Definition of cotton

“Cotton is the over-coat of a seed that is planted and grown in the Southern States to keep the producer broke and the buyer crazy; is planted in the spring, mortgaged in the summer and left in the field in the winter.  The fiber varies in color and weight and the man who can guess nearest the length of a fiber is called a cotton man by the public, a fool by the farmer and a poor business man by his creditors.  The price of cotton is fixed in New York and goes up when you have sold and down when you have bought.”  A buyer working for a group of mills in the South was sent to New York to watch the cotton market and after a few days deliberation wired his firm as follows:  “Some think it will go up and some think it will go down , I do too, whatever you do will be wrong, act at once.”

This humorous definition of cotton came from the memoirs (dated July 21, 1921) of my mothers grandfather Marius Harrison Gunther who was a cotton and tobacco broker in New Orleans and Memphis in the 1870’s through the 1920’s.  The Lee Line hauled millions of pounds of cotton and cotton seed from 1867 until the early to mid 1890’s when the railroads took much of the cotton trade from the steamboats.

When cotton shipping season began in September and rouster crews were difficult to recruit, Capt. Stacker Lee (my 2 great uncle) would take his walnut cane and walk from the Beale Street landing where Lee Line boats were moored and walk up Beale Street and into the dive bars and brothels loudly announcing “indeter (winter) is coming and bellies will be empty and there will be no food for those who do not work.”  Rousters who worked on Lee Line boats knew they could find a meal on board Lee Line boats during the cold slow winter months.

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