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War Brings Mass Exodus From Farms

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Robert Ed Montgomery told me that I didn’t mention the Irish by name when I was writing about the Valley’s ethnic mix in a previous column.

I’m going to correct that by writing about the Irish people I knew. I will start with Robert Ed’s grandfather, Johnny Jones, and his mentor, Thomas Scanlon.

Here are some others: John Horan, Joe Feeney, Curt Kehoe, Eric and Ernest McGonagill, and Bluford McCullar. There are many more that I’m not sure of their country of origin. Butler and Levy Vanderburg had Sweden origin; Allen Windham, Wales; and Norman Cooper, Scotland.  

This doesn’t mean they were all first generation, but descendants. I’m not into genealogy and my old friend, James Knox Baddley, is probably more qualified in that area. Any input is always welcome.  

I read with interest the article about the good potato crop that is anticipated. Papa Badley always raised a large crop of potatoes each year. He had a potato house constructed for drying and preserving the crop. The house had a double wall construction and the space in between filled with sawdust. By today’s standards it was primitive but it worked. He had a small stove inside for the really cold weather and I don’t recall that he ever lost a crop.

Although he tried several different commercial ventures over the years, sweet  potatoes wasn’t one of them. He gave away more than he ever sold. His yield per acre didn’t begin to approach what is achieved today, but they were organically grown.  

The humble sweet potato gave country people vitamins and minerals that they didn’t get in their regular diet. Another staple in the country diet was sorghum molasses. My dad always said molasses saved many people from the scourge of Pellagra. This is one crop that Papa produced in a big way. He grew hundreds of buckets each year and actually sold some of the crop but, as he said, he was lucky to get fifty cents a bucket. You notice I always said buckets, not gallons as for some unknown reason – molasses buckets were not a full gallon. I don’t recall anyone ever explaining the reason for this, unless it was the same thinking that led liquor to be sold in fifths instead of quarts.

The last year that Papa raised a large crop of sorghum, they had introduced a molasses jug to replace the bucket and you guessed it, a short gallon. I freely admit that I was never really a farmer, but merely write about things that I observed  living eight years on Papa’s farm.

I was a small child during the depression, but as I look back I see that FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the depression.  Unfortunately the advent of World War II did. People who had never earned a paycheck in their lives started working in war jobs and this created a mass exodus from the farms. My uncle, Joe Cooper, saw his wife and daughter go to Memphis and get jobs while he finished what was to be his last crop. He joined them, got a good job and worked until he retired years later. The entire Cooper clan, with the exception of Uncle Joe and dad, migrated to Chicago in the late Twenties, went to work and lived there for the rest of their lives.  

My uncle, Charles Badley and his best friend, Drew Bell, tried Chicago prior to World War I, didn’t like it and came back and went to the war. They returned to the farm for a couple of years. He grew tired of it and went to work for Illinois Central in Chicago and remained there until he retired in 1960.   

I know I’ve strayed from the Yalobusha County potato crop, but you long time readers know that’s the way I’ve always done it.  

Speaking of long time readers, I haven’t heard from some of you – and you know who you are – in along time and I wonder if you’ve stopped reading or just didn’t have anything to share.  

In any event I’d still like to hear from you, if only to say hi.  My email address is or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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