We actually stumbled across this museum, but what a FABULOUS place to visit. Just had to shout that out, it was *that* good! From the time Arkansas became a state in 1836 to the mid 1940s cotton production was common in the Arkansas River lowlands. Men, women and children could be seen picking and stuffing cotton into long sacks in the fall.
Tractors were not used for the preparation, planting, maintaining and picking of cotton until the mid-1940s after WWII. Instead the work was done by hand or with the aid of draft animals.
Cotton was stored in cotton pens or cotton houses by sharecroppers and tenant farmers until it was taken to the gin. The pens were built with skids and were pulled by mules to the fields.
Removing the seeds from the cotton was a quite a process. They had to pick between 1,300-1,500 pounds of seed cotton to make one bale of cotton because of that 750 pounds of seeds were removed and about 100 pounds were trash (stems, leaves, dirt,etc.) An average person picked 100-150 pounds from sun up to sunset.
First the stems and leaves had to be removed. Within the white, fluffy cotton balls were seeds (see the bottom right photo in the collage below that LD is holding) that had to be removed. The ranger showed us how the seeds were removed with the hand-cranked machine below. Although more complex and efficient cotton gins were developed, they basically used the same process as the original invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney.
Beginning around 1900 they found uses for the left over cotton seed (pictured bottom right above). The cottonseed was used in a number of products including explosives, women’s cosmetics, oil, and livestock feed. Some of the seeds were saved for planting the next crop.
Below is a picture of another cotton gin.
I’ve always heard the term, a “bale of cotton,” but to be honest I had no concept of how big that really is. Here’s a picture. How heavy would you guess that bale is?
I know, I know, it’s not really fair to ask that from a photo, without much to compare the size to. That bale (plus the straps and bagging) usually weighed about 500 pounds. And what could this one bale make?
We enjoyed the outside exhibits as much as the ones inside. The tractors were impressive in size!
In the picture above, the cotton would have been collected into the big mesh are at the back of the machine (bottom left photo above).
The kids enjoyed helping the ranger pick peas in the sharecropper’s garden. The picture on the right just shows the pretty oxbow lake of the Arkansas River.
You know what’s amazing? There were a number of outdoor exhibits we didn’t have time for. There was a building that had a fully restored ginning system, a seed warehouse, and more.
A huge thank you to the two wonderful park rangers who gave us our tour when we visited!