Days Gone By - stories from the past

Cotton was cash crop but sugar mill was fun!


By A Native

Catharine Elizabeth (Hixon) Rumphi

(This transcribed excerpt was written before 1958)

Cotton has always been the principal money crop and before the cotton gin was invented the cotton had to be picked from the seed by hand.

All cloth was made at home

“During the Civil War, all of the cloth had to be woven at home. All the plantations had their spinning wheels. The women made dyes of roots, leaves and bark of trees. The indigo bush grew well in the county. They made hats of soaked shucks. There was a shortage of food during the war, “ground peas” were raised by all planters, sugar cane and even watermelons were made into syrup and sugar. Meal bran and okra seed were used as a substitute for coffee, and ashes of red corn cobs were used for soda.” (Taken from Life in Bullock County during the war by Lillian Hixon and Eleanor Grant.)

Cotton Gin was different

The cotton gin in the 1880’s was quite different from the present day ones. Then cotton was carried to the gin in wagons, unloaded in cotton baskets and emptied into a cotton press. There was a long lever with a piece of plank nailed on the end and a mule hitched to it. A driver sat on the end and drove the mule round and round. It was a lot of fun to ride around with the driver.

Owners of large plantations kept slaves to tend their crops. They raised cotton, corn, sugarcane, vegetables, chickens, hogs, cows and fruits of many kinds.

The women made preserves, jellies and canned fruits and vegetables from cultivated fruit and wild plums, blackberries and huckleberries that grew profusely.

Sugarcane mill was fun to visit

“At one time sugar cane was grown on each plantation and a visit to the cane mill was a lot of fun. A mule was hitched to a lever that was attached to two rollers which crushed the stalks of cane. The mule plodded round in a circle around the mill, stalks of cane were hand fed between the rollers where the juice was crushed out. The juice trickled down a wooden trough into a barrel covered with burlap through which the juice was strained. The juice was carried in containers and poured in iron syrup kettles or copper vats.

A fire was built in a furnace underneath and juice boiled until it was the consistency of. syrup. In the kettle they raked the fire out and dipped the syrup out. In the vats, they drained the syrup out as it cooked to the right consistency. During the process of cooking the foam was removed from the top of the boiling juice with a skimmer that was shovel like with a long handle. This foam was put in a barrel and allowed to ferment for beer. Visits to the cane mill served as social occasion for young and old.

Land was unsuited to the extensive raising of sugar cane and disease (smut) attacked the crop. Kyana and P O J were recommended as substitutes but they failed to measure up to the old-fashioned red, green and ribbon cane in quality of syrup they produced. Only a few patches can now be seen on the farms and the cane mill is almost extinct. Very little syrup ever sold commercially but was kept in homes for family use. Sorghum was raised for cattle and syrup, but the syrup was poor.

Early settlers failed to see the value of timber-land and land was cleared for farming.

Timber in demand

Following World War I and more especially from 1930 to the present time timber has been much in demand. Many people have prospered through the sale of timber. After the death of Mr. C. W. Rumph, Sr., Mrs. Rumph let a large tract of land be cupped for turpentine. This killed all of those trees.

Government control has discouraged the raising of cotton, corn and peanuts and many of the fields have been converted into pastures. Hereford and Jersey cattle are most suited to this area. Hereford ranks highest in preference because of demand for beef cattle. Occasionally milk and butter were carried to Union Springs to be sold but dairying was never carried on extensively.

Pecans have been a source of small income to some inhabitants of Perote, (Bullock County, Alabama) but unfavorable weather conditions during the past few years have hurt the production and only enough for home use were grown.

iCatherine Elizabeth (Hixon) Rumph was born in Bullock County and has lived during her entire life time there. She is the daughter of a Confederate Veteran who was some time a prisoner at Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi and grew up in the environment of the small country village about which she writes and among interesting Confederate associates, Mrs. Rumph has collected Americana, folk lore and historical data and contributed in no small way to the life of this rural community

Other Crops

In the 1800’s and 1900’s wild game was abundant in the sage or sedge fields. It was not uncommon to bag 15 or 20 birds in half a days trip before the game law limited this quota. In the early day wild turkeys were found in the swamps. A few years ago the Wild Life Conservation turned loose some wild turkeys around that have multiplied rapidly but. they are not very wild. They come to houses around and eat with the chickens. The quail they put out just disappeared.

Pea River, Conecuh and Sandy Creek yielded trout, jack and catfish but they have been seined, poisoned and beavers have changed the course of the river so that fishing there is not much good. Nearly all the farmers have ponds stocked with bream and bass and most of the fishing is done in the ponds.


The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 03, Fall Issue 1958

Discordance: The Cottinghams Inspired by true events and the Cottingham family that resided in 17th century Somerset, Maryland, and Delaware, colonial America comes alive with pirate attacks, religious discord, and governmental disagreements in the pre-Revolutionary War days of America.

Discordance: The Cottinghams (Tapestry of Love) (Paperback)
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Discordance: The Cottinghams (Tapestry of Love) (Paperback)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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