By Earl Looney
Real Estate and Property Management
During the era between the early nineties and the late twenties, Brownwood was recognized by the entire cotton industry as the hub of all cotton activities in both central and west Texas and Brownwood held this reputation until the boll weevil and the Government took over. The plains country also played its part when the rancher shifted from raising cattle to growing cotton.
During this era Brownwood boasted of not one but two cotton compresses,
and the cotton crop in Brown County alone justified twenty five gins; four
of these gins were located in Brownwood, three square bale gins and one
round bale gin. The franchise for the round bale gin was held by Anderson-Clayton
Co. of Houston and
The Texas Compress, owned by a stock company, Brook Smith, President,
and my father, J. R. Looney, Vice President, was built soon after the Fort
Worth and Rio Grande Railroad reached Brownwood either in 1893 or 94. 1
should remember as I helped to build it. I was the water boy.
Brownwood also boasted two cotton
Near the turn of the century, H. T. Williams, Wm. E. Aflex and Dave Thomas moved to Brownwood from Liverpool, England, and entered into the picture in a big way as they represented some of the larger cotton mills of England. After the Ft. Worth and Rio Grande R. R. extended the branch to Brady in 1903, H. T. Williams and associates had a spur built just off the extension and across Center Ave. - practically opposite the Texas ompress; for some reason this venture failed to payoff and the Compress was moved to Brady. For several years during the peak of this era there would be 175,000 bales pressed. G. W. Churchill was the first manager of the Texas Compress. He was succeeded by J. W. Maning, and during 1920 Ned Robinson was employed as manager and held this position until his recent death. Today it is listed as Brownwood Compress Warehouse Co. and at this period presses around 15,000 bales annually, so the storage is depended on for their main income. During at least the early part of this era most of the cotton was shipped abroad, as the United States could only boast of comparatively few mills in New York State and Falls River, Mass.
The First World War, beginning in 1914, wrecked England's economy for
the time being, and for some time the shipment of cotton to England was
slowed down to almost a stand still; this necessitated the building of
more mills at home, and was the beginning of the shifting of cotton mills
to the cotton states - to the southern coastal states in
Soon after the arrival of the Ft. Worth and Rio Grande, Winfield Scott of Ft. Worth built the Cottonseed Oil Mill and put C. H. Bencini in charge. D. R. Blair, his brother-in-law, was office manager; for years this mill employed at least 30 people.
I remember the big 50 ft. oil tank that stored the oil for shipping. The cotton-seed oil was shipped in big tank cars to those used for shipping gasoline and oil products; cottonseed was steamed and the oil pressed from the seed. When the oil was extracted the husk was dried and ground for various mixed feeds for stock. Sometime during the twenties, this mill was sold to Swift & Co. and today it is used as a feed mill and part of the building is used as a warehouse.
In the early days of this era cotton was sold from wagons parked on the streets and what was known as street buyers would cut a slit in the bagging and reach in for a sample of the staple. As a rule during the peak of harvest, there would be from a half to a dozen street buyers, as many as fifteen cotton brokers or FOB shippers. At the close of the day, the cotton brokers and street buyers would get together, as a rule over the telephone. I can remember calls as late as eleven o'clock, yes, sometimes they would get me out of bed. I would say that during this era the cotton interests would give employment to at least 1000 people, and this doesn't take into consideration the cotton grower, cotton chopper or cotton picker.
At this point I give you the names of some of the men who took an active part:
H. T. Williams - Wm. E. Aflex and Dave Thomas from Liverpool Eng. -
Rep. of cotton mills in Eng.
Will give the names of the Exchange Operators later in the story
During the late nineties the first cotton exchange was opened in Brownwood.
It is true that other commodities were dealt in, but cotton being the main
commodity dealt in, I feel sure, was the reason for the name cotton exchange.
All of the exchanges as well as the Bucket Shop had leased wire connection
with Wall Street, New Orleans, and to be sure, Liverpool, England. The
duty of the exchanges was to handle the transactions for a commission.
This process was considered legitimate, since it was a service to the customer;
however the Bucket Shop, I have always understood, was owned by a N. Y.
Syndicate. Deals were made between the customer and the syndicate - regardless
of whether you were a buyer or a seller, they would take the other end
of the trade and
At that time the Crown Hotel, a two story building occupying the 60 ft. by 100 ft. lot on the corner of Baker and Brown St., now used as a parkihg lot, also the 90 ft. lot facing No. Fisk St., at present being used as a Used Car lot - 30 feet on the corner of Baker and Brown Sts. and extending back 75 ft. was set apart for the three exchanges and partitioned off in 30 X 25 ft. rooms, each room with an outside entrance.
A large black board 6 ft. by 18 ft. was placed on the wall and then lined off to accommodate the chalking up prices of various months. Cotton was also king in this arrangement, but grains - wheat in particular - sugar and lard quotations were also listed.
Around the turn of the century, Ferner and Bean, of New York, opened
the first exchange. Lee Frankling was manager, and Percy Scott, telegraph
operator. A short time later E.G. Scales opened up the second exchange;
John Stepens, manager - Louie Lane, telegraph operator. Later on the Bucket
Shop was opened, Clarane Chambers, Mgr. I feel surethat no other town in
central or west Texas could boast of an exchange and men as far
It was during 1900 that cotton first reached a low price and the cotton growing states made a very short crop in 1901, and only an average crop in 1902 and 1903. In the early spring of 1904 the price of cotton was making an upturn and it was at this point that Brown and Sully and associates of Wall St. entered the picture and began a buyers spree. When a message would come over the wire that Brown & Sully said buy cotton -the rush would start, and as a rule it would require two cables to handle the orders.
It is true that the market fluctuated, but at this time the ups were
always greater than the down, and the scalper that had hoped to make his
fortune guessing today what the market would do tomorrow - in other words
operating for short periods instead of what you might think of as making
an investment, was having a hard time. This calls to mind an instance that
happened to a friend and I. This friend stuck his head in my office window
one morning and said, "Earl, those guys around at the exchange are getting
rich buying cotton and I would like to buy at least one contract, 100 bales,
but I don't have the money to put up the necessary margin and I was just
wondering if you wouldn't throw in with me and we will go equal partners."
This I did and within a few days we had made enough to buy an additional
contract. Within the next few days my good friend stuck his head in the
office window and said, "Earl, what do you think of dissolving our partnership
and each take a contract and go alone?1I This we did. At this point I told
him that I hoped he wouldn't lose his shirt. Within a very few days he
I feel sure that some of you readers have a vivid recollection of the Brown and Sulley slump in the price of cotton in the spring of 1904. Indeed I do as I got hooked on the line. It was during 1900 that cotton first reached the 10~ price and after a short crop in 1901, and only an average crop in 1902 and 1903; so in the spring of 1904 cotton was making a steady rise in price. At this time Brown and Sulley and Associates of Wall Street started bulling the market. The exchanges were crowded with people from allover central and west Texas, so when the news would come over the wires that Brown and Sulley said buy cotton, the rush would start and at times required the second leased wire to handle the orders. Yes, this was happening allover the cotton states in particular.
So the market was making a gain day by day and had reached a l6~ price. It has been the general opinion that Brown - Sulley and associates of Wall Street decided that it was time to get on the Bear side of the market. At this point it was definitely the opinion that this had been a manipulated market from the start. The market lost within two days what it had gained within two months. I lost half of my profits the first day, and was scared bad enough to place a stop loss order on my contracts early the second morning, but due to the rush it was one thirty p.m. before the exchange received an answer. However, I felt lucky as the market made a much bigger loss than the day before. Yes, I lost my shirt but there was no one standing by to give me a shirt.
Hundreds of men in central and west Texas lost all they had made within
the two months and some of them quite a lot more than their profits. Some
of the operators was known to have lost twenty to fifty thousand dollars.
I am telling you that chins hung low and it was rumored that some of the
losers were sent to the hospital. As previously
Some of my friends joined me in dabbling in lard and sugar, but we soon found lard too slick and sugar too sweet. If you don't mind, I will inject another little experience - and incidentally the last one. On my way from the bank I dropped in at the Bucket Shop to have a little visit with Clarence Chambers, the operator. He singled out a cowboy with boots, and he said that cowboy came in the office Monday with $185.00 and he is ahead over $1500.00. Broker Lawson of Wall St. was boosting Amalgamated Copper at that time, and when the ticker would bring the word that Lawson said "Buy Amalgamated", the market would go up by leaps and bounds. I told Chambers to buy me five shares and I would be back with the margin, so when I returned within the next hour or so, on entering the office, Chambers said, "Earl, you are already ahead $165.00." At this point I told him to give it to me, his answer was what do you mean. I told him that I meant what I said - that I was determined to leave one time while I was winner.
I am inclined to believe what a little guy by the name of Moses said who hung around the exchange quite a lot. He was what you would call a scalper and seemed to make a living at the trade. A mutual friend of ours who had made and lost more times than you have fingers and toes was fussing with Geo. Berry, the operator, because he hadn't heard from the last order he had given him to buy 200 bales of cotton. Moses and I both thought the market was ready for a nose dive as it had risen from lO~ to l6~. I asked E. H. whether he was buying or selling; he stated, "&lying, of course." Mr. Moses said, "Earl, when a fellow has an investment, between his hopes that he will make it and his fears that he will lose, his judgment isn't worth a durn." To finish the story, our mutual friend lost all that he had made as the market took quite a slump.
I will take time to name some of the men to whom I am indebted for the facts and figures that I have given in this article, namely: Walter Trout, W. R. Ellis, John Yantis,W. L. Ellis, Louie Lane, Cub Ragsdale.
I feel most of you readers will agree that Brownwood and Brown Co. made a very satisfactory shift to other resources when cotton was no longer to be depended on. Take our wonderful lake that was built about the time resources from cotton were playing out. With an ample supply of water and the irrigation it has made possible, I am inclined to call it a jewel.
During the cotton era, I suppose we had possibly four or five industries in Brownwood; and now, from the information I can gather, we can boast of at least 52. During the cotton era Brown Co., as well as I can recall, had 2 dairy farmers - and now we can boast of 16; and it's a consolation to know that Abilene Creameries admit that Brownwood is in the center of their production. Some of the cotton farmers started growing peanuts, which proved to be a good cash resource.
Brownwood, since the cotton era, has become more of an educational center
as well as an athletic center, and it's very noticeable that it is fast
becoming a convention center. You might say that recently the Santa Fe
has made Brownwood a division point of their system, and recently it has
had a tremendous face lifting. In my opinion Brownwood is taking a toe
hold to really develop into a town that we will all be proud of. I have
said for years