Monday, April 23, 2012

Commander Mills Cotton Mill, Sand Springs, Oklahoma

The Commander Mills Cotton Mill
by Ken Neal

         Mom and Dad both worked at the cotton mill in Sand Springs, Oklahoma (aka, Commander Mills) which shut down sometime in the 1970s, I think, a casualty of cheap overseas labor.
These cotton mills were all over the South and Charles Page reportedly bought an entire mill in South Carolina, disassembled it and reassembled it in Sand Springs, probably in the early 1920s.

Some employees came to Sand Springs from South Carolina. I specifically remember a woman named Crowder that the folks thought highly of. Her son, Lyle Crowder, later became head of the Savings and Loan at Sand Springs.
In the jargon of the mill, a “doffer” was a job usually held by men because it was strenuous. Basically, a doffer took off spindles and replaced them. Fine cotton yarn was wound around a spool and the thread then fed into looms. A doffer would get a box full of spindles to replace the depleted ones. It required great manual dexterity and some guys, namely my uncle Jim, never got the hang of it.
Of course your Grandpa was one of the fastest doffers of his time and could replenish the “frames” in much less than the allotted time. Uncles Junior and Charley were great doffers, according to Dad, and finally were faster, he said. But dad laughed about beating Junior barely and then pretending to be loafing. They called it doffing a round.
Mom was a spinner for a time and by all accounts very good. It is interesting how much pride all these people took in being the best at very menial jobs.
To your question, mom was not a doffer because that was a job reserved for men. Women were spinners: although some were so good they would often help a struggling doffer. Apparently, it involved great skill to feed a thread into what they called travelers. I was never in the mill but I heard hundreds of conversations about the mill.
Working conditions were awful. The place was filled with cotton dust. There was no cooling in the summer. Men and women would come off a shift with their clothing soaked with sweat. One of my earliest memories of my dad was seeing him in this condition.
He worked the third shift for a time, which meant he went to work at 11 p.m. and got off at 7 a.m. We lived at 209 Cleveland and the mill was at the curve of Charles Page in southeast Sand Springs. He would walk home, stop at the neighborhood grocery, buy a quart of milk and a strawberry soda pop. He would drink the cream off, fill the milk bottle with the pop and drink it before going to bed.
I think you can imagine trying to sleep during the hot summer in Sand Springs. Mom spent most of her time trying to keep me quiet in a two-room shack so he could sleep.
Mom did not work during the time of the 1940 census when we lived at 317 Wilson. She went to work sometime after we moved to 209 Cleveland. I think it was during the war. I well remember being parked next door with Mrs. Parrish to wait until time to go to school. Mrs. Parrish would feed me breakfast and old Man Parrish would entertain me. They were our landlords and mom and dad thought highly of them.
Even my dog Brownie was their great friend. They had a little mongrel named Tiny that was several years old when we got Brownie. Brownie soon was much bigger than Tiny and they became fast friends. Yet old man Parrish liked to sic Tiny on Brownie to watch the fun. The little dog would manfully obey, only to be quickly put down by his big buddy, who must have wondered why the hell Tiny was sometimes so threatening. The big dog would get the little one down and simply hold him there with his paws. Mr. Parrish thought this was funny so he would put poor Tiny through this repeatedly.
Brownie roamed the town and when the Parrishes moved north several blocks, he quickly found them and would “visit” on a regular basis. Mrs. Parrish would answer his “knock” and feed him and Tiny. This continued until Brownie got killed at the age of 14. Brownie had several stops on his “route,” including my grandmother’s house and God knows whom else.
When I was in high school, mom worked at the mill inspecting bed sheets, which were the primary products the mill produced in Sand Springs.


  1. My grandparents Bama and Harvey Brackin and several of their children also worked at the Commander Cotton Mill in Sand Springs. My grandfather was a doffer as well. They lived at 218 Cleveland for many years, so they may have been neighbors.

    Cliff Thomas

  2. The cotton mill shutdown around 1964, parents, uncle and aunt and family friends all worked there. It shut down before I started high school in 1964.

  3. I just discovered today that my dad worked here as well. Probably in 1940.