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In the picture above Clara Stagg Jenkins and William Dodds Jenkins are seated in center and surrounded by their 13 children. Third from the left in top row is Dr. Harry Jenkins. I believe the gentleman on the far right is W. E. 'Tan' Jenkins. Both William Dodds and Clara Stagg Jenkins are buried in the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eunice, Louisiana.
William Etienne ‘Tan’ Jenkins, born 13 July 1888, to William Dodds Jenkins and Clara Stagg in Acadia Parish, Louisiana married Mary Lydia Guidry in Church Point, Louisiana, 30 December 1908. Mary Lydia was born in Church Point, Louisiana, 24 September 1889 to Joseph Terville Guidry and Marie Coralie Savoy.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jenkins had advanced educations. They went to about the third or fourth grade in the country schools in Acadia parish, La. Mr. Jenkins went to work on his father’s farm when he was 14. He was 19 before he realized it was a handicap not to be able to read, so he went to a special school for a few months to learn that art.
Twelve children were born to Tan and Mary Lydia in Eunice, Louisiana: Wallace Cedric, Clara Cecilia, Anita, Bennett Meigs, Jenora Ellen, Mary Virginia, Eldera, June, Walter Terville, Lynn Nell, Jerry Alden, and William Etienne.
They saw to it that all of their children went to school just as long as they wanted to. Four of their 12 daughters and sons have college degrees, seven of them have been to college, and all, except one, completed high school.William left Louisiana in search of good rice-farming land after his father lost the family land due to the great Depression. They settled first in Rosedale, Texas, near Beaumont, but in the mid-30s tragedy forced them to relocate.
“Twice I’ve been flat broke,” W. E. said in a 1954 interview with Sara Marsteller, “so broke that one time my children were standing in the street in the only clothes they had, and they had no place to spend the night,” he says. That was back in the middle 1930s when the family home in Rosedale burned to the ground.
“It was through the goodness of L. P. Tullos, president of the First National Bank of Beaumont, who loaned me $1000 on little or no security, that I was able to start back,” Mr. Jenkins said. It was also his inability to find a house to rent in Beaumont and Rosedale that was the deciding factor in his moving his family to Devers where he really began to fight his way back the last time.
W. E., or “Tan” as he was called, was actually headed to the Katy prairie, after the tragic house fire forced them to move, when his truck happened to break down in Devers. He was told by the locals that they were selling rice land in the area. The H&TC Railroad had purchased much of the land in the area and when the depression hit, they started liquidating their assets. W. E. Sr. unloaded horses from the trailer he was pulling, saddled up and headed out to survey the land. He was pleased with what he found and decided to buy a section, and since the original purchase, the Jenkins Farm has grown considerably in size.
They bought a home in Devers and also built a two-story house on the farm where they spent much of their time.
“When we moved to Texas, I began rice farming,” Mr. Jenkins told Enterprise Farm and Ranch Editor, Monk Vance in 1953. “That was all I had ever done. Been doing it for 45 years.”
He rented land at Seabreeze for three years to produce rice before buying 1000 acres of land and leased more in order to plant 1500 acres of rice.
“We have our own land, cattle, rice dryer, irrigation system, and produce almost all of our own food.” Mr. Jenkins told Monk Vance in that 1953 interview. “The only thing we go out for is manufactured parts and new equipment,” he added. “These boys are partners in the place, and we have no bosses. Any of them can raise rice crop or work cattle.”
Family co-operation is the key to the Jenkins’ family success. Tan said of his children, “They get up at daylight and stay late at the farm when there’s work to be done, and the only complaint about it all is “just didn’t get enough done.” All the success they enjoyed did not come easy. It took years of hard work and cooperation even though Mr. Jenkins denied that they ever really worked. “We don’t call it work,” Mr. Jenkins said in explaining his wonderful philosophy of life. “Work is doing something you don’t want to do.”
There are farmers, mechanics, and architects in the Jenkins family. Everywhere on the farm are pieces of equipment that the combined genius of the boys and their father perfected. As an example of their resourcefulness, the father pointed out to Sarah Marsteller in 1954, a massive truck. “The motor cost $400, and it cost another $700 to buy the material to make the body, but it would cost $5000 to buy that model off a farm implement dealer,” he said. “When we need a building, we all pitch in and build it. When we need a piece of equipment, we design and make it. We save a lot of money that way.”
The Jenkins family built the five-bedroom two-story farmhouse, located on Jenkins Road with their own hands. They constructed the rice dryer themselves as well, and Granddaughter, Alexis states it is still used and operated by Sue’s sons and grandson today. Much of the material used to build the dryer was purchased from the World War II surplus store.
W. E. said, “Building the dryer and storage has been the best single move I made in developing the farm to produce greater income. In the 1954 interview with Sarah Marsteller, Tan said, “Our rice dryer on the Jenkins farm is the only one I know of in this entire section that can be operated by one man. We designed and built it so I could run it alone at night after work in the field was done,” he explained. In 1954, 42,000 sacks of rice were dried in the building. Mr. Jenkins also added that, to his knowledge, he built the first privately owned and operated rice dryer in that area of the rice belt. He not only stored rice from his farm in his dryer, but the crops of surrounding farmers as well.
As reported in ‘The Chambers County, a Pictorial History’ at the turn of the century, rice farmers used only primitive irrigation, depending on seasonal overflows, often brackish water to flood their rice. The first commercial canals began operating in 1902 when the Farmers Canal Company began pumping water from Turtle Bay and sending it northeast through Hankamer to Stowell. The Farmers Canal Company went bankrupt in 1925, due to poor crops, declining markets, saltwater problems, and the 1915 Hurricane. Knowing this abandoned system existed, W. E. chose to tie into it. With access to the main canal, he used a lift pump to lift the water from Double Bayou and into the canals he had built throughout his farm.
“There’s a big advantage to having your own irrigation system and being able to water rice when it needs it,” Mr. Jenkins told Monk Vance in 1953 when they visited on the farm. “We never made over 12 barrels an acre until we put in our own irrigation system four years ago.” “Since then, our average yield has been 20 barrels an acre and up to 24 barrels an acre in some fields,” he said.
W. E. agreed that research that has resulted in new varieties, better fertilization methods, and other phases of rice production has had a hand in the yield increase, but “not near as much as the irrigation system.”
A reservoir-rice rotation system is used on the Jenkins farm. In 1953 he had 1200 acres under water and divided into 150 acre squares. Land under water will be planted in rice next year and present rice land will be used as a reservoir.
W. E. 'Tan' Jenkins at the Relift Pump
Since the fateful day in the 1930s when they started from “scratch” with an even dozen children – seven girls and five boys – to feed and educate, the Jenkins family have gone a long way together. After three years of renting farmland in Stowell when he first arrived in Chambers County, W. E. Jenkins added 1000 acres and leased more in order to plant 1500 acres of rice.
In 1953, Mr. Jenkins was planning to harvest a rice crop from approximately 5000 acres, four miles east of Hankamer, estimated to be worth $300,000, the profits of which he and his sons shared equally.
Wallace and Tan check the rice to see how clean it is and how much of it is broken.
By Carroll Headley ~ Editorial Director ~ Rice Farming ~ 1994
John, Jay, and Jerold Jenkins are the sons of Jerry Jenkins, a former Farmer of the Year in Texas. Avid young rice farmers themselves and brothers who still remember begging their father to let them drive a tractor, then when he put them on one, begging to get off.
“Mom and Dad went out of town one time and left us with our Uncle Billy, the youngest of twelve children,” John recalls. “It was in the wintertime—a cold clear day with a north wind—and we were working ground with some old Case tractors. Uncle Billy had put us in three separate fields so we wouldn’t run over each other. When Dad called in to see how the ground working was going, we had all three quit. My field was too cold, Jay’s field was too big, and Jerold’s was too windy. Uncle Billy said we had managed to find something wrong with all three of them.”
Today, though, these three guys are in charge of 1,235 acres of rice so they know they have to stay on those tractors.
AERIAL SEED AND HARROW
In the fall, the Jenkins try to get all of their ground work done—land planning and pulling levees. In the spring, until about three years ago, they would clear water plant, then drain the field to allow the rice seed to take hold in the soil. “However, this particular approach left the seed on top of the ground, and that’s when the blackbirds went to work,” John explains.
“We knew we had to get the rice covered somehow. One way is to put water on the fields, mud them up, then drop the seed in so when the silt falls, it covers the rice before the water is drained. Blackbirds will pick off the top of the ground, but they don’t particularly like to dig in the mud.”
Unfortunately, another problem the Jenkins brothers had to deal with that6 goes along with water seeding is the water midge, or the larvae of a fly. This minute pest breeds in the borrow ditches alongside both sides of the levee. It likes to attack the germinating seed near the emerging root. “The water midge won’t attack the seed if the seed is under the ground,” John explains.
Since the Jenkins get the majority of their ground work done in the fall, they decided to replace water planting with another method to help alleviate their blackbird and water midge problems. The significance of their having done most of the ground work in the fall is that this other method requires more time in the spring that they might not have if they had not already completed most of the soil preparation.
“We fly our seed and base fertilizer on dry, then harrow the rice in with two 28-foot harrows,” says John. “This puts the seed about an inch deep into the soil. You would think the rice would be uneven, but it’s not. It’s uniform across the field. With this equipment, we can plant about 35o acres a day.”
The Jenkins plant all Gulfmont since it has a better second-cropping potential than Lemont.
“Our yields went up after 1989 because we changed some of the ways we do things such as harrowing the rice in to take care of the blackbird problem. We knocked down all of the old levees that had been there for about 30 years, then resurveyed them. We didn’t laser plane the fields at that time, but we did us a laser to mark where the new levees would be. This made a lot of difference.
“However, the problem we had in a lot of places was that where we knocked down the old levees that had been there so long, it was like concrete with a ditch on either side. So, we had a high spot with two low spots. We had to go in with a land plane to get the fields more level, then resurvey the levees.
“Two major keys to increasing our yields over the past five years have been putting the seed under the ground and resurveying our levees,” John concludes.
Jay Jenkins gives credit to their pre-plant fertilizer, too. “The pre-plant fertilizer goes in with the rice when we plant. One airplane flies on the rice seed, the second plane comes right behind it with the fertilizer, and we’ve got the tractor and harrow sitting in the field ready to go.”
In addition to re-thinking their planting strategy, the Jenkins brothers also altered their weed control program.
“Last year we did something different with our herbicides,” says John. “First we planted our rice and flushed the field. Then we drained the field and while the field was still wet, we put down three pints of Bolero before the rice emerged. Then before the ground got too dry, we flushed the field again. That’s when the rice came up. Bolero’s specialty is sprangletop, but it helps control red rice, too.”
Jerold adds, “Bolero pretty well covers the spectrum of weeds that we have trouble with here on the farm. We’re trying to lower our herbicide cost so we’ll have some money left in the budget in case we have to put out a fungicide. Sometimes we have a bad problem with sheath blight.”
John describes another herbicide scenario: “On one field, we used a Bolero plus Facet tank mix (two pints of Bolero and 6/10 of a pound of Facet.) The rice was planted on April 28, which is late for us. This combination is a little more expensive than just applying Bolero by itself, but it’s got the residual, so you don’t have to come back again. This tank mix controlled a terrible indigo and sesbania problem we had. So, we saved on the chemical and the air service.”
It goes without saying that farmers are frustrated by the general public referring to government subsidy payments as welfare for farmers. “We can’t survive without the subsidy,” says John. “There’s no doubt about that. If we could, I wouldn’t want a nickel from Uncle Sam. But to keep our family operation going, we rely on the subsidy and sometimes even that’s not enough, depending on what the weather does. Because of this situation, we have to supplement our income whenever we can.”
“For example, a few years ago Jay and I looked around at our equipment and decided to put it to use when we got through with our own place. We started doing some custom ground work for people, and it has worked out real well. We also bought an 18-wheel truck in ’92 so when we catch up with our rice, we can haul rough rice to the different dryers in the fall.”
“I can’t think of another farmer around here that doesn’t have some kind of sideline to supplement his income. Some raise crawfish, some have cattle, some guys bought an airplane and opened an air service. You name it and people are doing it,” he says.
“I am doing something outside of agriculture, but it works around my farming schedule real well,” adds Jerold. “I work for a guy who has trucks that haul waste materials away from plants. He has a couple of daytime drivers, then another rice farmer and I are his relief crew at night. For a lot of us, it’s not like we’re getting a government subsidy, then sitting on the couch watching TV in our off hours.”
Cattle production on the Jenkins farm is similar to most other rice and cattle farms in the Gulf coast area. They use registered Brahman bulls and grade cows to produce calves for the beef market. They also have two registered Hereford bulls. Much of the pasture for cattle is on land that is laying-out between rice crops and not in use as a reservoir, but the Jenkins’ are doing quite a bit of pasture improvement for permanent pastures that will not be used for rice later. Here are about 400 acres that have dallis grass, fescue, and other grasses and clovers.
“We do plant rye grass on rice land that is laying out to produce winter grazing for the cattle,” Mr. Jenkins added.
In the 1964 photo above are John Jenkins and Piper, step-daughter of Wallace Jenkins.
June 1959 News Article
Two months and more before rice harvest time, combines are working on Chambers County farms these days, "making hay" in more ways than one as they harvest a new cash crop for this area.
The big machines are rolling across acres of clover, gathering in the round seed pods from which will be extracted the valuable end product of this harvest season, Louisiana S-1 clover seed.
Separated from dirt, weed, and grass seeds, and other impurities by a complicated cleaning process, the clover seed will be worth up to $1 per pound to the grower in a market where the demand far exceeds the supply.
From a small beginning just a few years ago, clover seed production has spurted to a real money-crop status in Chambers County this year, and this area has turned into a major production center for the crop in the South, almost overnight.
From about 20,000 acres in the Chambers-Liberty County area of the Trinity Bay Soil Conservation District, landowners will harvest upward of 250,000 pounds of clover seed this season, if ideal harvest conditions of the past few weeks continue. That's the forecast of H. T. Michael, work unit conservationist of the Soil Conservation District, who has been in close touch with the development of the clover-sown pastures and clover seed production in the district in recent years.
In the span of seven or eight years, conservationist Michael and others associated with the SCD land improvement program in the Trinity Bay district have seen clover pastures spread from a small, few acres here and there beginning, to today's broad coverage which Mr. Michael describes this way: "It's possible to walk 20 miles through this district and be walking cross a clover pasture all the way."
These pasture acres of clover were developed because clover has almost everything in its favor as a foundation for economical land use, soil building, and as a profitable grazing cover for pasture acreage.
Landowners turned to it more and more as rice acreage cuts began to cut into planting of the basic farm crop in this coastal area. With a minimum of care and expense, the clover stand on pasture land returned better than ever each year, furnishing good grazing, hay production, and at the same time, conditioning rice land soils for rice production in fields subject to rotation.
The sideline of seed production, an unexpected dividend from an already profitable land use, did not become apparent to many farmers in this area until recently, but a number of them have made up for lost time this year.
Leaders in the development of this phase of the clover picture have been the Jenkins family of the Hankamer area, who have backed their faith in the potential of a new crop with heavy investments in seed processing equipment.
At their farm headquarters on the Hankamer-Winnie road, W. E. Jenkins and sons have installed a complete seed-cleaning plant, which has been going full blast in recent weeks with combine loads of seed from the Jenkins farm and from others in the area.
This seed cleaning plant is the only one of its kind in Texas, and only one other facility in the South is similarly equipped to handle the difficult job of cleaning clover seed, according to Wallace Jenkins, who directs the cleaner operations.
Other members of the Jenkins family who are associated in the farm and seed enterprise with their father are Meigs, Jerry, and Billy Jenkins.
Combines working in the clover fields are fitted with special pickup reels to lift the mowed clover stems and seed pods from the ground. Operating in a cloud of dust, they fill a hopper slowly with a mixture of dirt and a variety of other seeds, along with the gold and brown clover seed, the latter about half the size of a pin head.
This mixture, after cleaning treatment, will yield about 50 percent clover seed, but the separation process isn't an easy one. To be marketable for seed purposes, the clover seed must be better than 99 percent free of other seed or impurities.
Some of the impurities are separated by screening and blowers, as the harvest mixture starts through the cleaning process. Another stage separates light and heavy particles by gravity, on vibrating shaker screens and by the time the clover seed reaches this stage of the cleaning process, it appears clean enough. A few particles of dirt and a few outlaw seeds are still in there, however, and an ingenious final stage removes most of these.
This machine, imported this year from Germany, mixes the clover seed with a fine gray iron powder, proportioned electronically. Clover seed are smooth-surfaced, and the iron powder will not stick to the surface of very many of them. Particles of dirt and rough-surface weed or grass seeds, on the other hand, pick up particles of the iron powder, and when the mixture of seed and powder is passed across a long magnet, the foreign particles are trapped and the clover seed, now almost perfectly clean, passes on out into the sacking chutes.
The Jenkins cleaning plant runs about 6000 pounds of clean seed into new white cotton bags every day. Samples of every lot are sent to an independent testing laboratory for a report as to purity and germinating qualities, and the seed is then ready for market.
An acre of clover will make up to 100 pounds of marketable seed, Mr. Michael says, and the production costs are remarkably low. Land preparation for the first planting is simple, and after the first year, the plants will come back on their own, he said, needing only small amounts of fertilizer to produce maximum growth. Total cost of a first year stand would average around $10 per acre, Mr. Michael estimated, and the cost in succeeding years would drop to perhaps $5 per acre. Rainfall at the wrong time will interfere with a harvest, but if weather conditions are right, the landowner will have a second opportunity to combine a seed crop, Mr. Michael added.
Hay left after combining is baled and stored for winter feed, and hay production from a good stand will average 25 bales per acre, another valuable dividend from the useful clover crop.
Other farmers besides the Jenkins' in the Chambers and Liberty County area who are combining their clover acreage for seed production this year include Edmonds Bros. Farms, N & M Farms, W. S. Edwards of Stowell, Olide Devillier of Winnie, E. V. Boyt of Devers, Bub Turner and E. S. Abshier of Hankamer, and Mrs. E. W, Sykes of Double Bayou.
Their combined harvest, it has been estimated, will add $250,000 to the total farm income in this area this year.
Jerry A. Jenkins was selected as the 1990 Texas Rice Festival Farmer of the Year. At the time of the award he had raised rice, soy beans, and clover in Chambers County for over 40 years, during which time he had worked in and operated the Historic Jenkins Dryer. He was a fourth generation rice farmer whose family began farming in Mississippi before the Civil War, moved to Louisiana in the 1890’s, and then came to Texas during the Depression.
In 1990 Jenkins was farming rice and assisting his sons in the various aspects of the farming operation. He also began a cattle program, the JW Cattle Company, for his 3-year old grandson, Justin.
Jenkins had seen rice yields increase through good management, the introduction of better varieties of rice, and versatility in methods of farming. However, his observation was the price of rice had not kept pace with the times. He said, “Today’s farmers must plant other crops and stay up to date with all farm programs that are introduced; he must be willing to try innovative means to stay in farming. Government subsidies are a help, but will not solve the present problems of the farmer,” Jenkins said.
In 1990 Jenkins was a member of the Chambers County Farm Bureau, where he was involved with the Texas Gator Fest, and a director of the Wallisville Heritage Park. He had interests in Anahuac National Bank and American Plant Food Corporation. He also had an interest in the Eldridge #1 Horizontal Well at Big Wells, Texas.
Your support and contributions will enable us to continue John's dream of educating the public about the history of Wallisville and Chambers County. Your generous donation will fund our mission.
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