Museum talk

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumn is here and the cotton pickers are busy. The antique dolly at the Buffalo Island Museum is another example of how the cotton industry has changed through the years. This dolly has been in the Swihart family for years before they donated it to the museum.

Dolly on display at Buffalo Island Museum.

This is the type of dolly that a man used to haul a bale of cotton at the gin to the platform to be loaded in a waiting wagon or truck. It is made of iron and is extremely heavy and more so with a bale of cotton on it. Now most gins are automated or use fork lifts to do the heavy lifting of several bales at a time.

The first cotton gins were old-fashioned one-stand gins in which the cotton was carried to the gin in baskets and fed by hand. Arnold Stotts built the first cotton gin in the Monette area in 1853. It was in 1899 that Dr. W.H. Grady built the first modern cotton gin, ginning 400 bales that year.

In 1953, records state that there were five cotton gins in Monette, ginning a total of 19,712 bales that year. One interesting story is about the Bertig Gin in Monette. On Sept. 3, 1941 the Bertig Gin burned to the ground. This was a bad time of the year for a gin to not be operable as cotton was waiting to be ginned. Men worked night and day seven days a week to construct the new gin. The Murray Company of Memphis installed the equipment and 12 days later on Monday, Sept. 15, the new gin was complete and ready to operate.

Pictures at the museum show the burning gin and the new one 12 days later, with old horse drawn wagons and a truck filled with cotton waiting in line.

The old cotton bale dolly is just one item depicting the harvesting of cotton at the museum. There are cotton scales, cotton sacks, and pictures of old tractors, cotton pickers, and winners of cotton picking contests.

Buffalo Island Museum hours are 12:30-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum's Facebook page.