Oral History Transcript - J.M. Cape - April 22, 1974
Interview with J.M. Cape
Interviewer: Stan Siler [?] and Nancy Norman
Transcriber: Laura Kennedy
Date of Interview: April 22, 1974
Location: San Marcos, Texas
Summary: John Matthew (J.M.) Cape II was born on the banks of the San Marcos River on April 6, 1924. His family farmed and milled cotton. He discusses growing up in San Marcos, his family’s business, the history of cotton in Texas including farms, mills, and gins, the current state of cotton oil production, and some of the changes he’s witnessed in the city and the surrounding areas.
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Stan Siler: Today is April the 22nd, 1974. Nancy Norman and I are interviewing Mr. J.M. Cape. Mr. Cape, would you give us a little family background on when you were born?
J.M. Cape: I was born April 6th, 1924. I was fifty years old this month. And I was born here on the banks of the San Marcos River and have lived here practically all of my life with the exception of about ten years while I was gone in the service and when I was working away from San Marcos. I moved back here in 1953 and have lived here since that time and have been in the cottonseed business with my father before he died and since his death I’ve been in by myself during that period.
Siler: Who was your father?
Cape: He was Horace Cape. He was [tape malfunction]. My father was the second oldest of seven in the family and they were all born here on the San Marcos River. There were four boys and – no, three boys and four girls and they were all born right here on the San Marcos River and grew up most of them went at least through high school in San Marcos.
My grandfather immigrated to this country from Luxemburg and he came down here working on the railroad. He someway got waylaid here and started in the cotton ginning business and the farming business and that’s the reason I suppose that all of this has developed like it has. He met my grandmother, her name was Bales and she came from Tennessee, and they were married. I suppose that my grandfather, I’ve been told that he started out as a sharecropper down around Fentress. He worked a gin and therefore he learned enough or earned enough to finally come to San Marcos and build a gin on the San Marcos - I mean he bought a gin on the San Marcos River.
He’s told me that one time that all this land from you might say what is now Interstate 35 south back out toward Austin, toward San Antonio, toward Staples, he bought all that land at one time and paid for it on one cotton crop. So apparently, he was pretty lucky at one time and it goes to show what the area, how fertile it apparently was when it was first put in cultivation. And I’ve often thought about the way the San Marcos River, the part it played in the development of the area because as I can count on my hands, there’s about ten water power plants on the San Marcos River, from the head of the river down to Lulling and most of these water power plants were used to power either mills or to power cotton gins. Most of them were cotton gins. That was a cheap source of power and probably one of the only sources of power they had. That’s the reason that I think one thing that led to the development of the whole area was the production of cotton in this area as well as the cheap power to gin the cotton.
And they also had labor that they imported from Mexico. I’ve heard my father talk about going to Mexico and bringing hands back up here. Of course, they didn’t require papers or anything at that time and they had to be - brought these hands in here and they all lived on the farms. I know they kept them, they provided them groceries and they made a portion of the crop. In other words, they worked on the shares and made a portion of the crop. They all did well here I think until the Depression hit and then they had a drought in 1925 that severely - they didn’t make a thing in this area in 1925 - it severely crippled the economy and I don’t suppose it ever recovered fully when the Depression hit and that wiped a lot of things out in this area and it’s probably been a turning point among the development here because it wiped a lot of the large farms out in this area and insurance companies took over a lot of the land and it just changed the whole economy of this immediate area. The Depression hit at that time.
Have you all got any other - anything you want to draw on along those lines?
Nancy Norman: I was wondering - cotton has never been as big a crop in this area since, has it?
Cape: No, it’s never been as big in this area since. At one time they had the world’s largest cotton gin in Martindale, Texas. It was a four-battery gin there and this - they had gins, that particular gin was run by waterpower and they had another one right above there that was run by waterpower. They had one in Staples that was run by waterpower and let’s see. They had another one between, well there was two gins run by waterpower between San Marcos and Martindale and there was one what’s called the Cape Gin here that was run by waterpower.
Siler: Where is the Cape Gin?
Cape: It’s about half a mile from here, it’s right above Thompson’s Island if you know where Thompson’s Island is.
Siler: Down from Cape’s Camp?
Cape: Camp, right, yeah. My uncle graduated from A&M I think in nineteen eight and he engineered that - see, that is a man-made canal and it goes from Cape’s Camp down to what is now called - it used to be called the Cape Gin and that was, I’m sure that was dug with mules and fresnos and so forth. He was a young kid out of college when he engineered that and later went on to law school and became an attorney, but he did lay out that layout for that water park. It’s amazing the things that people did back in those days. How they accomplished things I suppose it took more time than we allow for things today, but it’s very interesting how they were able to do the things they did with a little equipment, power equipment that they had to do with it. They poured a lot of concrete and moved a lot of dirt and that sort of thing with no equipment that is comparable to anything we have today. They just had mules and labor and hand labor and that was about all they had to do these things with.
Martindale at one time and Lockhart was, that was the center of - the cotton breeding center of the nation was located in this particular area. I think it was because the rainfall for this area was probably real good. It didn’t hurt the seed and they got good germinating seed from this area. There was lots of talk of the Bee Bane strain of cottonseed was one that originated in this country and that was what all these people got their original breeding stock from as I understand it. It was like Cash and Harper and Congress. Bagley. These people all worked for Bee Bane or had access to his strain of cotton, and they selected from it and that’s where we got the different breeds of cotton in this area. But it was one time, I suppose that was back in the twenties, this was one of the - or probably the leading cottonseed producing area, I know in Texas and probably the United States.
Siler: Was it a long or short staple?
Cape: It was a short staple. It was a perfectly open boll. Short staple cotton was easy to hand. See, they handpicked all of that cotton at that time and it was very easy to pick that cotton. So that’s the reason it was very popular. And it that yielded very good. They had real good yields out of it. So, today everything is mechanized, and that cotton was - they just don’t plant that variety of cotton anymore. Seeds have got to be picked with a spindle type machine or it’s got to be stripped and they don’t have a need for that type of cotton anymore. And of course, they want a longer staple. This cotton I imagine that was raised around here was probably in the 29-31 staple category, which is a little short for what most mills need today. But it was a very high quality and it was easy to pick.
And apparently this area was very well situated for breeding cottonseed because of the germination of the seed was real good. Of course they breed cotton now in areas that are irrigated and are not savvy to so much rainfall. They can control the quality of it better. But also, I’m sure that the boll weevil was something that put a crimp in the cotton business here because when they first started raising cotton here, they weren’t bothered with the weevil. Then later the weevil took its toll and between the weevil and the worms and the Depression, it pretty well wrecked the cotton industry in this area. At one time here we had an oil mill and a cottonseed oil mill and a cottonseed compress and there were oh, must’ve been ten or twelve cotton gins in the county and now as of this date I don’t believe there’s a single cotton gin or I know there’s not an oil mill or compress operating in the county and I don’t believe there’s a cotton gin left that’s operating in the county now.
Siler: Is San Marcos in the Blackland Region?
Cape: Well, it’s not really considered to be in the Blackland Region. It’s a little south - I always considered the Blackland Region probably starting from about Travis County north, but apparently, we’re not really considered in the Blackland area here especially since we’re located on this fault. You know, we have hills to the north and the plains to the south here. It’s kind of a dividing line, but we’ve never been, I wouldn’t consider it the Blackland Area.
Norman: How did your family business … I can’t even form the question. I was wondering how your family business fared during the Depression - what you heard about.
Cape: Yeah, it suffered tremendously during the Depression. I remember it, I remember that my father was looking after and farming a lot of this land right here. We farmed it right here where we’re located here at the Carson’s [Restaurant, located at 121 IH 35 North?] today and all this land south and clear on up to the hill past the junior high out there. And it seems to me I was a pretty small boy at that time. I guess I was eleven years old there in thirty-three, but I remember when they sold cotton for five cents a pound or even less than five cents a pound. And that seems to be, as I recall, they made a good crop that year, but they just didn’t make enough to - the price wasn’t adequate enough for them to pay all their obligations. Eventually all of this land was lost - probably around thirty-five or thirty-six I think as I recall it, apparently from the carryover from 1925. The drought from 1925 and then the low prices back in the early thirties there. It was the downfall of my family’s farming operation here because there was just more than they could withstand with the drought and the Depression. And probably - I remember in, I believe it was in 1933 or ’34 the old gin burned there and they replaced it with what was modern gin in those days, but it never did fare very well because production in cotton was always on decline after that time. After that era.
Of course, all this stuff was farmed with mules and people had hundreds of mules they had to feed year ‘round whether they were working them or not. I mean, they weren’t like a tractor. You don’t put gas in it when you need to work. You had to feed that mule all the time and they had to raise -the primary that they raised here at that time was cotton and hygear [a grain] and corn because they used all the feed - had to feed these mules that they worked all this land with. And a good pair of mules was worth a lot of money. I mean, I can recall [squeaking - unintelligible] as much as $350 or $400 for a good pair of mules to work. Of course, I don’t think you could buy a mule today or find one, but they were probably $400 in those days. If you could buy a tractor it probably didn’t sell for six or seven hundred, but a pair of mules would cost nearly as much as a tractor. So, they were very valuable too, in their day.
Norman: How many gins were there in San Marcos?
Cape: Actually, in town, in San Marcos, the Cape Gin wasn’t actually in town, but right over here at what was known as the Smith Gin is located right across from the Walker plant there now the [?] and Walker plant - they had three batteries. In other words, there was three different gin plants under one building there. And you might say there was in this immediate area here, there was a gin out on the Blanco [River] by the Five Mile Dam. There was the three gins here in town and there was a gin in Redwood and one in Staples and one in Zorn. You might say there was four in Martindale under one roof, and two in between is six. You can see there were quite a number of gins and they all stayed real busy.
Norman: Kinda busy.
Cape: I remember that we lived on the river there and when I was very little, we didn’t have a lot. We didn’t have natural gas at all, and we didn’t have electricity. The only way or time we had electricity was when the gin ran at night and generated electricity out there and the house was wired and so when we were ginning, we always had lights in the house. Otherwise we had to carry kerosene lamps. So, that’s the way that I know they used to gin pretty late at night when they were harvesting cotton. All cotton was brought to the gin in those days. Mules and wagons what was the only source of transportation at that time. They didn’t have trailers or, very few, I remember a few Model-T trucks bringing cotton to the gin, but that was the exception a man would have a Model-T truck.
Norman: Did you work on farm when you were young?
Cape: Yes, I was all over it and worked in the gin and grew up. Really, I didn’t leave here. I graduated from high school in 1941 and we were still pretty well - we were working in the gin and on the farm when I was growing up.
San Marcos has changed considerably since those days. I remember there was quite a bit of, well, San Marcos wasn’t a peace-loving town. I do remember two different murders in San Marcos. One man shot another one on Saturday night on the square. I never did know the reason for it, but I remember he shot him on the east side of the square. Shot him on the stairway there on a Saturday night and there was a family were all I guess it was back in, probably both of these were in the early thirties. A man I believe killed possibly one man and shot two or three people who were innocent bystanders who were killed. They had a shootout there on the square. It was a family affair. I don’t remember the names at that time, but it was more or less an old west town you might say. They did shoot at each other around here. I’ve heard tales of people being hung here at the old jail in San Marcos, but I don’t remember it, but I think it was a little bit before my time, but I’ve heard my parents speak about it out where they used to hang people they built a scaffold down at the old jail that was right off of Comal Street down there and they’d have a hanging here occasionally. So, I supposed it’s been like most other towns. They take care of their own problems [laughter] as they had them. Apparently, we would be a lot better off if some of that were done today we might deter some of the crime that was going on. If they got hung you don’t normally do it a second time if the first time you do it [?].
Norman: Well maybe so. Do you have brothers and sisters?
Cape: I only had one sister and she’s dead. Out of the Cape family there’s only two of us alive. I have one uncle that’s still alive and there’s no other Capes. When I go or my uncle goes, that’ll be the end of the Cape line in this country because there’s no other Capes surviving. That’s taken quite a little span there. My grandmother must have been married around 1860-70 and they had these seven children, but I was the only boy born to any of the Cape men. So that leaves me the only survivor besides this younger uncle I have in Houston.
Norman: Wait, were you related to Ed Cape?
Cape: Ed Cape is my uncle, yeah. And he is the man that I was telling you that engineered the mill race and so forth down there for the Cape Gin. Of course, he was later a banker and an attorney. In fact, I don’t think he actually graduated from A&M. Maybe lacked a half semester and he dropped out and went to Valparaiso, Indiana and went to law school up there. But after he came back, before he went up there, he engineered the raceway and the power setup there. I think my grandfather built - helped build the dam or built the dam at Rio Vista. We used to call it the West Place. I think that “Silver Dollar Jim” West [James Marion West, Jr. 1903-1957] from Houston at one time owned that property.
Most of this land here was - a lot of this land - the remains all over here on the property we have here on the river now - this land was irrigated. A lot of water was pumped from the San Marcos River and we pumped to a spot up here right above where the San Marcos Hospital is now located. It was pumped up there and then gravity flow would irrigate the land all, apparently even as far as where we are now. They had lots of - right over here across Interstate 35 they said they had one of the most beautiful peach orchards here that you’ve ever seen. It was all irrigated. But one of their shortcomings and one of their failings in this irrigation project in this country was the pipe was all made out of redwood and it was wrapped with a steel band and then they had concrete blocks at the joints to seal them together, but if this - they told me that this place up here that we used to own was all irrigated, but they failed to keep water in that redwood pipe. It leaked out or something and the pipe all collapsed when they got ready to irrigate the next year the pipe had - it was made out of - in other words it wasn’t solid. It was made out of strips of about, I would say two to three inches wide and maybe ten to fifteen inches long and they were held together by these bands and as long as water was in there, well, they were expanded. But when it got dry, they collapsed. There wasn’t no way to replace them.
At one time San Marcos was known for its production of vegetables, too. I know that they used to produce onions here and they would ship even quite a few items out of here. I think all of the regular area I’ve been told that where the golf course is at the head of the river that they once raised a lot of vegetables and onions up in that area. I know in 1925 when it was during the drought here that my father dug a well in what is now approximately where Houston Road is, and they irrigated a lot of land in that area out of this well. It was - I think the well was about thirty feet deep and it just had an abundant supply of water. They couldn’t pump it dry at all. I’ve often heard him - it was hand dug and lined with rock. Great big I suppose it must’ve been twelve feet in diameter, but I’ve often remembered him telling me that they hit this - they were going through this stone and they finally hit a hard layer there and apparently it was a layer of limestone and it cracked through, well they hit this wonderful stream of water. I guess that was the only thing raised here in 1925 by this irrigation. Apparently, San Marcos, they did utilize this river and irrigated a lot out of it at one time for farming. But it looks like that’s - they don’t do much of that anymore.
Siler: Has watermelon ever been a big crop in San Marcos?
Cape: No, I’ve never heard of watermelons been raised here. Of course, there were commercial uses the onion. I never heard that, but apparently, I heard they used to raise a lot of potatoes and onions and I remember that at one time this was probably in the late twenties there, they had a field of spinach. Of course, the field at that time belonged to - I believe it was - the Hartfords, and they had about a hundred acres of spinach and they raised a fantastic crop of spinach. That was - that land was also irrigated. It was irrigated with an overhead flow and I believe they used that flow at that time to irrigate that spinach as I recall.
One thing I associate with that field of spinach, probably the first airplane - or one of the first airplanes that I ever remember. The first one that come to San Marcos was a Ford Trimotor and it landed out here in a little old field that we used to call Thompson’s Field. I don’t know whether or not it was a big area. I don’t believe it was, well I’m sure it wasn’t a landing strip. It was just a big area there and they came in to take some dignitaries in the city and the ride them and the thing crashed. It didn’t actually crash, but it made a forced landing in this field of spinach there. And it sat out there months and months before they ever moved it. I don’t recall how they actually got the plane out of there, but it was a Ford Trimotor, which was the first one I ever saw, and it was quite an airplane for its day. It was getting out of town I guess at that time.
Norman: About what time would that’ve been?
Cape: I’m going to say that would’ve been probably in 1929. I’m not sure, but it’d be right in that area that that occurred.
Siler: When did the farms around San Marcos begin to get tractors?
Cape: It was in the middle to the late thirties as I recall. As I recall it was in the late thirties there that we had our first tractor that I can recall. I believe that it was probably the mid-thirties to the late thirties to date tractors first started - that they first started using tractors in this country.
Norman: I wonder if that led to an increase in the size of the farms.
Cape: No, I don’t think it did. People I suppose had all the labor they could, they needed, and had all the mules and so forth. The tractor didn’t, I don’t think, add to the size of the farm. They just used them - they thought they would be more economical than - could cover more territory than you could with mules and didn’t have to have so much help I suppose. And that was probably, I remember the immigration service came in here I suppose that was sometime in the early to mid-thirties and they started checking the papers of a lot of these Mexican families that had moved here and lived here most of their lives or were born here and they deported lots of them at that time. I think these were people that they had gone down and brought to this country and they wanted to live here and I know it broke some of their hearts that they had lived here and some of them were born here. I know that some families, they were living on our farm, went back to Mexico and we heard from them for years after and did get some of them back legally, but there’s others that we never did get back. They really did, they liked it here and they wanted to come back, but it was impossible to get the papers on them at that time. Of course, I’m sure their standard of living in this country was so much higher than it was in Mexico that, nice that they wanted to live here. We have a Mexican, well this Mexican woman I think is over seventy years old and she started to work for my mother when I was about, I think somewhere maybe a year, year and a half old. And she still works for us. And I’m fifty so [loud background noise - unintelligible].
Siler: How long as your mother’s family been here?
Cape: My mother grew up over in Lockhart. Her name was Roebuck and she lived on a ranch about eight miles east of Lockhart. A little place called Dale. That place has been in their family ever since the war between the states because a lot of slaves were buried around - it’s funny how they buried them out there. There’s a family plot on the old home place there and they had it fenced off. In fact, they may have taken the fence down not too many years ago. They had it fenced off and all the family members were buried inside the fence and the slaves were buried right around the edges.
She grew up over there and I think she had, let’s see, she had about seven or eight members of her family and she’s the only one surviving of her family too. But she still has that place over in Lockhart. There’s not - and I suppose that’s been in her family since, oh, probably the last hundred and forty-fifty years that this place - of course we intend to hold on it I guess as some of us survive until we all fade out of the picture somewhere.
Norman: What was her maiden name?
Norman: That’s right.
Cape: Yeah. Her name was Roebuck.
Siler: Do you think with the tractors coming into the farming picture that it led to a migration of workers into San Marcos itself?
Cape: Right. I think it brought a lot of them in here because they were - they weren’t needed on the farm in greater numbers as they were and it was the custom in those days that you support them or you feed them at the grocery store. In other words, they went to the grocery store and drew groceries for the whole year and the man that owned the place stood good for the groceries and at the end of the year they settled up. I mean, that was just a custom - a customary affair and that got to be pretty expensive at times when you feed a family for a whole year. And if you had failure or something, somebody usually got left holding the bag. It was either the grocery man or the farmer or somebody. So I think that was - the tractor probably they could get by with less hands and didn’t have so much outlay to farm. So a lot of the hands began to move into towns where they probably found some work. Really, I don’t think there was a great influx of migrant workers in San Marcos. I don’t recall it until immediately after the war. They were more highly mechanized or were going to mechanize and the families started moving off the farms and coming into the towns at that time.
Norman: Were you in the service?
Cape: Yeah, I was in the navy. I was in the V-12. Seems like I signed up in V-12 on November the eleventh of 1942 and I wasn’t called up until July of ’43. I was going to Southwest Texas at that time. I went on to midshipman school and got my commission and made on trip to Europe and then I served some time in Japan on a minesweeper. I was discharged in 1945.
Siler: And you came back to San Marcos when?
Cape: I came back to San Marcos in 1953. No, I came back in 1952 and have been living here ever since. I live out on the river right where I was born so I’ve always known the river and enjoyed swimming in it and fishing and so forth. Of course, it’s gotten so full of cans and bottles now you can’t swim. Fish either, but it is beautiful isn’t it?
Norman: Is it family that brought you back to San Marcos?
Cape: Yes. I came back here - my father was in the cottonseed business with a man of Taylor and this man died and I was living in New Orleans at that time so I decided to move back here and join him in the cottonseed business. That’s a very unique business and I don’t think that very many people are in the business, but we now buy seed and sell it to cottonseed oil mills. This is not for planting, but for crushing purposes. In other words, they mill these seeds and get the cottonseed oil out and the meal and the hull they use for cattle feed and now they’re using a lot of the whole seed up. Especially out on the high plains - they’re using a lot of these seeds, feeding them whole in feed lots, which they’ve had very good luck with. This year I sold a tremendous amount of seed to Mexico. Old Mexico. Sent a shipment to El Paso and exporting it there from that point. They pick it up and haul it across and a mill that’s in Juarez and also shipping into the interior of Mexico. I’m not sure where they’re shipping it, but they pick it all up in El Paso and we’re delivering to El Paso and unloading it there and Mexico sends their trucks over and picks it up and we deliver it and they take it across from there. But they’ve been tremendously short of oil-bearing seed in Mexico and they’re using a lot of this stuff - oil brings a lot better price in Mexico - cottonseed oil is bringing a lot better price in Mexico than it’s bringing in this country, so they’re able to pay the freight on it and it costs them about $24 per ton import duty. They’re paying this on it and still probably making money on it so it’s good business for them and good for us.
Siler: Where do you buy the cottonseeds?
Cape: Well, all over Texas and parts of Louisiana. Really, I start out in the valley about July and then work north. I go around the coast and over in Brazos Valley, and Louisiana and Central Texas and then out in West Texas. That’s where the greatest volume of cotton is grown in Texas now. I don’t know the plains - they made about two million six hundred thousand bales out there this past year, which they have excellent quality and they got a fantastic price for the cotton and a fantastic price for the seed. They had just an exceptional year out there. They probably - this probably won’t happen to people farming in another hundred years I don't imagine. They’ve just made so much money they don’t know what really to do with it. I was talking to a banker out at Abernathy, little town north of Lubbock, he told me I believe that there ordinarily had eight or nine million in deposits there and this time, this year they had eighteen. They had 1.8 out in loans so everybody in that whole country paid out and they were wondering what to do with their money. The cotton brought as high as seventy-three cents a pound, which is I guess is as high a selling price since possibly the Civil War and they paid the farmer a hundred dollars a ton for seed out there, which is as high as I can ever recall. Probably, I don’t believe that seeds have ever brought any more than that anywhere and they had sold down as low as thirty-five dollars a ton. That’s probably a low. This hundred was probably a high, so you can see that it brought approximately three times what it had brought so these people, well, done real well out there.
Norman: They can’t expect to do that good next year you think?
Cape: Well, it’s awful, awful dry up there. They [chair squeaking - unintelligible] some places have had as little as 1.35 inches of rain since last August and, of course, I think Lubbock itself only had about 12 inches of rain. They had some really good rains the fall before and that’s the reason they got the underground moisture and that’s the reason they were able to make the crop that they made this year.
Norman: I have a friend in O’Donnell that made a hundred thousand dollars. And his father made two fifty.
Cape: What was their name?
Norman: Well, I can’t think of his name now. I have a relative that’s married to him and I can’t think of his name.
Cape: O’Donnell made this young cotton [unintelligible] and the sand blew it all and it’s been blowing ever since I think.
Norman: My uncle Mr. Carroll lives there, and he burns a lot and I just couldn’t believe it.
Cape: Oh, they just made a fantastic amount of money out there.
Siler: Did you hear any complaints about contracted cotton last year?
Cape: Oh yeah, there were a lot of complaints about it. I mean, the people that contracted low well they were very disgruntled and the ones that contracted high were taking the bet, but a lot of people in most areas, especially in south Texas, these people contracted probably for thirty cents and the cotton came at sixty-five or seventy, but they, I’d say in ninety-nine percent of the case here, maybe more, they honored their contracts. In other words, if they had signed up for it, they knew that the year before they had gotten thirty cents and it dropped down to eighteen and they carried on. So this year they turned the other way, but they still honored their contracts, which I think is very good that people will honor their contracts, which is what they should in cases like this. There were very few exceptions I think that people didn’t honor. I’ve heard very few complaints about it. That’s one thing about the cotton business. I think there’s more business done by verbal and by word of mouth. There’s lots of huge deals that are transacted and it’s still a little bit of honor to the business because a man’s word is good in most instances and a lot of business is done that way. There’s just not the volume of business done in many other businesses as much orally as there is in the cotton business and it apparently is still, some people can still carry out their work because a lot of business is done that way.
Norman: Did your father learn the business from his father?
Cape: Yes, yes. My grandfather I guess learned the hard way and of course my father was the second of the boys and he grew up on the farm and the gin and he just picked it up that way. He didn’t go to college. Neither - none my uncles all did. Two of them were graduates from [?] and one of them was - Horace was - they’re all -well, my father learned the hard way, I guess.
Norman: What do you do after you buy the cotton?
Cape: The seed?
Norman: Or the seed. That’s what you buy.
Cape: Right. We need to deliver it to the cottonseed oil mills or to - in some instances to feed lots and go and export and deliver them there.
Unknown female: See you mañana.
Cape: Okay. All this is hauled in by truck. It used to be that every little town in Texas had a cottonseed oil mill, but now with the transportation like it is we move seed from the Rio Grande Valley to Fort Worth. We ship it great distances that are very reasonable, whereas we used to, we couldn’t ship it very far. In fact, it had to be either delivered by small bobtail trucks or mules and wagons or by railroad. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to load seed on railroad cars anymore. It’s hard to get anybody to throw the seed and that sort of thing. You can’t get the labor to do it anymore so most of it all moves by truck. We have moved seed as far as California back to Texas. Just a few loads, but it used to be the long seed out in Arizona back in Texas and both Louisiana back to Texas and we have moved some seed from Texas back to Louisiana, too. You have to work on a volume basis to move a lot of cottonseed. You can usually handle thirty to thirty-five thousand tons a year, which is quite a few truckloads of cottonseed.
Siler: What industry - farming industry - has replaced cotton in San Marcos?
Cape: Mainly it’s grain and cattle. Most everything - very little cotton planted in here and most of it is grain now. Also lots of these old fields used to be cotton fields are now fenced off and have permanent pasture on them and they’re all to raise cattle. It’s amazing I suppose - I remember when all of this was cotton. This land in this immediate area here was all planted cotton. Of course, their farming practices were very poor I suppose that’s one thing that led to the decline of the cotton business here now. They run [cycles?] over the stalks and chop them up and plow them back under. I remember back in those days that they plowed the stalks up and then they break them up and burned them on the end of the rows and after the first of the year you could see huge fires around every night where they were burning these cotton stalks and also burn the corn stalks and everything else. They never did put much back in the soil and very little commercial fertilizer. In fact, I don’t suppose any commercial fertilizer was used here probably until in the ‘50s and that’s probably another thing that led to the decline of agriculture around here. There was a lot taken out of the soil, but very little was put back in.
I was - I think it was my grandfather Roebuck grew up - I think he was born I believe Prairie Lea. He lived to be ninety-four years old and he died in 1951. I think he knew this country even before anything was got into the farming of cotton. He said all this area between San Marcos and Martindale was prairie. There was grass knee high to waist high and it was just beautiful, and I think, well the buffalo were running in the country then. It was very fertile land though because the grass was really growing at that time. And then it was - apparently that land was put in before this, between here and Martindale, was put in before other adjoining areas around here were put in.
Siler: Was there much Johnsongrass?
Cape: Yeah, I remember Johnsongrass ever since I’ve been a kid. It’s always been a menace to agriculture and I’m sure it was here, and I suppose it’ll remain with us for a long time. That’s one thing about West Texas. There’s very little Johnsongrass out there. They seem to control it better. Of course, with their dry weather, well, they don’t have the problem with controlling it as we do here. But I guess Johnsongrass will always be a menace to farmers in this area anyway.
It’s amazing that we saw the rise of the small power plants on the San Marcos River and they contributed so much to the development of the area, by generating power and, of course, they made ice up at the head of the river there at the old ice plant. They had a power plant there and there was a power plant down here at Rio Vista where they first generated - the first power that was generated in the city of San Marcos - I understand. And then the power plant out at the Cape Gin and then they had one at Botman’s Dam - we used to call it Botman’s Dam. The LCRA used it up until about ten years ago to generate power. But all of these power plants - these small power plants like the turbine out there at the gin could develop about a hundred and twenty-five horsepower. Of course, that’s a very minute amount of horsepower, but once your installation was in, your cost was practically nil after that because you didn’t have any maintenance as long as you had the flow of the water there. The power would generate day in and day out with no cost. And our only cost was, I remembered in this waterpower plant - that the Cape Gin was once a year they had to cut the water out of this raceway, and they brought all the hands from the farm. Probably fifty or sixty hands. And they would leave just a little water flowing, going down the race and they’d put these hands in there and they would go up to their knees or waist and pull all of the grass out of this and let it flow down and then another bunch would throw it out of the spillway there and they had to clean the power off so the water would flow down that raceway so it would have enough power to generate in the fall to gin the cotton. But they didn’t want to obstruct the flow of the water getting to the gin, so they’d have plenty of power to run the gin.
I don't remember exactly who built these turbines, but there was a many one of these water turbines put in in this country. I think they came from Pennsylvania. Funny things about them, when the water backs up behind them it cuts your power off because that’s the way that the water has got to escape through the turbine to generate power. But if we had a rise on the river or something, well, it stopped the operation of the gin because it couldn’t generate power. It would stop it from generating if we’d have a rise and the water would back up and keep us from generating power. I remember one time here in a busy time of the year, in the fall of ginning cotton there and a calf fell in this raceway and was sucked into this turbine. It was just wrapped completely around it and they had to shut the gin down and cut all the water out of the raceway and go in there and cut that calf out of that - it was wrapped around this turbine to where they couldn’t generate any power.
Norman: A terrible way to go.
Cape: Yeah. I remember at one time that while we were cleaning out the raceway there that a Mexican man was putting - a cottonmouth water moccasin and right across Cape’s Camp they were working on the dam. They used to replace the rocks on that dam every year so the water would flow down the raceway. They’d have a flood or something here in the winter and wash these rocks off and it was an old dam built out of mainly just rocks and gravel. So they had to be replaced every year and this man bent down to pick up a rock in the water and I think the snake bit him on the hand. I remember I was a pretty small kid and they raced him to the doctor, and they saved him. It was very life chilling. I don’t there’s very few if any cottonmouth water moccasins left here on the river. At least we don’t see them anymore.
Norman: Where are the cottonseed oil mills in Texas?
Cape: The biggest cottonseed oil mill in the world is located in Lubbock, Texas. It’ll crush twelve hundred tons a day. And then they have two other long mills there. Anderson Clayton has a mill there and Lubbock Cotton Oil has a mill there. They’re probably - the other two mills are probably crush, oh, probably eight hundred to a thousand tons a day between the two of them. And then there’s a big mill in Lamesa. There’s one in Stanford, Wolfe City, Fort Worth. There’s three in Harlingen, Texas. Our closest mill now, located here, there’s one in Elgin, Texas and one in Taylor, Texas, but I think there’s only about thirty-two mills left in Texas. At one time there was over a 134. So that’s what the transportation really has done for you and the movement of production of cottonseed has moved from one area to the others as mill located at one time in Richmond. One in Waxahachie, but they’ve really thinned down.
Norman: You say there’s twenty-two in all?
Cape: I believe there’s thirty-two left. Thirty-two left in Texas. At one time there was well over a hundred. I think there was around a hundred and thirty or forty left in the State of Texas. Operating in the State of Texas, but with more modern means and greater production and the high cost of labor they declined. Of course, now you can - they use a solvent extraction process where they can recover about practically all of the oil in a cottonseed and leave less than half of one percent in there whereas with the old hydraulic method where they squeezed this stuff in presses and let it sit for about forty-five minutes made the old slab cake, and they left approximately sixty-seven percent of the oil in the meal. Now they can remove practically all of it and I suppose cottonseed oil is bringing a better price - as good a price today as it’s ever brought. I mean, it’s bringing about thirty-three cents a pound and the protein that’s derived from the cottonseed out of the cottonseed meal brought as high - which was a record high I know last year, of about $240-$250 a ton. This year it’s probably as high as about $160 a ton. At the present time it’s bringing about $90 a ton. But the oil prices are a lot higher this year than it was last year, so the mills still got a margin of profit in their seed that they have on hand because of the increase in the oil price. But there is a development now, they have glandless cottonseed and that is everybody’s hope for in the future it will be used for human consumption. It’s very similar probably in taste to peanut oil and can be used for the same purposes as peanut. This glandless seed doesn’t have what we call gossypol and that is very - it makes it better and that’s what also makes it deteriorate. It’s a gland in the seed. This glandless seed will keep a lot long and it can be used for human consumption as well as for livestock and gossypol in a cottonseed will kill a hog, but this glandless seed, they can eat it. They have hopes that this will be a source of protein for human consumption in the future. In fact, they’ve staked about $4 million in Lubbock County in a cottonseed flour mill that they hopes to remove the gossypol from the seed where they can use the flour for human consumption. It’s very high protein content, which there’s a world shortage of protein.
Norman: That would be wonderful.
Cape: Right. They haven’t gotten this plant to working like they intended. They’ve never gotten - it was dedicated about the first of the year, but they’ve never produced any cottonseed flour to date that is suitable. One of the mills I do business with, which is Traders Oil Mill in Fort Worth. I sell them lots of cottonseed. They’re owned by Proctor & Gamble. And they have a secret process where they have been able to remove this gossypol from cottonseed for a number of years and they make a cottonseed flour out of it. You probably have eaten it in cake mixes and that sort of thing and don’t know it, but they also use this cottonseed for flour for inert ingredients in medication. In other words, they put it in capsules and they also use it - they call it pharmamelia - they use it for the cultivation of yeast and things. Like they make penicillin out of it. This bacteria grows well in this cottonseed flour. But probably the greatest hopes for the cottonseed business is going to be for future use as human consumption. They’ve used it to feed livestock primarily up to this time, but there is a possibility now that they will be able to use it for human consumption. Of course, we’ve been consuming cottonseed oil for many, many years. It’s used in margarine and salad dressing and shortening.
Norman: Ice cream.
Cape: Ice cream. There’s no end the uses for that, but up until this point they’d always used the cottonseed meal for livestock consumption, but it looks like they’re going to be able to use it for human consumption in the future. That will be a big boost to a protein-short world if they’re going to have to - I think I heard them say today that the United States had given away ninety-eight percent of the food that had been given away in the world since World War II. Our production is going to have to increase or something if we’re going to have to feed the world we’re going to have to find better ways to produce this stuff and use things that are going to be more suitable that we already have available such as cottonseed to feed these people. I have eaten - this glandless seed they’re going to process it now. They’re raising a lot of it on the high plains of Texas. They’re going to bring it to Waco where they’ll remove the hull from it and sell it as a nut. In other words, it’ll be used just as peanuts would that they put in candy and that sort of thing. You’re eating a lot of soybeans now and substitute meat substitutes so you’re probably going to start eating a lot of cottonseed.
Norman: I eat soybeans like that. You know, toasted and with the garlic flavoring.
Cape: Yeah, in other words, they say you can put soybeans in - disguisable in things like Bac-Os and that sort of thing, you know, they taste like bacon. Well, they’re probably, if they can get this cottonseed flour for human consumption, I feel that they can do the same thing with this.
Norman: Serve the same purpose.
Cape: Yeah, it’ll serve the same purpose and we can make human feed for a change and then we’ll probably bring more money for the cotton farmer than they do already to find better uses for the seed. At one time they burned them and then they fed them to cows and now we’re going to start eating them.
Norman: Right. [tape cuts out]
Siler: Mr. Cape, this tape will be put in the Southwest Texas Library and do you have any reservations about the information on this tape?
Cape: No. None whatsoever. You have my permission to put it in there and use it anyway you see fit.
Siler: Okay. Thank you.
[End of tape, 1:04:03.]