Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leslie Thorbs, May 30, 2001. Interview K-0589. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Use of mules in tenant farming

Thorbs briefly describes the use of mules for plowing in the farming of tobacco, cotton, corn, and soybeans in eastern North Carolina. Thorbs grew up as the child of tenant farmers in the region during the 1930s. During the 1940s, he worked as a tenant farmer on his own, before going to work for a factory.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leslie Thorbs, May 30, 2001. Interview K-0589. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LEDA HARTMAN:
So your family, your parents, they were tenant farmers?
LESLIE THORBS:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My dad was raised on a farm, too. That's where he was raised at.
LEDA HARTMAN:
So he was on that farm his whole life, too?
LESLIE THORBS:
He was raised up there on that farm too. LH : What all did you grow? What was your regularߞ?
LESLIE THORBS:
Oh, tobacco, cotton, and corn and soybeans.
LEDA HARTMAN:
What was your regular workday like in those days? Did you plow the mules?
LESLIE THORBS:
Yeah. [unclear] black people farm with now. We used mules, disk harrows, walking harrows and different things like that. Really, now I would even hardly know how to farm. But I would have to go out there and get onto the way they're farming now what the way they tend now.
LEDA HARTMAN:
What kind of harrows did you use? You said you used walking harrows.
LESLIE THORBS:
Yeah, walking harrows. Walking harrowsߞlet the mule pull the walking harrow.
BETTY HOWES:
Finger like things.
LESLIE THORBS:
Some of these farms probably have them now, but they are some made up kind of like a turtle ring, but it was a harrow where you walked behind the mule and that's what we plowed tobacco, corn, and cotton to start off with. Then we left there and went to the cotton plow and left there and laying by corn and stuff, we laid it by with a turning plow. Now they use tractors. Wasn't such thing as any, I wish I could find me a mule now.
LEDA HARTMAN:
We'd have a hard time.
BETTY HOWES:
Did you have mules?
LESLIE THORBS:
That's what when I was farming I had.
BETTY HOWES:
Did your mules have personalities?
LESLIE THORBS:
Yeah, Lord.
BETTY HOWES:
Tell us about one of your mules.
LESLIE THORBS:
The mules I could plow my seven acres and [when] the days got long like it is now, I'd take one mule and get out there and plow my seven acres a day.
LEDA HARTMAN:
That would be a really strong mule. That'd be a good sturdy mule.
LESLIE THORBS:
Lord, have mercy. We had some good mules back in along there.