From the 1800s into the first half of the 1900s, cotton was the largest export from our area. Timber was second to it. Those were major methods for farmers, landowners, and country folk to bring in cash. In order to share these stories, Old Independence Regional Museum has created a new exhibit titled “Earning a Living.”
Other ways to earn money are also showcased, including grist and woolen mills. One exhibit segment features ways to “Make Ends Meet,” such as fur trapping, pearling and shelling, and clandestine whiskey making.
On Sunday, February 2 at 2 p.m. the exhibit will open with a program highlighting both cotton and timber. It will include three speakers. The first, Amelia Bowman, museum intern who is finishing her Master’s degree in public history at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, will share how she created this exhibit.
“My favorite part of working on the exhibit was learning about the resiliency of the people in this area through good times and bad. They always found new ways to earn a living, whether it was sharecropping, trapping, or making moonshine,” explained Bowman.
The second speaker will be Craig Ogilvie, who will take the audience back to 1948 until 1953 when he and his family made part of their living by picking cotton. His family joined hundreds of other Ozark families who annually packed up their “camping” gear and traveled to the Arkansas delta each September and picked cotton for the big landowners.
Ogilvie related, “When I was almost eight, I picked cotton into a four-foot pick sack, while my dad picked into a 12-foot one. It was back-breaking misery. Tender fingers were torn open by the razor-sharp barbs on bolls that held the cotton. The four members of our family could make $15 on a good day. We worked six days a week until the picking was over. ”
The third speaker on the program will be Ray Bowman, who will speak about the changes in the timber industry over the past 50 years and how those changes have affected Bowman Handles, Inc. He will describe the process of making a handle from a log to the finished products and will bring props to show the process. He has worked there since he was a boy and has been on the payroll for over 20 years.
He is vice president and plant manager of the company. Bowman Handles was started in the 1950s by Lynn “Shorty” Bowman in Southside and was incorporated in 1967. Loretta Bowman is the company president and keeps her hand in the operation as business manager. Bowman Handles Inc. ships their products as far away as Maine, California, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as many other states.
The program will be free and open to the public. Normal museum hours are: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for seniors and $1.00 for children. The museum is located at 380 South 9th street, between Boswell and Vine Streets in Batesville.
Old Independence is a regional museum serving a 12-county area: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff. Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in 1820’s Arkansas territory.