Growing Cotton: Part 1, Getting Permission

During the 1800s, the main cash crop in Louisiana was cotton.  In April 1829, settlers began moving into Bienville Parish to take advantage of the cheap land that the federal government offered for sale.  April is important because it is the beginning of the cotton growing season.  For our temperatures, the best time to plant cotton is mid-April to mid-May.  

As a historian, I’ve been researching the cotton plantations in Bienville Parish.  I have researched cotton through newspapers, books, diaries, and photographs, but have never had any hands-on experience with the fibrous crop.  I decided that to gain more of an understanding of what this aspect of life was like in the 1800s, I needed to grow cotton on a very small scale in my home garden.  Based on the historical record, the most prominent strain of cotton grown in North Louisiana was Petit Gulf.  As of yet, I have not found any source for this strain and am not sure it is used anymore.  

One of the first things I learned is that “the planting of non-commercial or ornamental cotton is PROHIBITED in Louisiana unless a written waiver is obtained from the Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry.”  The reasoning behind the prohibition without permission is for the control of Boll Weevils.  Left unchecked, a boll weevil infestation can quickly destroy millions of dollars worth of commercial cotton in the state.  According to a report by the Department of Agriculture & Forestry published in 2017, the boll weevil has been eradicated in the state of Louisiana due to regulations enacted by the Department of Agriculture & Forestry.  

I spoke with someone from the Department of Agriculture & Forestry and explained that I wanted to grow the cotton as part of a historical research program.  He was enthusiastic about the project and forwarded me the required form to request permission (attached below).  On February 13, I completed the form and emailed it as per the instructions.  If accepted, I’ll be the only cotton grower in the parish.  Now, I must wait patiently while crossing my fingers.  As I think about growing cotton and all of its difficulties, a Brook Benton song keeps coming to mind…  

Arcadia’s Cotton Oil Mill

On January 27, 2023, I shared the video above on YouTube.  Mr. Jack Taylor contacted me from Destin, Florida.  He shared information about his family and their connection to the Arcadia Cotton Oil Mill and Manufacturing Company.  Mr. Taylor shared the following information with me.  The first document, “The Beginnings of Our Taylor Family” includes information and photographs.  The second document consists of Vera Taylor Oden’s Memoirs.  Vera is Jack Taylor’s sister.  This marks the beginning of the research of the Arcadia Cotton Oil Mill. 

100 Years Ago in Bienville Parish: Arcadia Decides to Pave Its Streets

By Brad Dison

One hundred years ago, the streets of Arcadia consisted of dirt roads strewn with litter.  Occasionally, workers sprayed the streets with oil to keep the dust under control.  A week earlier, the town’s chamber of commerce met to discuss ways they could clean up the town’s streets and keep them clean.  The chamber voted to send a committee before the town council to ask that they review “the old statue prohibiting the throwing of trash on sidewalks or streets on penalty of fine.”  They voted in favor of a provision to provide the town with a “scavenger wagon” or some other means of disposing of the trash that was gathering on the streets around stores and homes. 

Mayor Barnette and the town council had been working for some time on another street improvement plan.  The town was continuously spending money in an effort to keep the streets passable with little success.  The only way to eliminate the constant expense and clean up the town, they decided, was to pave the streets. 

The streets included in their plan consisted of “Maple Street from Dixi[e] highway to Railroad; Front Street from the old Goff shop property to Dallas Roberson’s transfer stable; Myrtle Street from Dixie highway to town branch, and Hazel Street from Dixie highway to Railroad.” 

The Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific railroad owned the majority of the property along the aforementioned streets, and therefore would be responsible for more “cash money” to cover the cost of the paving plan than any individual property owner.  R.L. Taylor, president and manager of the Arcadia Cotton Oil Mill & Mfg. Co., planned to finance the project, and would give property owners “certificates of indebtedness” for the amount spent on the paving process based on the size of their property.  The railroad company and property owners were said to be eager for the paving process to begin as it would aid in the overall prosperity of the business of the town. 

Source: Bienville Democrat, January 18, 1923, p.1.

A Fly on the Wall – Watch or Read

(Click here to watch or read the article below)

     Two American tourists took a much-needed vacation in England and Scotland.  They had visited the usual tourist attractions in London such as Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the British Museum, and the Great Clock of Westminster, which is commonly referred to as Big Ben.  They traveled to several cities in Scotland and visited the usual tourist sites there such as Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, and Holyrood House.  Finally, they decided to get away from the bustling crowds of the cities and went hiking in an area of the sparsely populated Scottish Highlands, about 100 miles north of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh.  The views were breathtaking.  They hiked on the ancient winding paths at the base of the mountains along the River Dee.

     While hiking, they met another man and woman, Dick and Liz, who were walking in the opposite direction toward a favored picnic site.  Dick and Liz rarely saw hikers in this area because it was so remote.  As the hikers neared, Liz said hello and sparked up a conversation.  The hikers were instantly drawn in by Dick and Liz’s accents.  The foursome engaged in small talk.  The hikers told Dick and Liz of their travels throughout Britain and where they would be visiting on the remainder of their vacation. 

     As the conversation progressed, one of the gentleman hikers asked Liz where she lived.  She replied, “Well, I live in London, but I have a holiday home just the other side of the hill.”  “How often have you been coming up here,” the gentleman hiker asked.  “Oh, I’ve been coming up here since I was a little girl, so over eighty years.”  Dick and Liz could see that the gentleman was thinking about her reply.  Then he asked what was one of the most asked questions by a tourist in Britain.  “Well, if you’ve been coming up here for 80 years,” he said, “you must’ve met the Queen.”  Liz replied, “Well I haven’t, but Dick, here, meets her regularly.” 

     The hikers turned their full attention to Dick, who had spoken very little up to that point.  “What’s she like,” the hikers asked Dick.  “Well,” Dick replied matter-of-factly “she can be very cantankerous at times, but she has a lovely sense of humor.”  The hikers held onto every word Dick said about his meetings with the Queen.  The hiker was so enamored that he had met someone who had met the Queen that he handed Liz his camera and asked if she would take a picture of him with Dick, to which she obliged. Then, they swapped places and Dick took pictures of the hikers with Liz. 

     After a while, the hikers said goodbye to Dick and Liz and continued on their hike.  As Dick and Liz gave a final wave to their new hiker friends, Liz turned to Dick and said, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he shows the photographs to his friends in America.”  You see, Richard “Dick” Griffin really had met the Queen regularly because he was her royal protection officer.  The American hikers learned at some later point that the lady who accompanied Dick on the picnic was Queen Elizabeth II.


A Star Fell on Alabama

     Millions of meteors and other space debris enter the Earth’s atmosphere daily.  Most of them are small and burn up before reaching the ground.  The ones that enter the atmosphere in the daylight hours usually go unnoticed.  Meteors which enter the atmosphere at night are more visible and are commonly called falling stars.  An average of 17 meteors per day reach the Earth’s surface, whether it be land or sea, at which time they are called meteorites. 

     On November 30, 1954, one such meteor was traveling through space and heading towards Earth.  The meteor entered the atmosphere at a high rate of speed and began to burn.  The meteor was extremely hot and under immense pressure.  At about 12:45 p.m., when the meteor was about 40 miles up in the Earth’s atmosphere, it could no longer take the heat and pressure and exploded. 

     34-year-old Ann Elizabeth Fowler “Hewlett” Hodges was enjoying a peaceful afternoon nap in a home she rented on the outskirts of Sylacauga, Alabama.  The day had been uneventful so far, and Mrs. Hodges expected the remainder of the day to be equally as lackluster.  As she slept, the 12-pound meteorite struck the home, tore a three-foot-wide hole through the roof of the living room, ricocheted off Mrs. Hodges’ husband’s console radio, and struck Mrs. Hodges on her arm and hip as she slept. (See Photos Below)  Even though it had reached a burning hot temperature as it passed through the atmosphere, by the time it reached Mrs. Hodges’ living room, it was “too cold to handle.”  The meteorite left Mrs. Hodges with substantial bruising, but no serious injuries.

     Witnesses in three states reported seeing a “bright flash” followed by an explosion in the sky.   A resident of Smith’s Station, Alabama, about 90 miles southeast of Sylacauga, telephoned the Russell County military sheriff’s office and reported seeing the flash and hearing the explosion.  Like many others, the resident thought she had witnessed a mid-air airplane disaster.  Crews aboard two army helicopters from Fort Benning, Georgia, and several airplanes from Lawson Field began searching a 30-mile radius from the Chattahoochee River for the crash site.  After several hours of searching, the search party received reports from Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery of a possible meteorite striking a house at Sylacauga.  Searchers in Sylacauga, which included members of the national guard, the state police, reporters, and spectators, drove the backroads around Sylacauga.  They followed army helicopters from Maxwell Air Force Base and converged on Mrs. Hodges’ home.  

     Newspapers reported in jest that “some meteorites” including the one that struck Mrs. Hodges’ “continue to travel with ‘great velocity’ after reaching the earth.  An air force helicopter crew took possession of the meteorite so it could be studied at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  A few days later, the meteorite was flown to Washington, D.C.  Finally, after being in our nation’s capital for just two days, Mrs. Hodges’ attorney retrieved the meteorite and returned it to her.

     Within days of its crash, interest in Mrs. Hodges and her meteorite soared.  The Hodges received nearly 100 offers for the meteorite.  The Dayton Art Institute offered $5,000 for the meteorite, the highest price at the time.  The Smithsonian Institute was interested in the object but was unwilling to pay more than $900 for it.  In the midst of the media hype, Mrs. Hodges appeared on an episode of the television game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” in which a panel tried to guess what her secret was.  Seeing how much interest there was in the meteor, the owner of the home Mrs. Hodges had rented sued Mrs. Hodges to take possession of the meteorite.  Mrs. Hodges and the landlord settled out of court and Mrs. Hodges retained ownership of the meteorite.  In 1955, Mrs. Hodges sold the meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History at the University of Alabama where it and the console radio remain on display.

     What are the odds of being struck by a meteorite?  Michael Reynolds, author of “Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites,” said “you have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”  Although millions of meteors enter our atmosphere each day and an average of 17 reach the ground, Mrs. Hodges is the only person in recorded history to be injured by a meteorite. 


  1. “Ann Elizabeth Fowler Hodges (1920-1972) – Find A Grave”. Accessed December 28, 2022.
  2. The Columbus Ledger, December 1, 1954, p.1.
  3. The Galion Inquirer, December 2, 1954, p.12.
  4. Dayton Daily News, December 7, 1954, p.7.
  5. Dayton Daily News, December 9, 1954, p.6.
  6. “First Person Injured by a Meteorite.” Guinness World Records. Accessed December 29, 2022.

The Unsinkable Stoker

At the turn of the twentieth century, traveling by commercial steamships, commonly called ocean liners, was all the rage.  The finest luxuries were reserved exclusively for first class passengers such as the most exquisite dining saloons, elaborate state rooms, libraries, smoking rooms, gymnasiums, and exclusive access to the main deck, called the promenade deck.  Second class passengers enjoyed more modest experiences with sparsely decorated smaller state rooms, smoking rooms, libraries, and dining facilities.  Third class passengers were housed in cabins that contained little more than a bed, were fed adequate meals, and had access to few, if any, amenities. 

Deep in the bowels of these mammoth vessels, well below the third-class areas, were the ships’ engine rooms and boiler rooms.  These rooms were extremely hot and dirty.  Workers in the boiler rooms usually worked shirtless due to the heat and were collectively called “the black gang” because they were usually covered with black coal soot.  Black gangs consisted of stokers, firemen, trimmers, and a “peggy,” the firemen’s steward who brought food and refreshments to the group.           

John Priest was a professional seaman from the port city of Southampton, England.  He worked as a black gang stoker on several British steam ships.  He and the other stokers had the back-breaking task of shoveling coal into the boiler’s firebox.  John had worked on the sea since his youth, and planned to have a long seafaring career.

In April, 1915, on the eve of World War I, the British Admiralty converted the two-year-old RMS Alcantara, a royal mail ship, into an armed merchant cruiser.  Workers fitted 6-inch guns, antiaircraft guns, and added depth charges to the ship.  For almost a year, with John as part of the ship’s black gang, the Alcantara searched for German ships and submarines in the North Atlantic Ocean.  On February 29, 1916, the Alcantara intercepted the Greif, a German merchant raider ship disguised as a Norwegian ship.  The crew of the Alcantara signaled the Greif to stop for inspection.  The Greif slowed to a near stop, but as the Alcantara reached a distance of about 2,000 yards away, the crew of the Greif increased its speed and opened fire.  The Alcantara returned fire.  For nearly two hours, the ships exchanged volleys, and both received extensive, fatal damages.  The Alcantara capsized and sank, followed by the Greif later that same day.  68 men from the Alcantara died along with 230 men from the Greif.  John was injured by shrapnel from a torpedo, but he survived.       

The British Admiralty requisitioned the passenger ship HMHS Britannic as a hospital ship.  Rooms on the upper deck which had been designed for pleasure were transformed into rooms for the wounded.  The first-class dining and reception rooms were transformed into operating rooms.  On the morning of November 21, 1916, Britannic was transporting wounded soldiers from the Greek island of Lemnos back to England through the Kea Channel when an explosion rocked the ship.  Unbeknownst to the crew of the Britannic, exactly a month earlier, a German submarine, the U-73, had planted mines in the Kea Channel.  All efforts to save the Britannic failed.  Within 65 minutes after striking the mine, Britannic disappeared into the water.  Britannic holds the record for being the largest ship lost in World War I and is the world’s largest sunken passenger ship.  Once again, John survived.

The British Admiralty converted the RMS Asturius, a royal mail ship, into a hospital ship.  John joined the black gang of the Asturius.  On the night of March 20, 1917, John’s ship was steaming toward Southampton with all of its navigational lights on.  Large illuminated red crosses distinguished John’s ship as a hospital ship.  The Asturius had just disembarked approximately 1,000 wounded soldiers at Avonmouth and was headed for Southampton, England.  At around midnight, German U-boat UC-66 torpedoed John’s ship.  The crew aimed the damaged ship toward the shore and ran it aground.  Nearly two dozen people died and many more were injured but again, John survived.

John was next assigned to the SS Donegal.  Built in 1904, the Donegal served as a passenger ferry for an English railway company until World War I.  The British Admiralty converted this ship into an ambulance ship to ferry wounded soldiers from France back to England. On April 17, 1917, the Donegal was ferrying 610 lightly wounded soldiers across the English Channel.  Ambulance ships had been required to be clearly marked and lit to make them easier to identify.  However, the British Navy disregarded these requirements after the Germany Navy began targeting these marked ships.  The Donegal was not marked as an ambulance ship.  Unbeknownst to the crew of the Donegal, a German submarine, the UC-21, was lurking beneath the water.  The German submarine fired torpedoes at the Donegal.  Explosions shook the ship.  Within a matter of minutes, the Donegal sank.  The blasts from the torpedoes and subsequent sinking claimed the lives of 29 wounded British soldiers and 12 members of the crew.  John survived, albeit with a serious head injury.       

John’s reputation preceded him.  Rumors of John’s survival record spread throughout black gangs in England.  Rumors also spread that many of John’s black gang coworkers did not survive the sinkings.  Many believed that it was bad luck to work on the same ship as the unsinkable stoker.  Each time John arrived at a new ship to take his place among its black gang, the other workers refused to work.  John, in body, may have been unsinkable, but his career was not.  Unable to find a black gang that would work with him, John had no choice but to find employment on dry land.  His days at sea had ended.           

John Priest, the unsinkable stoker, holds the distinction of being the only person to survive the sinkings of five ships which included the HMHS Asturias, RMS Alcantara, SS Donegal, HMHS Britannic, and another ship.  The first ship’s sinking which John Priest miraculously survived, albeit with frost-bitten toes and an injured leg, happened on the morning of April 15, 1912.  That ship, arguably the most famous ship in history, was called the RMS Titanic.   

1.  The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), April 17, 1912, p.2.
2.  The Guardian (London, England), March 28, 1917, p.5.  
3.  The Times (London, England), April 23, 1917, p.10.  

Daniel’s Three Days

Daniel was a political activist and pamphleteer in London, England, during the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Pamphlets were a popular medium for authors to broadcast their opinions to a wide audience in that era because they were unbound and inexpensive.  Authors shared their opinions in pamphlets as a way to shape public opinion.  Daniel’s pamphlets were often controversial and critical of the English government.  Daniel had earned a significant income from his writing, and was a sort of regional celebrity.  With each pamphlet, Daniel’s following grew. 

King William III usually overlooked Daniel’s writing because Daniel usually defended the king.  In March, 1702, King William III fell from his horse and broke his collarbone.  While recovering, he developed pneumonia.  On March 8, 1702, fifty-one-year-old King William III died.  Forty-six days later, on April 23, 1702, William III’s sister-in-law and cousin, Anne, who was next in the line of succession of the throne, was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey.  Hostility erupted in England following King William III’s death and with the accession of Queen Anne to the throne. 

In December of 1702, Daniel published a 29-page satirical pamphlet entitled “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters”.  Daniel realized the controversial pamphlet would be received with criticism from some, therefore he published it anonymously.  Within a short time, however, critics of the pamphlet traced it back to Daniel.  At that time, England had no freedom of speech, nor did they have freedom of the press. 

Queen Anne went on the offensive against political activists, including Daniel.  He was arrested, charged, and, in a short trial presided over by Judge Salathiel Lovell, found guilty of criticizing and provoking dissatisfaction with the English government.  The notoriously sadistic judge sentence Daniel to a punitive fine of 200 marks, three days in a pillory, and an undetermined prison term which would only end after the fine was paid and once the judge was satisfied that he had learned his lesson.

The stocks and the pillory were often placed on scaffolding so everyone would have a good view, and in busy locations.  The stocks and the pillory were meant to punish the prisoner and to show those who witnessed the punishment what could happen to them if they acted out. The pillory was a form of punishment by public embarrassment which is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in most countries.  Many people confuse the pillory with lesser form of punishment called the stocks.  Stocks held prisoners in a seated position with their ankles locked into two wooden boards attached together with a hinge.  (As recent as 2020, police in Chinu, Columbia, locked people in stocks who broke COVID-19 quarantine.)  The pillory consisted of a pole which held two wooden boards with holes for the prisoner’s hands and head.  Rather than seated, as with the stocks, the pillory was designed so the prisoner would have to stand, usually in an uncomfortable, crouching position. 

When people in the surrounding area heard that someone was to be locked into the pillory, they began making preparations.  With few things to take their minds off of their day-to-day lives, they saw the pillory as a form of entertainment.  They gathered items to throw at the prisoner.  Many people spent hours taunting the helpless prisoners.  Some people spat on and cursed the prisoner, while others threw rotten fruits and vegetables.  The prisoner’s hands and head were secured in such a way that he was unable to wipe away the various waste from his face.  For the most despised of prisoners, their turn in the pillory was much worse.  Rather than rotten fruits and vegetables, the crowd threw more substantial items such as stones, sticks, and anything which would cause pain and suffering.  On some occasions, the prisoner was pelted to death.  There was no recourse taken against members of the crowd if a prisoner died in the pillory. 

On July 31, 1703, jailers led Daniel to the pillory.  The crowd roared when they saw Daniel.  The jailers led Daniel up the steps and onto the scaffolding.  One of the jailers opened the top board of the pillory, force Daniel’s head and hands inside, and let the top board slam shut.  The cheering crowd watched their every movement.  Another jailer secured the lock.  Remember, Daniel would have to spend three days straight, a total of seventy-two hours, locked in the pillory.  He would have no bathroom breaks, no opportunity to sit, no opportunity to eat or drink anything unless members of the crowd pitied him, which was unusual, and no opportunity to sleep.  If a prisoner fell asleep, the wood surrounding his neck would cut off his air supply.  Three days in the pillory must have seemed like an eternity for even the strongest of men.

 As was to be expected, the crowd had carefully selected items to throw at the prisoner.  Even before the jailers were clear of the pillory, the crowd began their ritual of hurling objects at the prisoner.  To the jailers’ surprise, the crowd did not throw stones, nor did they throw rotten fruits and vegetables.  This crowd was made up of people who agreed with what Daniel had published in his pamphlets.  They were fans.  Rather than stones and rotting food, the crowd threw roses.  They brought food and drink for Daniel.  The jailers kept anyone from climbing the steps to the pillory, so members of the crowd tied various types of food and cups of drinks onto long sticks and carefully lifted them up to Daniel’s lips.  Several people in the crowd stayed with Daniel the entire three days. 

On August 3rd, jailers released Daniel’s hands and head from the pillory.  Daniel had survived three long days in the pillory with little injury other than exhaustion.  Within a short time, Daniel secured enough funds to pay the fine and was released.  He later wrote that his time in the pillory would stay with him forever.  Had the crowd been against Daniel and throne stones instead of roses, it is likely that he could never have written the book which is purportedly second only to the Bible in its number of translations.  Sixteen years after his three days in the pillory, Daniel wrote a book about a castaway who spent 28 years on a remote desert island.  Daniel Defoe titled the book after the lead character, Robinson Crusoe.  


1.  Lee, William. Daniel Defoe the First Volume of His Writings: His Life and Recently Discovered Writings, Extending from 1716 to 1729. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University, 1869.