Tobacco Heritage Stories

Tobacco has long been an integral part of the economy and community in Horse Cave, both growing tobacco and the process and industry of receiving and auctioning or selling that tobacco at the warehouse. We spoke with several individuals in the Horse Cave community involved in tobacco – on farms and at warehouses – to learn about the tobacco industry and its importance, both to their own lives and to Horse Cave as a community.

Many tobacco farmers are born into the industry; it is something that has been a family tradition, and so they begin their working lives in tobacco at an early age.

Listen to R.T. Turner as he describes his beginnings in tobacco from the time he was a little boy:

Mike Slaughter describes tobacco farming as part of his family heritage, and also remembers his first tobacco related duties:

How It Was

Horse Cave was one of the largest tobacco marketing centers in the region. Listen to Stanley Walton describe the importance of the tobacco warehouse and market for Horse Cave and his own experience working in the warehouse:

Glen Redford describes the work that he was engaged in while working in the tobacco warehouses as a ticket marker:

R.T. Turner discusses the amount of tobacco that would pass through the Horse Cave warehouses in one season in comparison to other nearby tobacco marketing centers:

Turner also explains that Horse Cave not only was one of the largest tobacco centers, but also produced some of the finest tobacco as well:

Mike Slaughter discusses the importance of Horse Cave to the tobacco warehouse industry, and describes the relationships that the tobacco farmers would build with the warehouse man:

In the summer and fall of 2013 Western Kentucky University Folk Studies and Anthropology Professor Ann Ferrell and Kentucky Folklife Program Director Brent Bjorkman took part in a City of Horse Cave-funded oral history project that documented stories about the rich tobacco warehouse culture of the town. The excerpts from the longer interviews are found here on this page and are meant to give visitors a better understanding as to the historic importance of this crop to the community. Thanks to WKU Folk Studies Graduate student Josh Chrysler for making these audio selections.

How It Was

There have been several changes in the tobacco raising and warehouse industry over time. Listen to Stanley Walton explain one of them: the change from hand tying to baling tobacco:

Mike Slaughter explains the efficiency of the switch from hand tying tobacco to baling tobacco, and discusses his experience in switching from plant beds to float beds as well, which is another major way that the process of raising tobacco has changed over time:

Another major change was the tobacco buyout, which ended the federal tobacco program that had been in place since the 1930s. With the end of the tobacco program, the vast majority of farmers now contract directly with tobacco companies rather than selling their tobacco at auction.

Tommy Bale describes the ways in which this change occurred:

This change also altered the work of a tobacco warehouse man, as Glen Redford describes the differences between working at the auction warehouse and a contracting receiving station:

The tobacco buyout has also changed the way that Horse Cave exists as a community. Tobacco was once the impetus for community in Horse Cave. Stanley Walton describes how vibrant Horse Cave was as a community when the tobacco warehouse industry was at its height in Horse Cave:

R.T. Turner describes the effect that this change had on the community of Horse Cave:

Tommy Bale describes how the annual opening of the tobacco market was once a cause for celebration, but is no longer:

The Future

Despite the changes in the tobacco industry, there is still plenty to be optimistic about for the future of tobacco in Horse Cave. Mike Slaughter feels that tobacco farmers are often forgotten or looked down upon, and hopes the public can come to understand that tobacco farmers are just like any other kind of farmer:

Tommy Bale explains why he feels tobacco is still important to Horse Cave and the surrounding region, even if the general public doesn’t realize it, and feels that there has never been a better time to raise tobacco: