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Among the fields of cotton

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It’s Friday afternoon, November 21, around 5:45 p.m., as I walk through a field of unpicked cotton in Rutledge. There is not a cloud in the sky as darkness fast approaches. The temperature is falling rapidly as a deer hunter fires his rifle in the distance. The unpicked cotton is a beautiful sight to behold, looking somewhat like the beginning of freshly fallen snow. The plants are dry and brittle. The ground is hard Georgia clay. Tall hardwoods, with gold, purple and orange leaves that are hanging on especially late this year, line the field. Right at dark a pickup truck streaks through the middle of the field. I go unnoticed. A large trailer waiting to be filled with cotton to take to the gin sits in the distance. A mural on the wall across from City Hall reads “Rutledge GA, where cotton was King.” The way it looks around this area cotton is still king. Hundreds of acres of Rutledge land are farmed in cotton every year. Anyone who calls Rutledge, GA 30663 home lives among the fields of cotton. Cotton grows in the city limits of “this small but special” town. A cotton boll sits atop the city limits sign. Cotton is depicted in the murals in downtown RTL. Cotton is the most miraculous fiber under the sun. Cotton is known for its versatility, appearance, performance and comfort. Cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that were proved to be 7000 years old have been found in caves in Mexico. Cotton was grown, spun, and woven into cloth in Pakistan as early as 3000 B.C. When Columbus discovered America in 1492 he found cotton growing in the Bahamas Islands. Two-thirds of harvested cotton is composed of seed. In 1794, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, short for engine, a machine for separating cotton fiber from the seed. Two years later Augusta, GA native, Hogden Holmes, obtained a patent for his improved version of the cotton gin. The gin could separate the fiber from the seed ten times faster than by hand. The gin made it possible to supply large quantities of cotton fiber to the fast growing textile industry. Cotton, planted in the spring after Easter, grows throughout the summer and those who farm it pray for rain. The bolls are harvested in October and November utilizing a machine called a cotton picker. The cotton is sent to the gin after harvest. Cotton is sold by the pound. A bale of cotton weighs about 500 pounds. The seeds are crushed and made into oil, meal and hulls. Cotton provides thousands of useful products and millions of jobs as it moves from field to fabric. Locally the Sheppard family has farmed cotton for 4 generations. During the 1940’s and 50’s children and teenagers helped with the work in the cotton fields. Rena Holt shared a story of she and her siblings spreading a combination of molasses and arsenic on each immature plant with a homemade mop made with a cloth and broom handle. The device was used to kill boll weevils, an insect which destroyed cotton bolls. As the Highway Men song “Cotton Fields” said “when them cotton bolls get rotten you can’t pick very much cotton in those old cotton fields back home.” Rena said that sometimes in mischief they would sling the poison on each other. Her favorite time of day was when her father would take them down to the river to jump in and wash off the molasses and arsenic. Mary Friddell said that one of the times she saw her mother the most angry was when it was discovered that Mary and her brother were putting rocks in their sacks of cotton before they brought them in from the field to be weighed. Everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday among the fields of cotton.

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