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Mark Twain > Life On The Mississippi > Chapter 33

Life On The Mississippi

Chapter 33

                         Refreshments and Ethics

IN regard to Island 74, which is situated not far from the former Napoleon,
a freak of the river here has sorely perplexed the laws of men and made
them a vanity and a jest. When the State of Arkansas was chartered,
she controlled 'to the center of the river'--a most unstable line. The State
of Mississippi claimed 'to the channel'--another shifty and unstable line.
No. 74 belonged to Arkansas. By and by a cut-off threw this big island out
of Arkansas, and yet not within Mississippi. 'Middle of the river' on one
side of it, 'channel' on the other. That is as I understand the problem.
Whether I have got the details right or wrong, this FACT remains:
that here is this big and exceedingly valuable island of four thousand acres,
thrust out in the cold, and belonging to neither the one State nor the other;
paying taxes to neither, owing allegiance to neither. One man owns
the whole island, and of right is 'the man without a country.'

Island 92 belongs to Arkansas. The river moved it over
and joined it to Mississippi. A chap established a whiskey
shop there, without a Mississippi license, and enriched
himself upon Mississippi custom under Arkansas protection
(where no license was in those days required).

We glided steadily down the river in the usual privacy--
steamboat or other moving thing seldom seen. Scenery as always:
stretch upon stretch of almost unbroken forest, on both sides
of the river; soundless solitude. Here and there a cabin or two,
standing in small openings on the gray and grassless banks--
cabins which had formerly stood a quarter or half-mile farther
to the front, and gradually been pulled farther and farther back
as the shores caved in. As at Pilcher's Point, for instance,
where the cabins had been moved back three hundred yards
in three months, so we were told; but the caving banks had
already caught up with them, and they were being conveyed
rearward once more.

Napoleon had but small opinion of Greenville, Mississippi, in the old times;
but behold, Napoleon is gone to the cat-fishes, and here is Greenville full
of life and activity, and making a considerable flourish in the Valley;
having three thousand inhabitants, it is said, and doing a gross trade of
$2,500,000 annually. A growing town.

There was much talk on the boat about the Calhoun Land Company,
an enterprise which is expected to work wholesome results.
Colonel Calhoun, a grandson of the statesman, went to Boston
and formed a syndicate which purchased a large tract of land on
the river, in Chicot County, Arkansas--some ten thousand acres--
for cotton-growing. The purpose is to work on a cash basis:
buy at first hands, and handle their own product; supply their negro
laborers with provisions and necessaries at a trifling profit,
say 8 or 10 per cent.; furnish them comfortable quarters,
etc., and encourage them to save money and remain on the place.
If this proves a financial success, as seems quite certain,
they propose to establish a banking-house in Greenville,
and lend money at an unburdensome rate of interest--6 per cent.
is spoken of.

The trouble heretofore has been--I am quoting remarks of planters
and steamboatmen--that the planters, although owning the land,
were without cash capital; had to hypothecate both land and crop
to carry on the business. Consequently, the commission dealer
who furnishes the money takes some risk and demands big interest--
usually 10 per cent., and 2 per cent. for negotiating the loan.
The planter has also to buy his supplies through the same dealer,
paying commissions and profits. Then when he ships his crop,
the dealer adds his commissions, insurance, etc. So, taking it
by and large, and first and last, the dealer's share of that crop
is about 25 per cent.'where the people are under subjection to rates of interest ranging
from 18 to 30 per cent., and are also under the necessity of
purchasing their crops in advance even of planting, at these rates,
for the privilege of purchasing all their supplies at 100 per cent.
profit?'--EDWARD ATKINSON.]>

A cotton-planter's estimate of the average margin of profit
on planting, in his section: One man and mule will raise ten
acres of cotton, giving ten bales cotton, worth, say, $500; cost
of producing, say $350; net profit, $150, or $15 per acre.
There is also a profit now from the cotton-seed, which formerly
had little value--none where much transportation was necessary.
In sixteen hundred pounds crude cotton four hundred are lint,
worth, say, ten cents a pound; and twelve hundred pounds of seed,
worth $12 or $13 per ton. Maybe in future even the stems will
not be thrown away. Mr. Edward Atkinson says that for each
bale of cotton there are fifteen hundred pounds of stems,
and that these are very rich in phosphate of lime and potash;
that when ground and mixed with ensilage or cotton-seed meal
(which is too rich for use as fodder in large quantities),
the stem mixture makes a superior food, rich in all the
elements needed for the production of milk, meat, and bone.
Heretofore the stems have been considered a nuisance.

Complaint is made that the planter remains grouty toward the former slave,
since the war; will have nothing but a chill business relation with him,
no sentiment permitted to intrude, will not keep a 'store' himself,
and supply the negro's wants and thus protect the negro's pocket
and make him able and willing to stay on the place and an advantage
to him to do it, but lets that privilege to some thrifty Israelite,
who encourages the thoughtless negro and wife to buy all sorts
of things which they could do without--buy on credit, at big prices,
month after month, credit based on the negro's share of the growing crop;
and at the end of the season, the negro's share belongs to the Israelite,'
the negro is in debt besides, is discouraged, dissatisfied, restless, and both
he and the planter are injured; for he will take steamboat and migrate,
and the planter must get a stranger in his place who does not know him,
does not care for him, will fatten the Israelite a season, and follow his
predecessor per steamboat.

It is hoped that the Calhoun Company will show, by its
humane and protective treatment of its laborers, that its
method is the most profitable for both planter and negro;
and it is believed that a general adoption of that method
will then follow.

And where so many are saying their say, shall not the
barkeeper testify? He is thoughtful, observant, never drinks;
endeavors to earn his salary, and WOULD earn it if there
were custom enough. He says the people along here in
Mississippi and Louisiana will send up the river to buy
vegetables rather than raise them, and they will come
aboard at the landings and buy fruits of the barkeeper.
Thinks they 'don't know anything but cotton;' believes they
don't know how to raise vegetables and fruit--'at least the most
of them.' Says 'a nigger will go to H for a watermelon'
('H' is all I find in the stenographer's report--
means Halifax probably, though that seems a good way to go
for a watermelon). Barkeeper buys watermelons for five cents
up the river, brings them down and sells them for fifty.
'Why does he mix such elaborate and picturesque drinks for the
nigger hands on the boat?' Because they won't have any other.
'They want a big drink; don't make any difference what
you make it of, they want the worth of their money.
You give a nigger a plain gill of half-a-dollar brandy for
five cents--will he touch it? No. Ain't size enough to it.
But you put up a pint of all kinds of worthless rubbish, and heave
in some red stuff to make it beautiful--red's the main thing--
and he wouldn't put down that glass to go to a circus.'
All the bars on this Anchor Line are rented and owned
by one firm. They furnish the liquors from their
own establishment, and hire the barkeepers 'on salary.'
Good liquors? Yes, on some of the boats, where there are
the kind of passengers that want it and can pay for it.
On the other boats? No. Nobody but the deck hands and firemen
to drink it. 'Brandy? Yes, I've got brandy, plenty of it;
but you don't want any of it unless you've made your will.'
It isn't as it used to be in the old times. Then everybody traveled
by steamboat, everybody drank, and everybody treated everybody else.
'Now most everybody goes by railroad, and the rest don't drink.'
In the old times the barkeeper owned the bar himself, 'and was
gay and smarty and talky and all jeweled up, and was the toniest
aristocrat on the boat; used to make $2,000 on a trip.
A father who left his son a steamboat bar, left him a fortune.
Now he leaves him board and lodging; yes, and washing,
if a shirt a trip will do. Yes, indeedy, times are changed.
Why, do you know, on the principal line of boats on
the Upper Mississippi, they don't have any bar at all!
Sounds like poetry, but it's the petrified truth.'

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