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A once-familiar sight, this cotton field is a curiosity locally

A once-familiar sight, this cotton field is a curiosity locally

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While scouting for doves in LeFlore County, local photographer Don Barksdale stumbled onto a crop he hadn’t seen around here in many years. Barksdale investigated and shared this story and photo essay with Entertainment Fort Smith.

In the early 1900s, thousands of acres of cotton flourished up and down the river and beyond in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. According to the 1903 Oklahoma and Indian Territory Gazetteer and Business Directory, as many as two dozen ginners were operating in LeFlore County alone.

Emerging global economies, increased demand for soybeans, corn and other food crops and competition from synthetic fibers led to the virtual demise of the commodity in this region. By the 1960s, records indicate only occasional plantings. Most area gins had long since closed.

Fast forwarding a half-centure finds a cattlewoman turned row-cropper harvesting several hundred acres of cotton in the Cache Bottoms, near Tucker, Okla., about 35 miles west of Fort Smith.

There, Connie Kasiner found soil highly suitable for growing cotton and abundant water supplies good reasons to step off into this venture.

Add to the mix an alliance with a new state-of-the-art cotton gin in Texas, built by former poultry giant, Pat Pilgrim, who seeks to help grow the domestic textile industry.

Currently, the bulk of the world’s cotton production, as well as spinning and weaving, is in China and India.

“In a word, ‘steep” would describe our learning curve. Very steep,” Kasiner said. “But overall we are glad for this first go at it. We’ll double our acreage next season. Planting earliery and better regulating growth should increase our yields.”

Will the efforts of the risk-takers pay off? Will cotton make a comeback in the river valley? Only time and the markets will tell. 

Photos and story by Don Barksdale

This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine. 

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online