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100-Year History of Agriculture in the Iuka Area

By W. C. Hamilton, County Agricultural Agent
Reprinted from Iuka Centennial Celebration, July 4, 1957

The one-hundred year agricultural history of Tishomingo County has undergone great scientific transformation.  These transformations consisted of hard work, disillusion, depressions, inventions, and prosperity.

Agricultural growth and development for the period 1857 to 1865 found the fertile valley of Tennessee River, Bear Creek, Indian Creek, Yellow Creek, and the Upland Plateau south and southwest of Iuka thinly populated with large landowners.  Virgin timber covered most of the area at this time.  The early settlers farmed only for a means of a livelihood and existence, and they were not confronted with problems of surpluses.

The period from 1865-1890 found an increase in population and continued clearing of the land for cultivation.  During these early days, there was no consideration for conservation of either the soil or wildlife.  Wile turkey, deer, squirrel, and quail were in abundance.  The thought of the supply of trees ever being depleted was never given a thought.  "Log Rollings" were held to clear land.  This was simply a gathering of neighbors and friends where men cut logs and burned them, and the women folks prepared large meals for the workmen. 

Production of cotton during this period was low.  The best cotton produced one-half bale per acre.  Yields of corn in the river bottom areas were good, running from 40 to 60 bushels per acre.  It was not uncommon for Dr. A. F. Whitehurst, large landowner of Tennessee River bottom, to collect three thousand to five thousand bushels of corn rent yearly.

Hogs ran loose in the hills, and a two-hundred-pound dressed hog was considered large.  The only fences during this period were rail fences that surrounded cultivated fields.  Milk cows were only used for family milk supply.  Occasionally, a beef was killed for protracted meetings and was sold for three cents per pound for its fore quarter and four cents per pound for hind quarter. 

Cotton was planted by hand, and all plow tools that were used were hand made.  Large flocks of sheep roamed the country side.

The principal farm power was supplied by oxen along with some mules.  Some of the first cotton gins run by mule and ox power were owned by John Robertson and J. C. Jourdan, Sr.  Water-powered gins were owned by Tom Blakney, Jeff Foote, and John Foote, who also ran a water grist-mill. 

The early gins were unique in that only two bales could be ginned a day and cotton brought to the gin was put in "Cotton Stalls." Cotton was carried from the stall to the gin stand in baskets and also carried in baskets from the gin to the press.  The early presses were made of wood and operated by a wooden screw pulled by either steers or mules.  The press screws were lubricated with tallow.

The period from 1890-1920 was the beginning of one of the greatest transition periods of agriculture.  It was during this period that the use of commercial fertilizer was introduced and mechanical power was first used.  The first shipment of fertilizer came to Tishomingo County in 1890.  This fertilizer was called "bone dust," and it was manufactured at Meridian, Mississippi.  It was shipped in two-hundred-pound bags and had a very foul odor.  The extensive use of this material did not begin until around 1900 due to the fact that some people thought it was poisonous.

The first walking one-row cultivator and disc harrow was introduced in the county in 1916.  These cultivators and disc were handled by Todd and Walton Hardware.

The year 1910 found the first official one hundred bushel of corn per acre yield in Tishomingo County.  This yield was produced by J. C. Deaton, Tishomingo, Mississippi, in a Progressive Farmer magazine contest.

During this period, the steam sawmill was introduced.  Prior to this time, all logging and lumber was either hewn by axes or cut with a gig saw that was operated by hand.

The first farm tractor and farm truck were introduced in the early 1920s.  Mr. Ham Hubbard owned and operated the first farm tractor in the Iuka area.

In the year 1916, the first boll weevil invaded Tishomingo County. 

The period 1920-1930 found agriculture in a relatively good position with prices fairly stable and yields good.  This period continued to show an increase in mechanization, use of fertilizers, introduction of ammonium nitrate, and the first use of cotton insecticides.

During the period of 1930-1940, many serious problems confronted the agricultural area of Iuka.  This was the period of depression and the blooding of the "Bread Basket Area" which consisted of the bottom lands of the Tennessee River, Bear Creek, Indian Creek, and Yellow Creek.  This era found farmers having to move to other counties in order to continue their farming operations.  This movement was given assistance by C. G. Wallace, TVA Procurement Officer.

A number of farmers moved from the flooded TVA area to Chickasaw and Lee Counties.  The average farm income during this period was less than $300 per farm.

1940 to present-day agriculture has seen the greatest strides of improvements and inventions that science could imagine. This is an era of a high degree of mechanization, the use of chemicals, and tremendously high yields.  This period has found extensive use of chemicals to control weeds and grasses in order to lower production cost.  Liquid fertilizers have been introduced.  The use of irrigation has tripled yields.  The use of scientific determination of soil needs have come into existence for recommendations of fertilizer needs.  Many insecticides inventions have helped ensure high and economical yields by combating natural enemies of crops and soils.

Transcribed by RaNae Smith Vaughn.


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