“White Gold”– The Era of Cotton

As part of Indian Trail’s 105th anniversary, we’re running a series of short articles about the town’s history.

Throughout Indian Trail and the Carolina piedmont from 1810 until about 1960, cotton held the title of major cash crop.  The red soil in the area made it the perfect location for growing cotton, but with the high levels of depletion farmers had to compensate with fertilizer and crop rotation.

Cotton represented backbreaking work done by hand from planting in the spring to “chopping,” or weeding, in early summer to picking in the fall. Before Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, invented in 1793, and other machines that lessened the labor associated with cotton-picking, adults along with children picked cotton. School was on a split term to accommodate cotton-picking beginning in mid-July and went through mid-September. Children were dismissed from school for six weeks to help in the fields.

After the Civil War, demand for cotton grew rapidly and the coming of the railroad to Indian Trail in 1874 made it easier to transport crops to market. Indian Trail quickly became a prosperous trading center, and it was said that at one time there were as many as seven general stores in downtown Indian Trail. Farmers bought their seed, fertilizer and other supplies from local merchants. Condor Stinson operated both a cotton gin and corn mill in the 1930s in downtown Indian Trail at Stinson’s Cross Roads.

And merchants like James I. Orr, who owned the largest store, also were sources of credit before there were banks. Farmers also sold their cotton to Orr who loaded it onto the railroad cars next to his store.

As with the gold rush, not everyone prospered in Union County and the area. White farmers with small farms took out loans to grow cotton and by the end of the 1870s, as output grew and prices dropped, they were unable to pay their debts. By 1890, one third of white farmers were tenants. Black ex-slaves at the end of the Civil War were offered rental agreements by large landowners to use their land, seed, tools and mules for plowing. The landowners insisted that they grow cotton, and by 1890, nearly three of every four black farmers were tenants under these rental agreements.

– Roger Fish

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