very pretty with its pink or white flowers. He grew the tobacco, cured it, and made his own cigarettes. She remembers all those pungent leaves hanging from the rafters in the barn.

Buffalo Island Museum in Monette wishes to preserve the past for future generations. Visit the museum, admission is free. Hours are Friday and Saturday 12:30-4 p.m. and this summer we are open from 1-3 p.m. Sundays.

Remember our annual quilt show on Sept. 28. For more information and to enter our monthly Mystery Artifact Contest, please visit our Facebook page. Our e-mail address is: buffaloislandmuseum@yahoo.com

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