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CHAPTER XVIII.

GRACIE, ARK., MILLIKENS BEND, AND SHREVEPORT, LA., AND SCATTERED SETTLEMENTS OF ITALIAN COTTON GROWERS.

GRACIE, ARK.

Gracie, Ark., is situated in the eastern part of Jefferson County, and is on a branch railroad line from Robroy to Reydel. This settlements is on a plantation, and the inhabitants are tenants or employees. The plantation borders on the Arkansas River and includes several hundred acres of bottom land of great natural fertility.

On the plantation are 19 Italian families, all from northern Italy. These Italians are raising cotton on rented land, the price per acre and terms of rental varying somewhat on account of location, and the farms vary in size from 15 to 35 acres.

The owner of the plantation had heard much of the success of the Italians on the plantations in the Mississippi Delta region and determined to experiment on his own account. He contracted with a steamship agent to secure a number of Italian families, advanced the money for their passage from Italy to destination, and provided each immigrant $10 so that they would not be classed as paupers when they reached this country. It was understood that these advances were to be paid back as soon as possible out of the products of their labor. During the month of February, 1906, five families came, in the fall several more arrived, and in 1909 there were 19 families on the plantation.

On arriving at Gracie the alien families found everything in readiness for them. The houses or cabins assigned them were small, but were frame buildings thoroughly whitewashed, each house supplied with enough provisions to last the inmates a month, plenty of wood for fuel, cut and ready for use, piled in the yard, and a good water supply assured from a well driven near each house. The Italians all came from the rural districts of northern Italy and had some experiences in farming. Cotton culture was, of course, new to them, but they soon learned to cultivate it, and after the first season needed very little advice or assistance.

Of the number that came from Italy none have left the plantation. Two Italian families were secured from New York City, but these proved very unsatisfactory and one of the men ran away, leaving his wife and children. This incident, with others, confirms the owner of the plantation in his opinion that the Italians imported from Italy, direct to the farms, are much to be preferred to Italians that have worked in our American cities in various occupations before engaging in farming.

The land on the Gracie plantation is low and almost a dead level. The soil is alluvial, being that laid down by the Arkansas River. The temperature is comparatively uniform by seasons; the summer warm and humid, less precipitation in the autumn, with a mild winter and the heaviest rainfall during the winter months. All the land is tillable, and the Italians utilize every inch of land they hire. A small piece of ground is used for a garden, a small area is occupied by the house and sheds, but all the rest of the land is planted to cotton.

The Italians that came in December, 1906, were apportioned land in the following spring and began the cultivation of their first crop. As they knew nothing about cotton, a negro was associated with every Italian to instruct him. The Italians that came in the fall began picking cotton and they were able to make a little extra money this way. During the first year the Italians for the most part worked "on shares," one-half the cotton crop being the tenant's share for the work of cultivating and picking the cotton. The remainder paid money rent. Now about one-half the Italians are prosperous, own their own mules, and pay $6 per acre rent per year for their land. The other half pay $9.50 per acre per year, and this includes in addition to the land, the house and sheds, the use of a mule, farming implements, and feed for the mule. Renting land on these terms, it is unnecessary for the Italian to own any live stock, and he can devote all of his land to cotton, whereas with live stock of his own he would have to raise a few acres of corn.

The Italians are said to be much better workers than the negroes, the owner of the plantation stating that they net $30 to $40 per acre, while the negro who nets $10 to $13 is doing well.

The Italian gains an economic advantage over the negro in three respects. In the first place, he cultivates 20 per cent more land per working hand than the negro. Next he produces more cotton per acre-it is confidently asserted that his crop is 25 per cent greater than his negro neighbor tenant. Finally his store account is very much less, often not one-half of the average negro's. Part of the saving in expenditure is due to his frugality, but fully as much to the fact that he makes his farm self-sufficing for his garden and his poultry yard supply his table.

An Italian clerk is employed in the plantation store and this clerk acts as as manager of the Italians.

Most of the Italians send the money they are making each year back to Italy, some to pay off old debts, others to invest it. In regard to amusements and standard of living, the same conditions are found in this locality as at Sunnyside.

There is a Catholic church on the property and a resident priest is maintained. A public school is also on the plantation and is maintained six months in the year, but few of the Italians send their children to school.

The table following shows the amount of land rented, the rent, value of crops, and the value of property owned by six of the Italian tenants on this plantation. The figures presented here are typical, and the economic condition of the other thirteen families can be judged by these figures. The number of working hands includes every one in the family 10 years of age or over; it is generally admitted that the larger the family the more land a family will rent and the table seems to confirm this statement. Two of the families (the third and fourth on the table) own their mules and this accounts for the greater value of property owned as compared with the remaining four families.

TABLE 65.- Economic condition of certain typical Italian tenants, Gracie, Ark.

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It does not appear that there is much to choose between the two methods of tenancy. One mule furnishes all the animal power on pach farm. The plantation charges $3.50 per acre for a mule and mule feed for a crop season, entailing an outlay of $56 to $95 per farm. It is a question whether the tenant can furnish his own mule and pay feed bills, taxes, insurance, and depreciation for less.

NORTH ITALIANS, MILLIKENS BEND, LA.

Millikens Bend in Madison County, La., is situated on the Mississippi River about 20 miles above Vicksburg. At present seven North Italian families, numbering 28 persons, are located there. Two of them have bought farms, and the others are employed by these two farmers.

The owner of a large tract of land in the vicinity of Millikens Bend, who had employed large numbers of negroes, finding this class of help unsatisfactory and growing scarcer, decided to sell some of his land. He advertised in the newspapers and among the applicants were two Italians who lived in Memphis. One Italian bought 200 acres and the other 205, paying $40 per acre. These Italians bought their land on what is called a rent contract. The entire cost of the land, together with 6 per cent interest, is divided into ten equal payments. The first five years the notes are considered rent notes; but after five years, if the Italians desire, the amount that has already been paid is applied as a payment on the land and new notes, secured by mortgages, are issued.

The first Italian family came in December, 1906, and the next spring the other families moved in. Three of the Italians had been working in Memphis, and four were farmers in the Delta region before coming to the locality.

The soil is a rich loam, very fertile' and productive, being the alluvium washed down and deposited over the lowlands before the Mississippi was walled in by levees. The climate is mild and the rainfall abundant; in fact, the soil, climate, and rainfall in this locality are similar to the climatic conditions found in the Delta region.

The land purchased by the Italians was formerly part of a large run-down cotton plantation. The boll weevil began its ravages, causing a falling off in the cotton crop. The soil has not been renewed, and since the Italians thought cotton demanded too much labor for the

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value returned, they decided to practice diversified farming. They planted corn and potatoes, seeded part of the land to grass for hay, and in 1909 each farmer planted 40 acres of oats. It has been the custom of the natives to cut the oats green and cure them for hay rather than for the grain. To the Italians this seemed a great waste, and they bought a reaper, traction engine, and separator, and thrash their own oats. The whole outfit cost them $3,200, purchased on time. With this machine they intend to thrash enough oats for their neighbors to pay for their machine. The Italians also raise potatoes, onions, and cabbage for sale.

Tallulah furnishes a market for garden vegetables, eggs, and butter. Freight boats stop at Millikens Bend, and freight, such as cotton, oats, and hay, can be loaded and sent either up or down the river.

They are keeping cows, horses, mules, and swine. They seem to understand the application of commercial fertilizer and buy large quantities. Where drainage was needed they have opened drains and have improved many acres in this way.

One of the Italians has built a new frame dwelling, which has been comfortably furnished. Both have repaired their properties and built new sheds and outhouses. A neat sign with the name of the farm painted on it is affixed to each house.

The Italians who purchased land have still some debts; but judging by their auspicious beginning, it seems to be the opinion of the people in the locality that they will make a success of agriculture. All the money they are now making is invested in machinery, live stock, or improvements. Having lived in the city, the Italians had become somewhat Americanized before they came to Millikens Bend, and they are making as good progress as the Americans.

One of the Italian landowners is American born and served in the Spanish-American war and another has his first naturalization papers. The neighbors of these Italian families speak highly of their thrift and enterprise.

SHREVEPORT, LA. Shreveport, the largest city in northern Louisiana, is situated on the Red River, in Caddo Parish. The land in the vicinity of the city is very rich, most of it alluvial soil, brought down by the Red River. The climate is temperate the year round, and the locality receives an average of 50 to 60 inches of rain during the year.

For many years there have been Italians engaged in fruit peddling and running small grocery stores in Shreveport, but it was not until 1902 that the first Italian engaged in farming a short distance out from the city. One of the Italian storekeepers rented land to two of his friends and they continued farming for two years. In 1904 three more families rented land. The tenants received their houses, land, seed, mules, and mule feed, and gave the owner one-half of all the crops raised as rent. But they did not make a success of farming, and after two years moved away, two of them in debt to the landlord. In 1905 another Italian rented 20 acres of land at $20 per acre per year, including the land, house, and barn. During 1906 and 1907 five more families moved into the rural community, and at present the settlement consists of six South Italian families, numbering 32 persons.

The Italians are not as progressive as the German farmers in the neighborhood. Driving through the country the contrast between

the well-kept houses and farms of the Germans and the poorly cared for houses and fields of the Italian tenants is very noticeable, but on the other hand it should be explained that the Germans have been on the land for a considerable time while the Italian is a newcomer.

The farms rented by the Italians average 20 acres of land, all cleared and over 75 per cent cultivated. Cotton is raised by some of the farmers, and averages at least one-half bale to the acre. Corn and hay are produced in quantities sufficient to feed the live stock. Irish potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, corn, onions, and all varieties of garden truck are raised and find ready sale in Shreveport. The Italians come in every morning to peddle their produce.

The Italians own very little property; their furniture would not be valued at over $50 per household, and the value per farm of their tools, harness, and farm implements would barely reach this figure. Every farmer has a horse or two, but they are cheap and poor, seldom valued at more than $75. Partly because they own little property they have little interest in local affairs, and the matter of citizenship never appeals to them. None of them have applied for naturalization papers.

48296° --FOL 21-11-23

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