When I was a little bitty baby
My mama would rock me in the cradle
In them old cotton fields back home

It may sound a little funny
But you didn’t make very much money
In them old cotton fields back home

Oh when those cotton bolls get rotten

You can’t pick you very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home

Huddie William Ledbetter “Lead Belly”

Looking out over the cotton rows, filled with pink and white blooms and green bolls brings a flood of nostalgia. My roots in this area are deeper than those cotton plants — more like the old oak tree growing in the fence rows.

When my ancestors came here to live first Southeast Missouri and then in Northeast Arkansas most of the land was swampland with high areas called islands. It was deemed uninhabitable by surveyors. It had long been subject to overflows by the Mississippi River, and other waterways, but the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes damaged it even further, causing some of the land to sink. Lakes were created and lakes were drained by the earthquakes’ actions. Waterways were clogged with downed trees, making them impassable in places.

It was inhabited, however, by abundant wildlife and a few who dared to live here, mostly Native Americans. They were refugees from once powerful nations, now seeking refuge in the swamps while most of their people were being pushed westward.

Some of those Native Americans were my ancestors on my father’s side. They were here in the 1830’s.

The land, rich from many years of water overflows and decay of plants and trees, was eventually drained and cleared and became one of the best cotton producing areas in existence.

That crop eventually brought my mother’s family to Arkansas to sharecrop a living in those cotton fields. That was in the 1930s. I was mostly raised elsewhere, because there wasn’t a lot of money in those fields for the average person prompting my family to go north. I do, however, have some memories of walking in cotton fields as a child as my mother chopped out weeds and picked those beautiful fluffy cotton bolls. One of my fondest memories is of lying on a cotton sack and being drug between those rows, watching the clouds. My uncle farmed cotton then.

Now my daughter’s husband is a cotton farmer in Southeast Missouri, farming on land owned by his family for generations.

And cotton is still a huge crop in the area.

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13 responses »

  1. Kate says:

    What a small world it is indeed. Beautiful photo of the cotton blossom!

  2. The Jagged Man says:

    Share cropping was a hard way of life. Wonderful narrative and photos! Thanks for sharing.

    • Sheila says:

      Thank you. Yes it was a hard life. I have heard some of the stories from those times. And I remember my grandma’s little two-room home, situated in the middle of a cotton field. There was only outdoor plumbing and no air conditioning. I can’t imagine living like that in the heat we’ve been having recently.

  3. enmanscamera says:

    As always, I enjoy both your images and the commentary you ad to them.

  4. leanneT says:

    thanks for stopping by my blog today Sheila. xxx

  5. Iamrcc says:

    Thanks for visiting and the like of my post “Fly on the Edge”.

  6. Love the Ledbetter lyric and your personal history all woven together!

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