Bottle Collecting in 1903 Was All Clear Profit


President, White County Historical Society, 1974-75


e boarded a St. Louis & Iron Mountain railroad train from Eufaula to Fort Smith, and from there to Mansfield, 30 miles south of Fort Smith, on the Frisco Railroad. We arrived in Mansfield, Arkansas, some time in February 1903. All of us school-age children soon started to school. Mansfield was considered a coal mining town but there was some farming done also. It was located on the Rock Island and Frisco railroads. They are both closed down now. Father and my two older brothers went to work at different jobs but they wouldn’t work in the mines.

About the only way I could make any money was selling empty whiskey bottles. There were three saloons in Mansfield, and a large livery stable where the men would go to drink, as it was against the law to drink in the saloons. They would throw their empty bottles where they wouldn’t break. If any whiskey was left, they would hide the bottle in a safe place! Ha! After school in the evenings I would spend most of my time hunting bottles, empty or not. I got real good at finding those that were hidden. I would always smell to see if it was soured before I poured it out. It always was.

I was selling good clean bottles at one cent each, not much money but it was all clear profit - 15 to 30 cents a day. But our stay in Mansfield was very short. Father wanted to go back to Tennessee for the rest of his life (the best place in the world). So before the summer was over, we were all back in old Tennessee, ready to start all over again. Father loved that part of the country very much, but it was hard to make a living there for a large family. Well, we got a good place to live, a good house and only three miles from school. Of course, the children had to walk but it was downhill about the same both ways. So, you see, it wasn’t so bad. Some children had to walk further than that.

The above is an excerpt from “White County Wisdom, 90 Years of Short Stories.” The book is available for $10 postage paid from the White County Historical Society, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145. Walter’s widow has donated proceeds from the book to the Society.