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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Getting cotton to market

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's cotton pickin' time in the Bootheel. Actually, it's almost past cotton picking time but there's still some out in the fields. Cotton picking must have been on Vivian Helton's mind recently as she dug up this gem of a column by Whit Thrower from the May 9, 1950 edition of the newspaper.

"'Thar She Blows' Was the Call When Steamboats Landed In Kennett'

"Please don't let Grandpa drop his moustache cup when he gets this little gem in his gun sights because he will probably elaborate until the whole thing gets to be pure fiction instead of fact.

"It was the year 1887, according to the oldest citizen that was born and raised in this town of Kennett, when the one and only steamboat landing to ever occur happened this year. The Steamer Stroud came along about 1890. (Note: I'm assuming the Steamer Stroud passed through Kennett three years after the landing).

"A steamboat actually landed in Kennett on a balmy May day to pick up a load of baled cotton from the old Petty gin that was located in the Varney River bottoms west of Kennett and the contraption pulled up at a point near Frays Mill. It was something to see, according to this eyewitness, and the cotton had been waiting for a long time to be shipped. The boat came from Helena, Ark., via the Mississippi.

"On this languid spring afternoon the small boat tied up after a meandering voyage through the wonderful but treacherous swamp that had a mossy green surface with cypress knees sticking up to keep the bottom of the boat in constant hazard.

"Swimming around these cypress knees were great swarms of bass and google-eye and cat. It wasn't much fun to fish in those days because the woman of the house always poured her wash water in the same place all the time and when you dug that soap soaked spot it made you hustle for worms for bait. Also you could buy all the fish you wanted in the rough for a flat nickel per pound no matter what kind they were.

"Crawdads were a scourge in every roadside ditch and a bit of screen wire on a rake would give you enough to make the backyard smell to heaven if you happened to forget to throw them out before you got home from fishing. Good king-sized shiners, huh, one drag would get you enough to bait your hook until Gabriel blows taps.

"It was also beautiful to see the big trees sticking out of the water without a conservation agent hiding behind it. In those days you could catch all you could clean and if you weren't a right smart of a cleaner you had to be careful about the catching. There were no electric refrigerators and anyone that bought ice was considered to be in the luxury brackets. Nothing can get riper than a day or two old dish in summer weather.

"But back to the steamboats. We hereby offer $1,000.00 reward that will be backed up by the Dunklin Democrat to any person that will allow Mr. Joe Welman and his fine group of Dunklin County sportsmen to go along as deckhands on any steamboat that plied the wandering waterways leading up to the St. Francis in 1897. If you can get from Helena to Kennett, the reward stands.

"At least it is nice to reflect on the time when you could catch the limit in about ten minutes even if you did have to bat the heck out of mosquitoes.

"The steamboat went on back to Helena with the cotton. Thank you for your attention."

Reading that column a couple of things come to mind.

One, some things never change; we still "bat the heck out of mosquitoes."

I'm guessing the game wardens that were sent in here years ago probably never cooked barbecue like Eric Heuring.

* * *

If it's cotton pickin' time it's also politickin' time in the Bootheel.

The parade not only kicks off the Delta Fair, it also serves as the opening bell to politicians that it's time to begin making their rounds.

Last week Sarah Steelman, former Missouri secretary of state, was in town for a luncheon with several folks as she gears up her campaign for the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Claire McCaskill next November. Steelman was here with Missouri Senate leader Rob Mayer and Billy Pay Wright, 159th Missouri House district who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace the term-limited Mayer.

Steelman agreed with a comment made by Dr. Tim McPherson, who said Congress should live by the laws they make. When pressed she said that included Social Security and a medical insurance plan that is more realistic that the Cadillac-plan taxpayers pay for Congress.

Mayer has been publicly quiet about his plans. Some are encouraging him to seek a statewide office figuring 2012 would be a good year to have an "R" behind a candidate's name. I suspect we'll know in due time his plans, but most would be surprised if there's not another campaign in his future.

By the way, when folks talk about "Landslide Mayer" they're not talking about Rob. His retired schoolteacher wife, Nancy, was elected in her first campaign to the Dexter school board.

Bud Hunt is regional vice

president, publisher of the

Daily Dunklin Democrat, Daily Statesman, Delta News-Citizen, Missourian-News and

North Stoddard Countian.