This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of the The Dallas Morning News on May 5, 1995

By Michael R. Hayslip

Once upon a time the upstart onion challenged cotton as king of crops, not only in Garland, but also in Mesquite, Rowlett, Rockwall, Sachse and other surrounding towns and counties.

In this time a young maiden was selected by annual competition for the role of Onion Princess. Parades followed, replete with pageantry befitting someone mentioned in the same breath as the onion.

Cotton had reigned supreme since the building of the railroads, completed in 1886, which provided the necessary transportation of the weighty crop to market. But when cotton prices sank to a nickel for the pound and remained low for most of the ‘30s, onions smelled more profitable.

Chosen for local fields was the Bermuda onion, available in both white and yellow varieties, and planted as “sets,” rather than seeds. Already sprouted from seeds, sets were young plants, harvested with roots intact and tied together in small bundles for delivery to a grower.

Onions were “set” or stabbed alongside an extended index finger into rows of plowed earth at three-inch intervals. Poking them in with a thumb could damage the set. G. W. Range of Garland remembered crawling along his family’s rows with sore fingers and kneepads to avoid stooping. Vernon Schrade of Rowlett recalled that setters paid by the row tended to widen the spacing, while those paid by the set might draw off extra bundles and hide them unplanted in suspicious mounds within the rows.

To hedge their bets, more enterprising farmers planted onions and cotton or onions between cotton rows. The onions matured earlier, donating their fallen stalks as fertilizer for the cotton crop, which drew heavily upon soil resources.

An Onion Princess never set onions. Both planting and harvesting were accomplished by the farm families and temporary help, some of it provided by migrant workers. Temporary employees also found work in the onion sheds, where the crop was sorted and stored for rail shipment. Many of the locals gained new and broadening experiences from their contacts with these travelers.

As the curtain closed on World War II, local onion production peeled off and disappeared, except from private plots. Cotton prices rebounded, and onion prices fell, due to gluts from early harvests in South Texas and lower-cost production in California. Storage sheds emptied as the Bermuda onion was supplanted by the larger Globe onion, which was much in demand for a new sandwich rage--the hamburger.

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Photo caption:

The battleship float representing Garland in the parade at the 1935 North Texas Onion Festival held in Farmersville. Other participants included Mesquite, Plano, Richardson, Rowlett and Sachse. On the bow (l-r) are Richard Roach, Mary Louise Chenault, Fannie Beth Harris, Jack Shugart, Onion Princess Mimi Olinger, and Mildred Burleson. The sailors on board were twelve members of Ms. Mary Squibb’s elementary school rhythm band, including Bill Armstrong, James Baker, Charlotte Bell, Billy Boy Bradfield, Dorothy Brown, Bill Grady Burleson, Gloria Bussey, Mary Evelyn Harris, Mary Joe Johnson, C. F. Quinn, Hiram Steve Range and Margaret Helen Talley. Ben Jackson, Hap Manzer and Dr. C. F. Quinn were responsible for Garland’s entry.