They made 18 bales of cotton, for it was a good year and the land was good. It was the fall of 1895, and the country was recovering a little from the panic of '93. Meat had been costing four cents a pound, in regular stores, and Stewart had been selling it for no more than 50 per cent profit. John Smith knew nothing of these things. He just went to the commissary Saturday afternoon and got what they needed to keep them during the week.
At accounting time Smith had six bales of cotton up at the gin. Cotton was selling for six cents a pound. He didn't know how to figure it out, of course, but he felt very com fortable over his prospect. Also he had 25 bushels of corn as his share. He would buy him a hog next year. His cotton brought $206 and he owed the commissary just a little less than $200. He was disappointed, but not grievously. He had never had anything.
The next spring his wife had a baby. She had been work ing hard in the field all spring, and the baby died. She hadn't a doctor. An old negro midwife attended her. She was unable to do a full year's work, and the crop suffered. That year they made only five bales of cotton, and with the other expenses, they came out behind the game. They owed the commissary more than their cotton amounted to. They had their corn, and the hog weighed more than they ex pected.
Thirty dollars in debt to start with. Smith got discouraged. He thought he could do better somewhere else. Another land owner three miles away wanted a tenant, and Smith moved down there. The debt moved with him, his new landlord pay ing Stewart the $30, and adding it to the account that Smith started at the commissary. That year things were a little better, and Smith had $45 paid to him in actual cash money. He and his wife went to town and bought a bedstead and a cook stove, a hat for herself and a pair of shoes for him.
That winter they had another baby. Smith took a notion that he could make more if he had a mule of his own and got half the crop instead of a third of it. His new landlord sold him a mule on credit. At the end of the year he had $75. The baby had hindered the mother from work, and Smith had to hire some done. He paid $50 on the mule, and hoped that the next year he could pay the other $50. Mules
were cheaper then. He bought a one-horse wagon, adding $30 to his debt.
It was a bad year, and Smith moved again, taking his debt with him to a third landlord. He kept his mule. That year another baby, and the $100 debt raised to $125. He got half the crop, but there was no pig. He didn't raise corn enough the year before, and he had to buy from the landlord to feed his mule. He wanted to plant more corn, but the land lord already had more corn than he knew what to do with. He couldn't sell it, and he could sell cotton.
Smith moved along to another place, moving his debt with him. Then struck a good year. Cotton moved up in price, and he had full ten bales, worth $500. He paid his debts and had a little besides. He bought some furniture. The next year he got in debt again and moved. The next he cleared out to a new location. Another baby that died. The first born was big enough to pick a little cotton that fall. The mother kept the children in the field with her as she worked. He about broke even.
On this place there was no commissary. The owner of the land "stood" for Smith at a general merchandisery at a town nearby, who was to be paid first thing in the fall out of the proceeds of the crop.
Next year the boy would be ten years old, and big enough to plow. Smith bought another mule at the livery stable in town, giving a mortgage both on the one he had and the one he bought. The boy learned to plow that summer, and the family cultivated nearly thirty acres of land in cotton.
They raised 20 bales, and had to hire some of it picked out. They made nothing, but were able to pay some on the mule, settle up the store account, and buy a few clothes.
More children, more moving, more debts at the store, and a mortgage on the mules, the wagon, and about everything the man had. Smith took a notion that he ought to have a piece of land. He bought a little place, five acres, with a sort of a house on it, and moved in, paying part down. He had his mules and his boy that could plow and another that could almost reach the plow handles, and a wife with still a lot of work in her. The place was too small and he let the mortgage take it and moved on to another farm the next year.