Elaine Lowry

Spoon River Corn Husking

Elaine Lowry

When Dad still lived at home, he would get up around 4:00 a.m., get the fire going in the kitchen cook stove, then go out to do chores. He would feed the horses and mules he was going to use that day so they would have time to eat while he did the rest of the chores: milking, feeding and watering the hogs, feeding and watering the chickens, and feeding the young cattle if they didn't have a ready supply of hay. Then he would pump water for the livestock that were shut in the barn lot or for all of the livestock if the creek was frozen.

Then he would come in and eat breakfast. If his father felt up to it, he helped with chores, then the family ate breakfast together. His three older sisters were already married and gone, but he had two younger sisters. One was only two years younger than Dad, and she seemed to be the one to go and stay with anyone in the neighborhood who had any kind of illness, new babies, or the elderly and dying. His youngest sister was twelve years younger, so she would have been getting ready for school.

As soon as he had eaten breakfast and made sure all the chores were done and all the water and wood carried in that his mother and/or sisters might need for the day, he harnessed the horses or mules and headed for the cornfield. He harnessed as many teams as he thought he would need to pull the loaded wagons up out of the river bottom mud

All harnessed up and ready to go shuck corn!

After the corn was out at home or on any of his father's rented land or for any of the older neighbors who might have trouble getting the crop harvested, then Dad hired out to some of the larger farmers to shuck corn by the day, or by the week, or until all their corn was harvested. Sometimes he stayed with the farmer where he was working. Often he stayed at home and walked to the farmer's place each morning and home each evening. Occasionally he stayed during the week and came home on Saturday night and left again Monday morning.

He told of one place where the housewife cooked quite a bit, but only put enough food on the table for one helping each. For supper they had the same thing - one helping each. Maybe the next day the menu was the same again - one helping each. Another place the were four or five young men in their late teens and mid twenties shucking corn. As the husband watched the food disappearing, he began to look worried and exclaimed, "I don't mind seeing you eat, but it sure would be nice to have something to set out for supper." That sure put a damper on the appetites!

One farmer in the Spoon River bottom near what used to be Thompson Lake always had large acreage's of corn and several young men to help shuck corn. He and his wife always encouraged the fellows to eat and tried to make them comfortable. Besides, the wife was a wonderful cook. Dad said he always felt at home there.

Headed for the corn field. Note the reinforcement to help pull the wagon home.

(Her colt wanted to come, too!)

  When a fellow hired out to shuck corn (in the 1920's and 1930's), he was paid a penny a bushel for the amount of corn he shucked. That, of course, included harnessing the mules, driving the teams and wagons to the fields, shucking the corn, pulling the loaded wagons up out of the river bottom cornfields to the corn cribs, scooping the corn into the cribs, feeding and caring for the mules at day's end, and putting harness and wagons away. A few farmers wanted the horses and mules curried each evening after they were through working in the fields. (If you have ever worked in river bottom mud, you know what an exercise in futility that would have been!) In some of the fields where Dad worked, he would have to take six teams of mules to pull the wagons out of the river mud. It took a good man to shuck and scoop 100 bushels of corn each day by the time you got to the field, cared for the teams, etc. Dad could almost always get his 100 bushels unless a wagon broke down, or they got stuck and had to go borrow more horse or mule power - or if someone else needed help. Dad shucked corn for the same farmer (the one who fed him well and where he felt at home) for several years as he liked Dad's work and his treatment of the mules. 

A neighbor with his wagon of corn stops to chat. He's moving from one crib to another, and the chickens don't want to lose any opportunity for a few extra grains. The man with the scoop is standing on the scoopboard. It was designed so a man could start scooping at the bottom of the corn piled in the wagon. It is extremely hard to scoop ear corn if you can not get the scoop under it.