When cotton was king

When cotton was king

Residents remember good old days on the farm

By April Towery

For many, cotton brings to mind images of a fluffy white ball that removes polish from a fingernail or applies ointment to a wound. For another generation, however, it’s a commodity they and their ancestors picked to make a living in the Texas sun each day since the late 1800s. 

The 1900 Texas Census reported that more than 3.5 million cotton bales were picked from about 7.2 million acres across the state, according to the Texas Historical Commission. 

Some of those bales were produced in Collin County fields. 

Much of the state’s cotton is now produced in West Texas where there are vast farms capable of producing acres of cotton. But it all depends on the weather, experts say. 

“Our fall was so wet with record rainfall that they never were able to get the tractors into the fields,” said Diana Smith of the Sachse Historical Society. 

But the area is rich in farming history – much of it preserved at the historical society’s museum on Sixth Street – and a few locals still remember the days when cotton was king. 

Martha Long, the great-granddaughter of city founder William Sachse, said she remembers walking through the cotton fields when she visited her grandmother. 

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” she said. 

Long and her husband Wayne moved to Sachse in 1976, and Martha donated many keepsakes found in her family home to the museum. She affectionately cites a blue mug bearing the face of Shirley Temple that is now enclosed in a glass case for the public to enjoy. 

“Mother would always give me the Shirley Temple
glass to drink out of,” she said. 

The museum includes other neat trinkets, including women’s clothing (spectators immediately sense the wrinkled sepia-tone photos from “the olden days”), shoes, men’s shaving kits and lots of photos of the farmhouses that dotted the land in the late 1800s. Museum volunteers Tricia Lindsey and Diana Smith can hardly contain their excitement when they get a new item to show off. The women are well-spoken in the city’s history and have plenty of cotton to share with visitors. While operated solely by volunteers and open only on Tuesdays, the museum is available for tours by appointment. 

The Sachse Historical Society works closely with the historical societies in Wylie and Murphy to share the stories of the community as a whole, Smith said. The three entities joined forces in September of last year to host interactive “Cotton Farm to Market” exhibits at the Sachse museum. Attendees learned how to weave cotton into fabric, as the event honored the Sachse family and the last cotton crop grown on their land. 

Donna Brumit Jenkins, author of “Images in America: Murphy” and a member of the Collin County Historical Society, notes in her book that the city was “carved out of the Blackland Prairie Region, the soil was rich and black, rainfall was abundant, the temperature was moderate and the land was carpeted with tall grasses.”

“Trees were cut for homes, and prairie soils were plowed for crops,” Jenkins states in the book. “The arrival of the railroad in 1888 made it more convenient for farmers to transport crops and for local shopkeepers to operate their businesses, which left a lasting legacy in the community.”  

Local cotton farmers are hard to come by these days, but residents like Craig Jones, a descendant of Sachse’s namesake William Sachse, remember spending summers as a child picking cotton in the fields near the home he now shares with his wife of 49 years, Anmy (pronounced “Amy”).  

Readers may need a diagram or a family tree to keep up with the history, but Jones is always willing to talk about his beloved family. 

Jones’ grandmother’s older sister Mollie Herring married Jake Sachse, the son of the city’s founder, William Sachse. Mollie and Jake did not have children, and Jones’ grandmother was more than 20 years younger than her sister Mollie, so the Sachses brought her into their home “and basically raised her.”

Craig Jones’ mother Mary Allene Jones was born in 1922, and the land was gifted to her in 1938 by Jake and Mollie Sachse.

Now Craig Jones owns 43 acres with his sister Kibbie Jones Hipp, who lives in Houston. 

The 73-year-old Jones was born in August 1945, the last month of World War II. His father operated an oil field trucking business in Oklahoma City and his family moved to Dallas in 1959. 

“I spent every summer, every Christmas and every Easter here in Sachse on my grandparents’ farm,” he said. “Through bad weather and boll weevils, they hung on. Some years they didn’t make money because of the weather but most years they made a good living.”

Jones moved to Sachse almost five decades ago and built a home. 

“This 43 acres is the last of our farmland,” Jones said.

In recent years, Jones’ family has worked with sharecroppers to plant and harvest cotton and other crops of the sharecroppers’ choice. 

“All we do is furnish the land,” Jones said. “We’re the landlord these days.”

“Cotton was king” in the 1950s and ’60s, when Jones would sometimes take his father’s World War II duffel bag and pick cotton just for fun.

“My grandparents weren’t rich by any means, but they had enough land, and if cotton was bad they had the cattle and the sheep,” Jones said. “They got by, but it was tight some years. You could tell when they had a really good year; my grandfather would buy a new pickup truck.”

Jones’ grandfather would take the cotton to a gin in either Wylie, Murphy or Garland. 

“They would gin it out,” Jones remembered. “They’d have somebody climb up onto the back of your cotton trailer, and they had a giant vacuum and would just start basically vacuuming the cotton out.” The cotton would then be processed and baled.

The bales were about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 

Very little cotton was planted for many years, resurging in 2017. Last year was challenging due to heavy rains.  

These days, community gardens are popular, and people still grow vegetables – sometimes even on rooftops, Jones said, but farming is not what it used to be. The Jones family has seen retail stores and housing take the place of the old farmland. Jones’ grandmother gave the right-of-way for Ben Davis Road out of the family’s old sheep pasture so Sachse Ranch Estates could open.

Jones smiles as he recalls the days of gathering eggs with his grandmother and picking cotton in the fields. Eventually his grandparents allowed the young man to drive a tractor.  

“We had one pig and one milk cow,” he recalled. “In our big pasture, about 250 acres, we had cattle. Behind the house [my grandmother] had a huge garden and would grow black-eyed peas, squash, green beans, you name it, and she’d use Mason jars to can. She’d never buy eggs because we had three chicken houses.”

An A&P grocery store was available in Garland for other groceries, and meat lockers were prevalent in Garland and Wylie. 

Only about 300 people lived in Sachse during the 1950s and 1960s.

“Everybody knew everybody; about half of us were related,” Jones said. 

Since then the city’s population has skyrocketed to more than 25,000, and much of the agricultural land has been sold and developed.  

“Suburban sprawl, for lack of a better word, has hit McKinney and Frisco,” Jones said. “It will take longer, but our area – Sachse, Murphy, Wylie – will go through growth in a smaller but still dynamic way.”

And although Jones has a management degree from Texas Christian University and worked for years as a businessman at Sears Roebuck and as a manager for a window company, it’s his time on the farm and with his family that he most enjoys talking about. Even if he didn’t have a personal connection to the land on which he lives, he’d want to have some acreage and spend time outdoors, Jones says. 

“I thought it was fun to pick up the chicken eggs, throw the hay out to the cattle and drive the tractor, plow the end rows around the cotton fields,” he said. “I thought it was so neat to drive the tractor.”

Jones has always been partial to a different way of life, a trait he’s passed on to grandson Spencer, 21, who knows all the words to Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly tunes. 

The garage apartment where Jones tinkers with his antiques is decorated with Texaco and Mobil Gas memorabilia, an old-fashioned barbershop chair, reproduction pedal cars and electric trains. 

“I’ve spent 49 years in the same house and 50 years with the same wife,” Jones said. 

And while Collin County has changed over the years, Jones says he hasn’t drifted far from his roots in the cotton fields.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was just me out there all the time. This is where I spent a lot of my time. I haven’t changed a whole lot.”

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