Comments from the canyons: Tow sacks another lost part of history

While some of us were trying to wrap gifts during the holidays, I mentioned that I really needed a tow sack in which to place a box because it would be much easier to use than any wrapping material around. Of course, that set off a discussion of the lack of such sacks these days and the many uses we had for them in the past.

That led further to some investigating because we knew such sacks were called by various names, such as gunny sacks, poke sacks, and burlap bags. We also knew the sacks were woven out of yarn or twine made of coarse jute or hemp.

We were more familiar with the idea of the hemp twine, but we found that the jute twine was made from plants from East India. Whatever the twine, it surely was coarse and strong, much the same as binder twine.

We bought many items that came in those wonderful sacks and then saved the sacks to be used for all sorts of tasks around the house, barns, and corrals. When we lived in those canyons, we always bought a hundred pounds of potatoes at a time, and they were sewn into those tow sacks. Often, those potatoes were grown in the nearby fields and sorted and sacked at the Potato Shed in House. Most of the sacked cattle feed came in gunny sacks into which we would dip a can until we had used enough feed so we could lift the bag with ease.

We used the empty sacks for storage, for carrying other items from place to place, for keeping out drafts around doors, and almost anything for which heavy materials could be used. I usually carried one on my saddle when I rode to Uncle Burnace's store to get some groceries. They were ideal for hanging over the saddle horn or tying behind the saddle and could hold all the groceries on the list.

I remember seeing a number of the old-timers who did not have waterproof foot wear tying several tow sacks around their feet to keep them warm and fairly dry. Of course, they used some binder twine to tie the sacks securely and saw that they were wrapped almost to the knees in order to help keep their legs warm also. The more ragged sacks were good for rubbing down our horses because the fibers softened and became more "hand" friendly as they were used.

Because they were made of such coarse fabric, they were very sturdy and could be dragged around without causing them to tear. I couldn't begin to lift a hundred pounds of feed in those days but could drag it from place to place. Sometimes, little slivers of the yarn would stick into the tender parts of my hands and would cause me to have to get some tweezers to remove them. It seems they were worse about getting under my fingernails than into the skin on the palms of my hands.

At any rate, we had great need for such sacks when we lived in those canyons. Now, we rarely see one or even hear of anyone using them. Perhaps they are just another part of our history.

Lynn Moncus is a Tucumcari resident and can be contacted through the Quay County Sun by calling 575-461-1952.

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