The Joe Goss Plantation was in many ways reminiscent of the cotton plantations of the southern states prior to the Civil War. It grew cotton on a grand scale along with other crops. Many hundreds of field laborers worked in the fields, and in this premechanized farming era, it was almost a self sufficient entity. Large acreages of corn were grown to feed the hundreds of mule teams that plowed the fields. Corn meal was one of the main staples carried in the plantation store. It was ground on the plantation. Hundreds of hogs were free ranged on the southern and eastern areas of the acreage. Cured pork meats and hog lard were also staples in the store. There were large orchards and vegetable gardens near the headquarters. The steam powered gin was fueled by wood cut on the plantation. Cotton seed was saved at the gin to replant the next year. Corn seed was also available from the previous years crop.
Water was abundantly available at shallow depths. Windmills or hand pumps pumped the water to the surface.
Negro nannies tended to the young children of the Goss family.
The blacksmith shop made the needed repairs on the wagons and farming equipment.
There were no electric bills, no diesel or gasoline bills, no fertilizer, herbicide or insecticide bills. Joe Goss’ main out-of-pocket expenses were labor costs, equipment costs and the purchasing of mules.
Joseph R. “Joe” Goss (1870-1947) came to the Monkstown area in 1878 at age 7. He was born in Bibb County, Alabama. Joe, after age 7, was reared in the Monkstown area, being one of nine children.
Apparently Joe Goss decided early on to forego an education and pursue his agricultural pursuits. It was said he could neither read nor write. According to the Goss Plantation Bell inscription “Joe Goss—1885”, it is assumed that 1885 was the year he began farming. He would have been fifteen years of age.
The setting was ideal for Joe Goss and his plantation. He started farming with fifty acres that his father gave him. He bought rich, alluvial Red River bottom soil, that was inherently fertile. His money crop was cotton. Cotton is a tap rooted plant that is very tolerant to drought. Abundant yields were to be expected. This was in a time before the boll-weevil or boll-worm.
Immediately after the Civil War, the cotton producing south had been completely destroyed and the price of cotton soared. This greatly enhanced the growing of cotton in the Fannin County area and was a great stimulus in the settling of the area and a tremendous financial boast for the entire area.
Joe Goss’ plantation consisted of 16,000 acres. How could one man operate such a vast acreage before the days of mechanized farming? It was a tremendous stroke of ingenuity on the part of Joe Goss. It required several hundred laborers, mostly blacks, and several hundred teams of mules.
Tiny Roten lived on the Goss Plantation in his early days, probably in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He recalled the demeanor of Joe Goss. He said, “He was fairly quiet, chewed tobacco, and drove a Lincoln Zephyr car.” Tiny remembers that the Goss Plantation had its own cotton gin located near where John and Faye Goss lived. Joe Goss had a body guard that was always with him, a black man of fairly small stature, named Will Martin. The black laborers lived near the headquarters in little small huts. This was called “The Quarters” and several hundred people lived there. There were about 100 of these labor houses.
The Goss Plantation had its own store that carried all the supplies for the laborers. There were many white people that lived on the farm also, but they lived in houses scattered around the farm. The employees were paid in “script”, not money, and the “script” could only be redeemed at the Goss Plantation store. The Goss Plantation store at one time was run by Will Carson and Charlie Harden. At one time there was a church just west of the store where J. W. Hopkins preached. Flour and corn meal was sold by the sack. Also dried beans and peas were sold in bulk quantities. Clothes and shoes were kept in stock. Items deemed unnecessary were not sold at the store. This would include playing cards or games, fishing or hunting equipment.
The blacksmith shop was also a necessary part of the plantation. All of the metal was heated in a forge and bent on an anvil to shape or cut. This was a never-ending job of shoeing the mules and horses, sharpening the plow sweeps, and repairing broken wagons and tillage equipment.
One of the great mystiques of the Goss farm was “How could one man manage a vast farming operation with one-row mule drawn equipment?” The sons of Joe Goss helped in the operation of the plantation. Son, Dutch Goss, lived on the plantation. Mark Hanna became the payroll manager and started paying in cash. The youngest son John, also lived on the plantation. Joe Goss’ son, Robert “Bob”, became a Texas Ranger.
Tiny Roten has seen in one fieeld a span of 30-40 mule teams plowing side by side. There was a man on a horse with each of these groups with spare parts and tools to repair breakdowns as they occurred. This same procedure occurred whether they were bedding the land, planting, or cultivating. There were many of these mule groups all over the plantation at the same time. These large plowing groups required several hundred teams of mules in order to farm the vast acreage of the Goss Plantation.
The harvesting of the crop was also a monumental task Thousands of acres of cotton and corn were all harvested by hand. It must have taken at least a thousand field hands to harvest this tremendous crop all by hand. Mule teams pulled wagons of picked cotton to the gin on the plantation. Many, many wagons of cotton being picked each day and hauled to the gin to be ginned. What an example of a tremendous amount of labor and management to get all this done!
Wages were not paid by the hour, but by the day. A day meant from daybreak until sundown. Wages, at this time, were from 500 to 750 per day.
Hauling the bales of cotton to Honey Grove was also an arduous task* Nine bales of cotton were usually hauled on each wagon with four mules pulling each wagon. The trip to Honey Grove would require a long, hard day. The day’s journey would usually start at about 3:30 to 4:00 a. m., taking all day. If the roads were muddy it would take longer. Sometimes the road through Bois d’ Arc bottom would be so muddy and bad that new routes would have to be cut. Mule teams would have to be unhitched and all hitched to a single wagon to get the load of cotton through the mud. This process was repeated until the wagons were across. On a rare occasion a mule would die during this strenuous ordeal or die in the wagon yard in Honey Grove that night. These mules did not die from being beaten, but from exertion. The return trip would also require all day. Wages were generally higher for the drivers of these wagons than for field laborers. 50£ a day for rations was given extra. All the cheese and crackers or all the chili and crackers that could be eaten could be bought for 10^. Many drivers spent the night in at wagon yard sleeping in the wagons.
The cotton was sold in Honey Grove and loaded on trains for shipment. Honey Grove was the major cotton buying center for Northeast Texas in the early days. Cotton grown in the Boswell, OK area was also sold in Honey Grove. There was a ferry across the Red River at this time so the wagons could cross the river.
4,000 acres of the Goss Plantation was located near Boswell, OK, with 12,000 acres being located south of the Red River in Fannin and Lamar Counties. The ferry boat across Red River was a vital link between these two sections of the plantation. The Oklahoma land was called the Lake West Farms.
The Goss Plantation had its own bell mounted on a tower at the headquarters. It was sounded to start work and at quitting time, in the mornings and afternoons. On a clear, still day the bell could be heard at Monkstown several miles away. It was said at the sounding of the bell at quitting time, many of the mules in the fields would began braying in their anxiety to return to the headquarters to get a drink of water. The bell had the inscription “Joe Goss-1885”. This same bell is mounted on a tower at the Goss Ranch where the Goss Plantation once stood.
According to Larry Dobbs, the house on the right side of the photo was the Joe Goss home at the headquarters of the Goss farm. The white building in the middle of the photo was the store. On the left was the blacksmith shop.
The Goss Farm in far northeast Fannin County began with fifty acres of land given to Joe Goss by his father and grew to 15,000 acres by the time of the death of Joe Goss in 1947. It was one of the biggest farms in Fannin County, growing primarily cotton.
A set of wonderful photos were taken of the farm and workers on the farm. The copies below are from the Fannin County Museum of History, and while not in the best condition, are very interesting. Larger versions of each of these photos have been uploaded to Flickr. It is believed that these photos were taken in the 1920s. And much better copies from Casey Jones are available HERE.
Cotton field with corn patch in the back left.
The article below is from
By Larry Dobbs
The entire book, with many photos, interviews and articles, has been uploaded to Flickr.
According to Larry Dobbs, this photo shows field hands pumping water into a barrel on the wagon.
Hoeing weeds from cotton.
According to Larry Dobbs, the white man on the right is Joe Goss and some of these plowing groups would have 30-40 teams of mules. The man on the left on the horse was Joe Goss's son, Dutch Goss.