This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on July 21, 1995.

By Michael R. Hayslip


The cotton market bloomed late in the Garland/Mesquite area, but it came on strong in the finish. All it needed for encouragement was war, gins, and trains.

Before the Civil War settlers of this area asked only enough cotton from their blackland farms to meet household needs. Wheat, corn and livestock generated the bulk of their income.   Although the United States had become a major world cotton producer after the Whitney/Holmes saw-type gins were invented in 1794/96, the output came primarily from plantation systems of  the deep South. Dallas and its surrounding counties had neither a slave population to work the fields nor an effective transportation system to move the cotton to market.

In her 1927 Garland News series “Seventy Years in the Garland, Dallas County, Texas, Area,” Mrs. George W. “Kate” James noted that there were only “small patches” of cotton raised around here for quilt batting, ropes and knitting thread, some of which was used to make summer socks and hose. Since the closest pre-war cotton gins were in Dallas (near SMU) and Farmers Branch, seeds and other particles, called “motes”, had to be picked out of the local cotton fibre by hand; otherwise, the thread would break in spinning.

At the outbreak of war cotton demand skyrocketed, and able men left the fields to fight. “The government (Confederacy),” wrote Ms. James, “confiscated all cotton bales to make breastworks.” Demand for consumption was such that any cotton available traded for as high as $1.50 per pound to those who could buy it.

Some women near Greenville, she reported, held up a government cotton wagon and took off a bale. “They told him their husbands were away fighting for the government, and their children were in rags.” One of the women fell off with the bale and broke her arm in the process.

After that war there was a wave of immigration here from the older cotton-producing regions, and local cotton acreage increased to the point that in 1868 Ms. James’ father, R. D. Jones, built the first cotton gin in Duck Creek, Garland’s predecessor village. Run by horse power at a capacity of only 16 bales per week, the Jones installation was supplemented within a year by the nearby gin of Col. T. J. Nash, and others soon appeared throughout Dallas and surrounding counties.

The cotton gins mechanically brushed out seeds, motes and other debris from the cotton fibres of mature bolls, leaving lint, which could be spun into thread. Once separated, the seeds were available either for planting or processing by a mill, which peeled off their hulls, cooked out the oil component and ground the residue into high-protein cottonseed meal. Normally, the gin installation included presses for bailing the lint into bales of cotton, and some contained grist mills as well.

Since many of the men returning from war had taken up freight hauling to earn a living, the bales, weighing an average of 490 pounds each, could be slowly hauled to a shipping point.  For an average rate of between $4.50 and $5.00 per hundred pounds the “driver” transported cotton by walking on foot beside the wagon, cracking a whip to encourage from three to eight yoke of oxen pulling the load.

Routing of the Texas & Pacific Railway and the creation of Mesquite in 1873 gave cotton farmers in that vicinity the jump on those in Garland, Rowlett and Rockwall, who waited until 1886 for connections from either the Missouri, Kansas and Texas or the Santa Fe lines.

But by the late 1880's the local cotton market had begun to flourish. Besides the uncertainties of weather pestilence, the farmer was frequently strapped for cash during the growing season, and since there were no banks in the immediate area until the mid-‘90s, credit flowed only from merchants and a few established individuals. Although 16 to 18 per cent was the going interest rate on crop loans, many a farmer still prospered with a couple of hundred acres and a healthy family. There were no income taxes at the time, and property taxes were negligible.

The 20th century dawned with King Cotton established as the dominant factor of the area’s economy. Aside from the brickyards in Mesquite, there were no industrial payrolls, and commercial activity reflected the price of white lint coming out of the gins.

Photo not available

Photo Caption:

The brand-new, steam-powered Tinsley and Tinsley cotton gin was one of several operating in the Garland/Mesquite area by 1910. Located near the present Historical Society building site in Rowlett, it stood on the location of a pre-1900 gin destroyed by fire in 1909.

Photo courtesy Earl Hammond.