Selena Walls worked at the Belton Cotton Mill, in Belton, Texas, when she was as young as eight or nine years old; and she worked in the Brazos Valley Cotton Mill (no photo available), in West, Texas, when she was as young as 12 years old. The following appeared in the July-August 1909 bulletin of the Texas Department of Agriculture:
BELTON COTTON MILL, J.Z. Miller, Manager
This mill was established in 1900, and commenced to operate October, 1901. It was originally capitalized at $100,000. In January, 1903, the stock was increased to $150.000. For several years it lost money, owing to the inexperience of the manager, and to the further fact that after the mill was completed there was no surplus money with which to operate it. In 1905 the capacity of the mill was practically doubled. The mill started with 100 looms and 3100 spindles, making four-yard sheeting, that is four yards for the pound. The machinery was bought one-fourth cash, the balance three, six and nine months’ time. The building was erected at a cost of $25,000. July 1, 1906, the mill commenced to operate under the second reorganization, and at the close of 1907, it had made, since its second reorganization, the handsome sum of $24,191.43, having established the manufacture of cloth under the second reorganization and manufacturing yarn altogether. The mill has 112 operatives on the pay roll, the pay roll amounting to about $30,000 annually. The mill consumes from 2000 to 2200 bales of cotton annually, the grades being middling and above. This cotton is bought on the streets of Belton. About 70 per cent of the operatives are citizens of Bell County; half of them were tenant farmers before coming to the mill, the others coming from the poor families in the town. Those that come from the farms are semi-annual hands, coming to the mill twice a year and returning to the farms twice a year. They come the first time after cotton is chopped out, returning in the fall to pick the cotton, and then returning to the mill the second time after the cotton has been picked.
The manager, Mr. J.Z. Miller, is a native of Bell County, engaged in the banking business, and had no experience in the cotton mill industry until he assumed the management of this mill. In reply to a question as to the availability of labor, he declared with emphasis that the labor question is all solved, there being no trouble whatever to secure all the help needed.
The fuel used by the Belton mill is lignite, shipped from Rockdale, Milam County. “It is cheaper than coal and equally as good,” was the emphatic declaration of the manager. The stock of this enterprise is now owned about equally between parties in the East and the citizens of Belton. The manager of this mill asserted with manifest earnestness that Texas needed a cotton mill in every town in the State receiving as many as 10,000 bales of cotton annually. He illustrated the profits of the cotton mill industry by the following simple proposition: The farmer sells a bale of cotton to the factory, for which he receives $50 cash; the mill hand treats it for $35; $5 will pay the insurance and other incidental expenses; then the mill gets a profit of $10; aggregating $100 for the bale, which is left in the community of the mill, thus doubling its value at home, which finds its way into the different avenues of trade and commerce, thus enriching and prospering our State. This mill owns the cottages erected for the use of the operatives. They are twenty-five in number, supplied with the abundance of water, a hydrant at each cottage, and other conveniences peculiar to the average Texas towns are enjoyed by the inhabitants. The school facilities are as good as those afforded by any of the towns of Texas.
THE BRAZOS VALLEY COTTON MILL, J.H. Chambliss, Manager
This mill is situated at West, McLellan County, about midway between Waco and Hillsboro. The present company was organized in 1904, though the mill had been run about eighteen months at that time. The first company secured a manager from North Carolina, under whose management it did not succeed. The mill is capitalized at $100,000: stock issued on the whole amount of capitalization is $93,000. The mill contains 210 looms and 6240 spindles. It has ninety 40-inch looms, seventy 26-inch sheeting looms and fifty 36-inch drilling looms. It manufactures light sheeting, known as four-year sheeting – that is, four yards to the pound – which is used largely for making bags, also drilling, which goes to the converting trade. The product is used for shoe lining. It uses Texas lignite, mined at Alba, a small town on Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, near the line between Wood and Raines counties.
The mill employs 120 hands, divided as follows: Sixty men, twenty women, twenty-two boys and nineteen girls. It obtains hands from nearby farms, East Texas, and from the Southern States east of the Mississippi, twenty-nine having been recently brought from that section. The manager stated that he formerly operated his mill at night, but abandoned it from the standpoint of humanity. “Any enterprise,” he said, “which endangers the health of its operatives is doomed to self-destruction.” It is appropriate to say in this connection that none of the mills of Texas is operated at night. The Dallas mill tried it, but found it very unsatisfactory.
The manager of the West mill said that during the gathering season a man and his family would make more money picking cotton than they could working in the mills, because the law will not permit a man to work his children in the mills under 14 years of age, while on the farm he can work them at all ages and at all hours of the day. He said it frequently happens that during the cotton picking season a man will take his family from the mill, where his children are not exposed to the hot sun or the morning dews, and go to the fields, where he will compel them, without reference to their ages, to pick cotton, owing to the fact that the law of the mill and the law of the cotton patch don’t apply with equal force and effect. All the operatives, the manager said, could read and write. Some of them, however, are poorly educated. A few have bank accounts, but the most of them when they get money ahead want to go into some other business.
This mill is very prosperous; consumes 1500 bales a year, the same being raised in sight of the factory. The goods are sold to a commission house in St. Louis. “The possibilities of the cotton milling industry in Texas are very great,” was the earnest and assuring statement of the manager. The superintendent of this mill learned the business principally in Texas. He said the company had increased the wages of its operatives 25 per cent and reduced the hours 10 per cent voluntarily within the last two years. Last year, when the textile strike occurred in this State, the manager discharged all his hands and then filled their places with an equal number of Americans and Bohemians, thus producing confusion in tongues in order to prevent a strike in the future, repeating the remedy which was used on one occasion when the families of the sons of Noah inaugurated a strike against the plans of Jehovah by trying to build a tower whose top should reach unto heaven.
Lewis Hine caption: Group of workers in cotton mill at West. Two of them are under legal age. One is twelve and one is fourteen according to their Family Record. Much illiteracy here. Location: West, Texas, November 1913.