He died a broken man, heartbroken and betrayed, his name dragged through the mud in the press, a lone star crushed by the state of Texas.
His intentions were good. He went about doing everything the right way, in fact exactly as he should have. He was going to bring back hemp to Texas in a big way, create jobs, kick start an industry and contribute to the economy and overall wellbeing of East Texas.
Trout was an optimistic man, a hard worker and a true innovator. His story needs to be told and understood. He stood at the crossroads of an important point in history. Texas missed their chance at something big because of an irrational fear and a drastic misunderstanding. Texas now stands at another important crossroad in time.
Now, if you know anything about hemp you know there’s two kinds – the field hemp, you know, the kind that has about no THC content and is grown for industrial products – and then you have high grade cannabis, the stuff they called marihuana down in Mexico. Texas has a long history with both, and that seems to be where the confusion came in and caused all sorts of fear and alarm and such a fuss.
There seemed to be a lot of energy and enthusiasm for reviving the hemp industry in the mid 1930’s all around the country. Innovators were planning many advanced and modern uses for the plant. Something had turned though. The country was gripped in the era that we know now as “reefer madness”.
Texas was not deterred. Enter into the story, George Trout.
On October 23 of 1936 George Trout gave a speech to the Raymondville Kiwanis Club. He spoke on the culture of hemp in the Raymondville area.
A week later Trout announced that hemp production was about to proceed on a large scale. The price of hemp processing equipment that had been described as the only barrier to the industry was met by George Trout’s personal investment of $15,000 into the new machinery. Trout had already taken the machine through a test run on the first hemp crop raised.
On November 1, 1936, the excitement started to build with a new industry promised for Willacy County and a great opportunity for the farmers there. They talked about the many uses of hemp and were especially excited about the potential of hemp’s cellulose materials to make products such as cellophane.
The decortication plant was being built about five miles outside of Raymondville by George Trout’s Texas Hemp Association. The plans were to grow a large acreage of hemp in the area and then establish similar plants throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It was promised that hemp would be the supreme money crop of the valley.
Raymondville was exuberant. An editorial didn’t try to hide their enthusiastic optimism. They hailed the introduction of the hemp decortication plant as one of the string of industries coming to the valley in a fortunate break for the town and the area. They asked, “Honestly… do you see how they can keep the old place down now?”
1937 started off optimistically. The headline on February 21 said that Willacy farmers were seeking larger production of hemp and would increase acreage.
It was announced that 33,000 pounds of seed had been received and 700 acres contracted out. They said that this first major attempt was underway after two previous years of trials. George Trout and his partner, G.C. Wakefield had been in the area for some time working with farmers and making arrangements for the hemp plantings.
What was going on was nothing short of an agricultural and industrial revolution. The hemp decortication plant built by George Trout and his Texas Hemp Association solved an age old problem of fiber processing that had in olden time been accomplished with vast human labor. There was justifiably intense interest in this new emerging industry.
All of this was unfolding in an era of innovation. There was a phenomenon called chemurgy, the process of transforming agricultural commodities into industrial products. Texas was said to be at the vanguard of the chemurgical movement. At a meeting in Dallas in June industrial leaders discussed making car bumpers out of hemp and all sorts of interesting possibilities. All of this to give money to the farmers, bring unprecedented industrial development to the south and promote general industrial decentralization
Things seemed to be chugging along quite nicely like a train on greased tracks. Wait, what? Did someone say something about industrial decentralization? Can’t have that, time to inject some hysteria…
On June 23, 1937, it was announced in the headlines that “Marijuana Being Grown in Willacy for Hemp”.
Despite the misleading headline it was explained that hemp was a non-narcotic variety.
The Texas Hemp Corporation had $100,000 laid up in stock. The article said that the corporation was working with the United States experiment station to determine whether new varieties of hemp can flourish in Texas.
The whole thing was about to blow up with irrational fears. That same day, June 23, 1937 the Brownsville Herald ran the headlines “Narcotic Use of Marihuana Crop Refuted: Corpus Sheriff Asks Governor to Act On Large Crop Grown Near Raymondville”
Trout acknowledged that it was a species of “marihuana” but that they cultivated it with a permit and for commercial purposes only.
Trout said that 500 acres pf hemp had been planted but 375 acres were plowed under because of lack of rain, leaving them with 125 acres.
The Texas Hemp Corporation had the exclusive rights to use the specific hemp processing machinery in the state of Texas and also the exclusive right to the machinery for making hemp products.
They were operating under the supervision of the Texas State Department of Public Health. They were still promising a big industry for the valley. It was reported that other communities were experimenting with hemp but commercialization would take some time because more experimentation was required.
The next day, on June 24, 1937 the Brownsville Herald ran the headlines “New Industry for Valley Seen in Hemp Growing: State Ranger Force Pushes Investigation Into ‘Marijuana’ Production in Fields Close to Raymondville”.
The article said that Ranger Captain Bill McMurray was being sent to Raymondville to investigate. They said that he had previously investigated many foes of peace and order and was now investigating another foe – “marihuana”. He had been asked by Texas Governor Allred after the governor heard reports of patches of marihuana thriving in the valley.
George Trout was quoted as saying, “It would be as ridiculous to destroy this hemp because a few persons steal some stalks to smoke as to forbid the raising of wheat, rye and other cereals because they are used in making whiskey”.
Trout pointed out that he was trying to introduce a cash crop that would make an excellent rotation crop with cotton and that it thrived in the valley growing 12 feet in 60 days.
It was noted that in the past hemp was hindered by lack of modern processing machinery but that now finally with new machinery America could finally compete with the foreign producers of hemp.
It was announced that the Texas Rangers had begun their investigation into reports of widespread cultivation of marihuana in the Rio Grande Valley and that Trout had come under fire.
Why were they investigating the hemp fields? Because they arrested a man who had a cotton sack full of hemp blossoms they determined to be marihuana. While they were transporting the prisoner they saw a field of hemp growing and suspected that the man had stolen the hemp blossoms from the field.
The article contained a photograph of George Trout standing happily and proud at the edge of his hemp field, the hemp towering over his head. You can almost see the vision in his eyes
An article the same day in the McAllen Daily Press asked in their headline, “Is it Marihuana or Hemp? Officers Conducting a Probe”
Still another paper, The Monitor published a picture of Trout’s hemp machine in work with the caption “Valley-Grown Hemp (Marihuana) Shown”
They noted that federal authorities had inspected and approved his operation and that there was no federal law against marihuana and that it was a necessary industry. They did urge caution though so that marihuana did not get into the wrong hands.
It was announced that 12 arrests had been made in Edinburgh and two arrests in Raymondville in connection with possession of marihuana believed to have been stolen from the fields belonging to or being grown for the Texas Hemp Corporation. It was said the hemp had only mild narcotic properties when in bloom right before harvest
The Herald ran an article “Rangers Inspect Hemp Production; Growing Found in Accord With State Law”. The article said that Texas Rangers had inspected the local hemp experiment and then contacted farmers and told them they were in compliance. George Trout guided the Rangers through the plant and demonstrated its operation. They said everything was legit. Confused yet?
On June 28 the Valley Morning Star announced “Rangers Arrive: Dope Smuggling Is Probed”. They said that “reliable sources that recent activity by smugglers which drew the hemp production industry into controversy, was to be thoroughly probed”
On July 1 the Brownsville ran the headline, “Hemp Growers Assured Cultivation Here Legal”.
The article started out, “Farmers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley need have no fear about growing commercial hemp, declared Colonel H.H. Carmichael, chief of the state public safety department in an interview exclusive with Texas Capitol News Service. He is today turning over samples received from Ranger Captain Bill McMurray to a state laboratory for analysis.”
The article mentioned the hemp being grown in fields around the state and excitedly told about the hemp hats and other beautiful objects they were making out of the hemp besides rope.
On July 4th, Valley Morning Star readers again read “Hemp Crop Approved”. It said “Willacy County farmers were assured by state officers that they might continue growing the commercial crop, whether or not tests showed narcotic content”
The next day the news hit, “Arrests Made In Willacy Hemp Probe: Topped Plant Found By Officers”. They announced a third arrest of someone who said they had hemp cut from the fields.
On July 16, the Brownsville Herald published this editorial:
“The Willacy County News feels that injustice has been done the county as a result of the publicity surrounding the charges that marihuana was being grown commercially and illegally in the county.
With which the News proceeds to explain how the hemp fiber plantation happened to be established in the county.
“Some time ago,” says the News, “Mr. Geo. H. Trout was invited to come to Willacy County and use certain lands for the experiment of raising hemp for industrial use. Before doing this, it was necessary for the Texas Hemp Corporation, of which Mr. Trout is the president, to secure from the federal government a special permit to grow this product.”
“Federal authorities readily granted this permit and this company at a tremendous expense set up equipment on the Clark orchards and within a radius certain lands were contracted for and agreements were made with the growers of that section to experiment with the raising of this product. The experiment has been carried on according to the rules of the permit granted this company.”
“This company,” continues the News, “has endeavored to place a new industry in Willacy County. It has spent considerable money to make the venture a success and establish an industry in Willacy County, which is badly needed.
“It might be said that anyone raising corn in Willacy County was violating the law, since corn whiskey can be manufactured from corn, or other alcoholic beverages manufactured from certain products grown on the farm. Nevertheless, all of these were overlooked and the growing of hemp seemed to be the target of the public officials.
“It might be an excellent idea for the party who started all the fuss about Willacy County to clean his own backyard first and rid his county seat of gambling devices and other unlawful activities before starting in on a county which does not concern him in any way.”
Two days later there was a brief report that explained that one of the Rangers sent to Willacy County to investigate the hemp situation was suspended after being found guilty of a contempt charge.
The steady stream of bad press and undue hysteria became too much. Finally, the whole thing broke and that was that. The hemp industry was over.
On July 26, 1937, the Brownsville Herald ran the headline “Governor Bans Hemp Crop in Valley”
Under the main headline the story declared in bold “Orders Crop Destroyed in Willacy Area; Permits to be Denied by State; Dangers Of Narcotic Use Cited In Official Move”.
The governor was quoted as saying “From the days of the Persians of old marihuana has been one of the most dangerous and deadly narcotics. I am much more interested in a crop of humanity than a fiber crop”.
A total of 475 acres of hemp had been plowed under and another 220 acres of hemp had been cut and burned under orders from the governor. Trout promised to cooperate but was sadly quoted as saying “Now that the culture of hemp known as ‘Cannabis Sativa’ has been outlawed in Texas, the future of the Texas Hemp Corporation is indefinite; I don’t know what we are going to do.”
He was told that because it was impossible to establish a system to protect the “marihuana fields” from theft if Trout wanted to stay in business the company would have to depend on foreign countries for their source of hemp.
Can you imagine that? An American businessman, a Texan, was told that the country would rather rely on a foreign product that could easily be produced and manufactured in America!
Governor Allred said in a conference call that all hemp growing in the Lower Valley have been destroyed and no more permits would be issued again.
The article repeated the insane propaganda, “Hemp, according to the governor, is the same as marihuana, which is the same as the notorious East Indian drug, hasheesh.”
The governor said that George Trout and the Texas Hemp Corporation were mistaken when they believed that they had a permit. He urged law enforcement to strictly enforce the new narcotic law the termination of all hemp growing. He warned that anyone who cultivated the plant would face ten years in prison. Governor Allred said, “The marihuana menace far outweighs any benefits to be derived from commercial hemp production.”
A month went by without much more news on the situation. Finally, on September 10 The Hearn Democrat published the following editorial titled “Hemp in Texas” that perfectly summarized what had just unfolded in the preceding months. It read:
“Hemp, an East Indian plant, the fiber of which may be easily separated from the stalk, has long been used in the far East for making cord and course textile fabrics. For many years it has been grown in Kentucky and some other states, for its fiber, which is valuable in the textile industry.
At Raymondville, in Willacy County, Texas, the Texas Hemp Corporation built a factory for processing the plant to get its fiber, and 30 or 40 farmers in the community went to growing it and found a ready sale for it at a comparatively good price.
Our legislature has recently passed a law making it a felony punishable by two to ten years in the penitentiary to grow any narcotic plant in Texas without a permit. Our governor says no permit will be issued to growers of hemp. The powerful drug hasheesh, similar in its effects to marihuana, may be extracted from it. Acting under orders from the Department of Public Safety, the farmers near Raymondville have destroyed all their hemp and will plant no more. Officers throughout the state have been instructed to ferret out any small patch that may exist and destroy it.
The Willacy County farmers have our sympathy. Hemp has been grown elsewhere in the United States and no questions raised. However, it was grown for fiber, not for production of a drug. Growers have had to make a great sacrifice because the plant can be put to a bad use by those evilly disposed. Hemp-raising might have developed into a great Texas industry. But, considering the general welfare, our legislature was probably justified in passing a law to make more difficult the obtaining of a plant that can be used to degrade men and women”
Sigh. Poor George Trout. Can you imagine what that man must have been going through? He spent $15,000 to build the decortication plant and had $100,000 invested overall. He signed up farmers, did experiments and all due diligence in putting into effect a hope that many people had for many years – to bring industrial hemp as a fiber industry in a big way to Texas. Everything was going good and then all this blew up and got out of hand, this irrational fear and misunderstanding revolving around the mistaken belief that hemp was the same thing as “marihuana”.
How hard it must have been on him! How it must have worn him down, exhausted him emotionally and physically, not to mention the loss of his entire investment as well. How long can a man go on after that? How does a man recover from that blow?
Well, in the case of George Trout, sadly, on Friday, October 1, 1937, he died. The whole ordeal must have killed him.
He died, just like that, a few weeks shy of a year from his first appearance in this story with his speech to the Kiwanis Club on October 23, 1936 and just four months after the whole controversy over his crop and his business erupted when the sheriff of Corpus Christi sent his letter to the governor and asked him to intervene. He died less than two and a half months after hemp was crushed and banished from Texas forever.
What an ironic day to die. On the day that George Trout died American history changed forever. On the day of his death on October 1, 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act went into effect. It had been signed into law on August 2, 1937. Now, the state of Texas could bring both barrels down on anyone growing, selling or possessing cannabis or even industrial hemp.
What a tragic time to be starting a hemp business. If you were going to ever start a hemp business in the United States, 1937 was the worst year to do it.
On the same day as the obituary of George Trout, the Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light carried the news of the new federal law. The first three paragraphs read:
“Marihuana, the wicked weed that arms cowards with a false and fleeting bravery, came today under severe restriction of the federal narcotic laws.
The marihuana tax act of 1937 went into effect, hanging a maximum fine of $2,000 , imprisonment for five years or both, over the heads of those convicted of violating any one of its 17 sections. In Texas, it backed up a state law virtually banning the narcotic, in which the terms of imprisonment upon conviction is from two to ten years with no provision for a suspended sentence.
Marihuana is a derivative of Indian hemp and its effects are as varied as they are vicious.”
After a few paragraphs of typical era reefer madness, in which they give an awesome description of the smell of cannabis – “like a wet bale of alfalfa hay mixed with molasses” – they say that the state law controlling hemp allows cultivation of hemp under permit but that no permits would be issued because there was no way to keep people from using it illegally.”
On November 24, the Valley Morning Star published an editorial. They said they were glad to learn of the new war on marihuana. They said that a unified drive would do the job and get it done quickly. They said it was a member of the hemp family, it grew well and all over the southwest and that its users often went insane and ran amok and killed people.
A couple weeks later more exaggerated hysteria emerged. The hemp was growing wild all over the place. They claimed the farmers had thought they were growing tall fiber hemp varieties but it turned out to be 18 “ marihuana varieties, an outright lie or drastic misrepresentation of the facts. We have pictures of the hemp so we know it was a lie.
George Trout must have been rolling in his grave.
In fairness, the Lower Rio Grande was flooded with “marihuana” back in those days. Tons of it was coming over the border and through the valley. From descriptions back then, it seems it was as common as it is now in society. I can guarantee one thing though – they sure as heck weren’t getting it from the hemp farmers, no way.
For a lot of people, it must have seemed like the whole world was turning upside down. What the heck was going on? Hemp? The crop that had been growing in America for the last 400 years? Texas wasn’t the only place that was confused. All over America hemp farmers were being arrested. Just for one example, take this headline from Michigan, called “Dopey Chicks Thrive On Hot Marihuana”.
Flash forward about four years to 1942. Here’s the second part of the story and where it gets interesting. All of a sudden hemp was back. Japan had invaded the Philippines and cut off our supply of Manila hemp. As many of you know a few hundred thousand acres were grown throughout the Midwest at the encouragement of the federal government.
Suddenly on March 25, 1942, farmers in Texas were told that they could grow hemp. The state agricultural commissioner had asked the state attorney general and he made it official. He noted that Texas and especially the Rio Grande Valley could produce great quantities.
The times were definitely changing. Hemp was now a war crop and it was considered highly patriotic to grow it. The government had big plans for hemp and they were asking patriotic farmers to grow it.
And then, on the last day of 1942, our story comes full circle around again. The headline in the Brownsville Herald was “Hemp Crop For Valley Seen Possible – Plant Grows Well In Valley, But Was Halted By Texas Rangers.
The article started out:
“News received from Washington today that the government is launching a huge marijuana plant production program in six mid-west states renewed hopes in the Valley that permission would be granted to grow marijuana here, and revive an industry that was nipped by Texas Rangers in the 30’s.”
They went on to explain the desperate wartime situation with hemp and the dire necessity of raising the American crop.
Enter into our story one last time, George Trout, the Texas hemp hero, his name revived. It breaks my heart to read their account of him and his work. Such a good, fine man of decency. He was ruined by an out of control state acting on ignorance and misinformation. Here is what they said on that last day of 1942:
“Marijuana grows wild in the Valley, and several years ago George Trout, who had grown hemp successfully in South America, invested over $100,000 in Willacy County to develop it there.
He obtained permission from the State Department of Agriculture to plant between 400 and 500 acres of the plant, and installed elaborate machinery in a large building on the Clark Orchard five miles from Raymondville.
He made a thorough investigation of conditions here, and found that hemp of a very fine quality could be grown successfully. Rangers Destroy Crop
He planted his crop, and had harvested part of it when the government ordered Texas Rangers to step in and destroy the plants, charging that natives were invading the field and making marijuana.
From the portion of the crop that had been harvested before the Rangers acted, Trout had succeeded in making an exceptionally high grade of hemp. It was so fine that linen handkerchiefs and cloth was made from it in his plant, which still stands idle and rusty north of Raymondville.
After his field was destroyed and he was ordered to not to plant any more hemp, Trout went before the state legislature seeking to recover his $100,000 investment, but failed.
He died shortly afterwards, broken in health and in finances. Machinery Still There
The machinery still stands in Willacy County, and hopes were expressed today that it would be repaired and put to use again to help the war effort.
Attempts will be made to obtain permission to grow hemp, it was said, even if the Commodity Credit Corporation does not aid in financing.”
So there you have it, the story of how Texas destroyed the hope of hemp and wrecked the life of a good man, George Trout and caused him to die a saddened and broken man.
Texas has a chance to correct their mistake. We can’t hang on to 1937. We have to be more like the end of 1942, get some of that patriotic spirit back and bring another great industry back to Texas.
We know more in 2017 than we did in 1937. We need to correct our past mistakes with our current knowledge. Industrial hemp is NOT “marijuana” and can never be used as a drug. We can finally lay the genuine concerns of the previous generation to rest.
A statute should be erected in honor and loving memory of George H. Trout, a true American hemp hero and pioneer for the future of Texas.
Les Stark is a hemp historian and author of Hempstone Heritage, a book about the history of hemp in Pennsylvania. He is the executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, board member of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and volunteer of the National Hemp Association.
(C) 2017 Les Stark, All Rights Reserved.