Stephen F. Austin State University

Remembering Cotton Gins, Sugar Mills and Spinning Wheels (August 2012)

By Ann Middleton

When Elizabeth Matlock Wise wrote her "I Remember"column for The Bossier Banner-Progress in September of 1974 she shared her memories of picking cotton on her father's farm and of helping with the making of sugar cane.

When Elizabeth was seven years old she picked 1000 pounds of cotton for which her father paid her $5.00. With her money she purchased fabric that her mother sewed into clothes for Elizabeth to wear to school. She knew that she would have got the dresses anyway, but still she felt proud of what she had accomplished.

The two cotton gins that she recalled were the one at Carterville, owned and run by J. J. Roberson, and the one at Mot, owned by Jim Allums. It was to these gins that her father hauled his cotton where it was baled, then carried to Plain Dealing to be sold and shipped on the railroad. The baling process required that the cotton be fed into the gins by hand. Two men that she knew-Jim Allums and a Negro man who worked for J.J. Roberson-had both lost arms in the ginning process. The old country gins, many of which were mule-drawn, were soon replaced by bigger and better gins like the one at Plain Dealing.

In the autumn her family made syrup from the ribbon cane that they had grown. The syrup mill consisted of two huge rollers that crushed the juice from the cane. Mules pulled a lever that was attached to the rollers, extracting the juice that would run into a barrel. When there was enough juice it was put into a big flat pan and cooked over a furnace of hot coals, fueled by pine knots and logs. Elizabeth's father stood by the pan and skimmed away the foam that would rise to the top when the juice began to boil. When the juice had cooked into syrup four people were needed to lift the pan from the fire. The syrup was strained into new shiny pails and sealed, later to be enjoyed with hot buttered biscuits or spare ribs. Other farmers also brought their cane to Elizabeth's father to make into syrup, causing the syrup making to last for several weeks.

Elizabeth also remembered turning the spinning wheel as her mother made thread from wool sheared from live sheep. Her mother used that thread to knit mittens and stockings, and could also make beautiful lace using cotton thread.

To read more of the memories of Elizabeth Matlock Wise, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.