Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. (or cotton)
Knowles Shaw, 1874
Cotton is still a major crop for this little corner of Missouri. Everywhere one looks the fields are white.
It’s harvest time in the Bootheel.
The Bootheel is an area of land in the Southeast portion of Missouri which dips into what would have been Arkansas. It is so called because its shape looks like the heel of a boot. The Bootheel came about after John Hardeman Walker, a large landowner in the area in the 1800’s, requested in 1818 that his land remain in Missouri when it was admitted to the United States. In 1820 when Missouri requested admission to the United States Walker’s request was included.
Walker had bought up a lot of his land after the great New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 when a lot of the citizens fled the area. Walker was a resident of the Little Prairie, on the Mississippi River, at the time of the earthquakes. He and a friend had gone hunting across the river in Tennessee when the first of the earthquakes struck in Dec. 1811. He would later tell the story of how at 4 a.m. after a long day of hunting, he and his friend were awoke “by a noise like a distant thunder, and a trembling of the earth, which brought us both to our feet.”
About dawn, after Walker had begun to settle down some, another earthquake struck with such force that “the earth came rolling toward us like the waves on an ocean, in long seas, not less than fifteen feet high. The tops of the largest sycamores bending as if they were coming to the ground – again, one rises as it were to re-instate, and bending the other way, it breaks in twain, and comes to the ground with a tremendous crash.” Trees were falling all around them and Walker would witness gaps open up in the land and then close with the waves of the earth. The lake whereabouts they had encamped was emptied of its water.
This was the first of series of large earthquakes in the winter of 1811-12 along the New Madrid fault.
On the other side of the river, where Walker lived, also existed a horrendous scene. Upon arriving home he found his village in ruins. Trees were uprooted, lakes were drained and lakes were opened up. One phenomenon was the gushing upward of sand from the earth below. This would leave large areas of sand on the land’s surface.
Large areas of the Bootheel still have sandy ground as a result of those earthquakes. The sand, glacial loess, and alluvial silt from the once-migrating Mississippi River created some of the best soil in the world, well suited for agricultural crops.
And cotton is one of the best crops produced here.
Long hours of planting, weeding, spraying and waiting, coupled with nature’s dose of sun, rain, and humidity makes for one beautiful crop and at harvest time comes a time of rejoicing.