Tag Archive | Sharecropping

Object: Prayer book


Prayer Book
ca. 1892
Materials: paper, leather

This Catholic prayer book was donated by the granddaughter of Joseph Schwartz, a Czech immigrant who came to Texas from Austria in 1892. Mr. Schwartz and his family came to Texas by passing through Galveston Island, which was a port for immigrants coming from Europe during the late 19th century, similar to Ellis Island in New York, City and Angel Island in San Francisco. He and his wife Sophia Loika had more than 15 children, and spoke fluent German and Czech. According to the donor, the Schwartz family lived in the house they built for over 70 years, until its demolition in 1969, which is when the prayer book was found.

During the late 19th century, Czech immigrants who came to Texas came mostly from the Moravia and Bohemia regions that now make up modern-day Czech Republic. During the 19th century though, these regions were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Austria-Hungary, German was the dominant language, yet the prayer book that belonged to the Schwartz’s was written in the Czech language. This reflected how Schwartz and his family kept their culture and ethnic identity during Austrian-Hungarian rule.

Photo via: Drew Patterson, http://www.cah.utexas.edu

The Schwartz family settled in Moravia, Texas, a farming community mostly settled by Czech immigrants in the late 1800s. Many Czech immigrants that came to Texas started out their new lives as farmers. In Europe the technology boom of the  Industrial Revolution made it more difficult to make a living by farming. As a result, many Czech farmers and their families immigrated to North America, looking for new opportunities in farm land.

When the first Czech immigrants came in the 1850s, many settled in the Gulf-Coast region of Texas, starting out as tenant farmers. Tenant farmers would farm small plots of land for a landowner. The landowner typically provided the tenant with food, housing, seeds and the equipment needed to bring in the crop. After harvest, the landowner would sell the crops produced by the tenant. After deducting the costs of the materials provided to the tenant, the landowner would share the profits of the crop with the tenant. This system of farming is also sometimes referred to as “sharecropping.” The early Czech immigrants typically farmed mostly cotton andcorn as their cash crops.  In addition to their cash crops, these early farmers used gardens to grow food for their families.  Over time, the Czech communities in Texas were able to buy their own property and farm their own land, while still raising and sending their crops to market.

As more families became property owners, the Czech community grew into thriving towns. By the time the Schwartz family came to Texas, Czech communities like Moravia, Texas provided support for new immigrants joining their community. As early as the 1880s, support networks had been organized in order to help the Czech communities hold onto their cultural and ethnic identity brought with them from Europe. These helped to integrate Czech-Texans into their new country. To help this process, children were taught English in school and use of the Czech language was primarily confined to church activities and in the home. Luckily the Czech community in Texas was able to maintain many aspects of their culture through religion, music and dance.

The following video shows one of the few remaining Czech dance halls in Texas.

Several fraternal societies were created in order to advocate and maintain Czech cultural and ethnic identity. These fraternal societies focused on their local Texas communities, but their projects included publishing books and journals in the Czech language, as well as providing insurance and financial services for Czech-Texans. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Block, Doris S. 1977. The history of the Joseph and Sophie Schwartz family. S.l: s.n.

Gallup, Sean N. 1998. Journeys into Czech-Moravian Texas. College Station, Tex: Texas A & M University Press.

Hannan, Kevin. 1996. “Ethnic Identity among the Czechs and Moravians of Texas”. Journal of American Ethnic History. 15 (4): 3-31.

Hewitt, William Phillip. 1978. The Czechs in Texas: a study of the immigration and the development of Czech ethnicity, 1850-1920. S.l: s.n.].

Machann, Clinton, and James W. Mendl. 1983. Krásná Amerika: a study of the Texas Czechs, 1851-1939. Austin, Tex: Eakin Press.

Narodni svaz českých katoliku v Texas, and V. A. Svrcek. 1974. A history of the Czech-Moravian Catholic communities of Texas. Waco, Tex: Texian Press.


Object: Field Sack

Fig 1

Field sack
Eckert, Texas
Date: ca. 1928-1929
Materials: Textile

Mina Mae Duderstadt (1914-2008) used this field sack for picking cotton while she was a young woman living and working on a farm with her family in Eckert, which is near Runge, TX. On May 6, 1930 the great tornado of Runge, destroyed the farm they lived on. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was the 7th worst tornado in Texas since 1900.  Due to the damages, her family relocated to San Antonio, where her father found a job.

Mina Mae Duderstadt with Hardy Kieth

Photo of Mina Mae Duderstadt with Hardy Kieth, provided by object donor.

She would have used this sack in the late 1920s, likely 1928 or 1929. Cotton picking is tedious and strenuous work. The way that cotton grows meant that even as farms were mechanizing in the 20th century, it needed to be picked by hand. Mechanized methods of picking cotton were not common until after 1950.  Cotton grows in a pod called a boll. In order to pick the cotton, one can either pick the whole boll then pull the cotton out of it, or one can carefully pull the cotton out of the boll while it is still on the plant.

The following video shows a cotton picker demonstrating how cotton was traditionally harvested prior to mechanization.

Fig 4

Photo via: WikiMedia Commons

The sack is slung over the shoulder and trails behind the person picking cotton. Farmers are paid for cotton by the hundred pounds, and a good cotton picker can pick a few hundred pounds a day. Due to its age and the rugged nature of the work it was used for, this particular field sack is in rough condition, with a number of tears and stains from being used in the field.

On smaller family-owned farms and tenant farms or those who are sharecropping, every one pitched in to pick the cotton. Children often worked alongside their parents as the whole family worked together to ensure survival. On tenant farms the farmers supplied their own seed, machinery and labor, and the land owner typically received 1/3 of the profits. Sharecroppers were supplied with the seed and machinery by the land owner who typically received half of the profit. Frequently farmers borrowed money or purchased needed items on credit, to be paid back when the crops were harvested. Hiring workers to help pick the cotton would mean less money to pay off debts or buy needed supplies for the household.  However, some farmers did hire migrant workers to pick their cotton if there were not enough people on their farm to do so.

Fig 5

Photo via: WikiMedia Commons

Once picked, cotton must have the boll and seeds removed before it can be prepared to make cloth. Before the end of the 18th century, this process was once done by hand, slowly and painstakingly. The heartier short staple cotton most often grown in Texas did not work well in the simple machines such as the charka, used for the cotton grown in other parts of the world, like the long staple cotton grown in India. Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin provided the necessary ease in processing that allowed cotton to become King in Texas. [Christine Moscardini-Hall, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Allen, Ruth Alice. 1975. The labor of women in the production of cotton. New York: Arno Press.

Black, Mary S. “Living on a Cotton Farm: Mexican American Life in Texas.” Texas Beyond History. University of Texas

Interview with B. Goff, 1985: Institute of Texan Cultures Oral History Collection, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Interview with Christine Nagy East, Louis Nagy, and Edie Nagy, 1986: Institute of Texan Cultures Oral History Collection, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Interview with Emma G. Ortega, 1995: Institute of Texan Cultures Oral History Collection, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Sharpless, Rebecca. 1999. Fertile ground, narrow choices: women on Texas cotton farms, 1900-1940. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press.

Sitton, Thad, and Dan K. Utley. 1997. From can see to can’t Texas cotton farmers on the southern prairies. Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press.

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