The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #16525   Message #156154
Posted By: Art Thieme
31-Dec-99 - 02:12 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Add: Mister Boll Weevil / Boll Weevil Song
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Mister Boll Weevil
Abby & Rich,

Here's some of what I enearthed over the years---but most of it was from rummaging at the old Archive Of Folksong at the Library of Congress---U.S.A.---about 35 years ago...

#1 to #7 is from a John Lomax radio show in 1941.

1) The boll weevil is the most sung about insect in the U.S.

2)The Texas legislature once had a $50,000.00 price on the insect's head. It was never won.

3)Mississippi had a quarantine on imports from Texas but the insect crossed just the same.

4)The insect moved at a rate of 40 miles per year. Took 25 years for it to reach the Atlantic Ocean from Mexico.

5) One pair of insects produces 12 million, 775 thousand and 100 boll weevils.

6)A man named Gates Thomas recorded 3 "Boll Weevil" verses in 1897.

7) In the ballad there are several encounters between the insect and the farmer. The insect usually wins.

8) The adult with snout extended measures about 1/4 inch and about a third of that is snout.

9) The insects appetite demands he make two or 3 punctures in the immature cotton boll (the 4 leaves of the bowl form "the square"). The damage done inside the boll by the developing young is separate.

10) Has a life span of 70 days and an average weevil kills about 140 squares in his life.

11) In the early 1900s a farmer was paying ten to thirty cents to raise each healthy insect.

12) Thrives in summer. Hibernates in winter.

13) The insect first crossed into the U.S. from Mexico about 1892. Some suggested that cotton not be planted within 50 miles of the border. That probably would've stopped it--but the idea was tied up in red tape and was never tried.

14) The Louisiana quarantine of the Sabine River proved ineffectual.

15) The boll weevil hit the Afro-American sharecropper hard. Folks stood out on the red clay of Georgia and on dilapidated porches all over the south and wrote verse after verse about the insect that was ruining them. Hundreds claimed to be the original author but none ever proved their claim.

16) The boll weevil actually raised the price of cotton to a higher level because of the scarcity of cotton it caused.

17) The boll weevil offers himself well to balladry. He is an outlaw hunted in every field. He seems to posess super-human powers, amazing cunning and trickery. After outwitting the farmer he goes on his way despite all human effort to stop him.----Dorothy Scarborough On The Trail Of Negro Folksong

18) The ballad often takes the form of a dialogue between the farmer and the insect. The farmer tells the bug what he is going to do to him and the insect responds by telling the farmer to go ahead and try and see where that gets you. Less often the dialogue is between the farmer and his creditors and reflects dfficulties the family is having because of the boll weevil.

19) Paul Oliver, in his book The Meaning Of The Blues says that the boll weevil was observed in Mexico as early as 1862.

20) Enterprise Alabama 1919: erected a monument to the boll weevil which read "In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument is erected by the citizens of Enterprise---12/11/1919". The insect forced the southern farmers to diversify their crops.

21) classification:
order: coleoptera family: curculionidae zoological name: anthomormus grandis

22)Here's what Woody Guthrie had to say about the boll weevil in the book Hard Hitting Songs For Hard Hit People:

"The boll weevil was a homebreaker, and worse than that, he was a home getter. There are certain ways of whispering into women's ears, certain ways of sayin' things, certain ways of talkin' about their hair, their eyes, their red ruby lips and their beauty that some fellers are talented with. These boys are called home winners. They win a home with a good warm bed, abottle of liquor, a new June bride, and all the good things and heartaches that go with it, but---all of this, all of your soft words about love and romance, all of your whispers about home and fireside and little ones; all of those are beat out by one black bug from Mexico. All of your years and months of hard work , all of your breaking the land, all of your greasing the machinery, all of your oiling the tractor, all of your feeding the team of horses, all of your nights and mornings of back-breaking work are wiped out in one broad sweep by the little boll weevil. They come in millions, they come in jillions, and they blacken the earth and the fields, and the green cotton stalks and they take away everything that you have worked for and dreamed of for years and years---just lookin' for a home---just like you was looking for a home.

It's a funny old world when a little black bug can stop and starve and take away the home and the land of a man---and here's a song that comes from all over the cotton country, from Atlanta to Phoenix, Arizona all through Texas, back through the whole midwest and all over the nation to prove it. One animal a-lookin' for a home can deal another completely out of a home. Sing this one loud and long..."---------Woordrow Wilson Guthrie--------------------------------------------------

One of these days I'll get around to posting the composite version of this grand ballad that I put together from many different versions. When I quit (got tired of it) I had 62 verses. But right now I just wanna sit back and enjoy the turning of the year/millenium tonight. It is FUN to be here for it. One of you good folks out there ought to create a new version of "THE BOLL WEEVIL BALLIT" utilizing this thing I'm gonna ignore tonight called the "Y2K BUG". It seems right fittin' that one good bug deserves another.


(Abby, an interesting cassette will be on it's way to you after the holiday.)


Art Thieme