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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Self-sufficient farming during the 1920s

Snipes describes his life and work as a self-sufficient farmer during the 1920s. Initially living in a tenant home on his father's land, Snipes and his wife grew crops such as cotton and raised their own livestock. Harvesting as much as four bales of cotton per year, Snipes and his wife were able to support themselves with farming until the Great Depression hit in 1929.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
What did your folks say?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, we come on home, and [Laughter] my wife said all night what my mother said to her. I forgot what it was now. But they sort of got reconciled to it. And we had a tenant house (my Daddy did) over there, and we together had thirty dollars. [Laughter] So we got up some little household furniture and moved over there in a little new tenant house. Next morning I broke me a garden, broke me up a good garden. And we planted about four or five acres of cotton. That was in 1919. We had a cotton crop in 1919. Used to plant about the middle of April or the first of May or somewhere along there, plant cotton. So I got my cotton in.
BRENT GLASS:
Now you didn't have a tractor or anything?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No sir, nothing but a mule. My Daddy had five mules. So he let us take one of the old mules, and we kept him. We planted our cotton.
BRENT GLASS:
What else did you plant?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I planted a little corn, raised us a pig for a little piece of meat. When it come a rainy day she and I would go over in the woods, and it took four oak trees to make eight crossties, about two lengths eight and a half foot crosstie. About seventeen feet would be about all the running feet we could get out of it. Well, me and her would saw them down with a crosscut saw. And then she'd go back to the house and clean up the house and cook dinner, and I'd jump on them and hew them. Then when I went to dinner she'd come back with me, and we had to saw them off then with the crosscut saw and skin them. And I'd take them eight crossties the next morning on a wagon and carry them to Carrboro. They'd bring about seventy-five cents apiece, something like five or six dollars for the crossties.
BRENT GLASS:
For the eight of them?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir.
BRENT GLASS:
That would be a day's work.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
That would buy enough flour and meat and sugar and coffee; maybe get ten pounds of sugar and two or three pounds of coffee and maybe a forty-eight pound sack of flour. Well, maybe it wouldn't rain so I couldn't work no more then two or three weeks or maybe a month. But when it come another rain I'd do the same thing. And that's what we lived on that summer.
BRENT GLASS:
That was the only cash you got?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
That was the only money we had.
BRENT GLASS:
So how large an area did you actually work farming? Now you had some timberland that you could cut down.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh yes, we had some big fields all around the house, different fields of maybe, oh across the branch there there'd be five or six acres, and maybe over yonder three or four acres.
BRENT GLASS:
So you couldn't hire anybody to help you?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh no sir. I wouldn't have had nothing to pay him with.
BRENT GLASS:
So you and your wife had to work the whole farm yourself? What did she do on the farm?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
She went to the field with me. She chopped cotton, and then laid by the cotton. She helped me pick cotton. Then I loaded it up and carried it to the gin. And I think the first bale of cotton, a five hundred pound bale of cotton, as I remember…. Cotton jumped up high right after the war. It was thirty or forty cents. We'd never heard tell of cotton being like that in our lives. Well, a five hundred pound bale of cotton at forty cents'd bring you a couple of hundred dollars. Well, we thought we was rich.
BRENT GLASS:
How much cotton could you raise in a year? How many bales?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
I had about four.
BRENT GLASS:
Four bales.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
It'd be approximately, gross, about eight hundred dollars.
BRENT GLASS:
Where would you take it to be ginned?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
We had old Alliance Cotton Gin up there near Mann's Chapel church. It was an old community gin. My grandfather run a store and a post office; and the post office was Kilgo (K-i-l-g-o)—which this younger generation don't know nothing about.
BRENT GLASS:
It would be baled there also?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir.
BRENT GLASS:
They had a bale?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
They ginned it and baled it. And my grandfather had a man that helped him there run a blacksmith's shop. And he pulled teeth. Everybody in that neighborhood, if you had a toothache and had one that had to come out, you just went there. And he'd put his first in your forehead. And you could sweat all you wanted to if he ever got a hold to it. I've got the old pulling tins in yonder.
BRENT GLASS:
Yes, you showed me the little… looked like a wrench or something.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
[Laughter] Didn't put a thing in the world on them but cold steel.
BRENT GLASS:
Yes, you showed me that once before. Let me ask you a little bit more about the farm. You farmed for about ten years, you told me.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
We moved down here on Thanksgiving Day in 1929.
BRENT GLASS:
Now how far was your farm from Bynum? Was that just on your old family home place, right?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
It's up here at Polk's Landing. There's a thousand and four acres. The old Snipes place, where we turn off right up here and go up through the country it's about six miles, something like five or six miles.
BRENT GLASS:
So why did you finally give up farming?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
The last year I raised four bales of cotton; and I carried a five hundred pound bale of cotton to Chapel Hill and it brought me twenty-five dollars: five cents a pound. The boll weevil hit. And I had four or five bales at four and five cents. And I told my wife, I said, "Never will I work on the farm and spend maybe seventy-five or a hundred dollars for fertilizer, and it'd take every bit of cotton I make to pay that fertilizer and not have a dime for the whole year for my work." So I quit.
BRENT GLASS:
So why would you bring your cotton to Chapel Hill?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Carrboro. When the old cotton mills was running there.