By Marie Hughes, Chambers County Museum at Wallisville
The Halley Ray Moor, Sr., family of Hankamer can trace their roots back to Chittenden County, Vt., with the birth of Halley Ray’s great-great-grandfather, James Calvin Moor, about 1787, and from there back to bonnie old Scotland. James Calvin’s parents, Thomas Moor and Elizabeth Joyner, were both born of Scottish parents and emigrated from Scotland just a few years before the birth of John Calvin, most probably from the Scottish moors from which their name was taken, whether the Highland moors or the Lowland moors, I do not know.
One can only guess as to why they immigrated to the newly formed United States of America, but it was during the time of the great diaspora, or scattering, of Scots from the Highland moors of Scotland.
Following the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1747, where the fields of highland heather drank their fill of the patriots’ blood, Scottish culture, society and economy changed. No longer were the Scots of the Highland moors allowed to wear their traditional tartan clothing, play their bagpipes, or speak their natural Gaelic language. In addition, the persecution of the Episcopal Church, population explosion, and economic changes caused many of the Scots to leave their beloved land.
JAMES CALVIN MOOR
James Calvin, with the rich Scottish blood pulsing through his veins and a very short fuse, gave credence to the reputation of the hot-tempered Scotsman. Family tradition, recorded by Hallie Ruth Moor, states that James Calvin, when he was 18 years old, had a disagreement with his mom and dad.
The high-spirited, impulsive James decided to put it all behind him. Accompanied by a young friend, he set out to find adventure. They packed light, but because they were traveling during winter and knew there would be many frozen rivers to cross, they had the foresight to pack their ice skates. It was tough going and they faced many hardships as they traveled. Finally, overcome with fatigue, they sat down to rest and fell asleep. Before long, they were awakened rudely by a band of Indians, who took them captive. James, in his charming manner, soon won them over and the Indians assured them they would not harm them, but they would not let them go. When the Indians questioned them about the ice skates, they pretended not to understand them.
James, being as cunning as he was charming and hot-headed, when they approached a frozen river that required crossing, quietly told his companion to pretend they could not walk on the ice. Their animated antics of falling and rolling on the ice afforded the Indians much amusement and they were convinced the boys were helpless on the ice.
When they came to another river, James decided it was their chance to get away. They carried on with their familiar antics of falling and rolling around and allowed the Indians to get far in advance of them. Then, as quickly as they could secure their skates, they were off, traversing the ice with speed and agility. The Indians, realizing they had been duped, began running and shooting arrows at them but the boys, giving it all they had because their lives depended on it, were soon out of reach.
This was just the beginning of his adventures, for upon his arrival in New Orleans he enlisted with the Vermont militia and fought in the Battle of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson’s flag. Was this his primary goal when he left Vermont? Were the stories of his parents’ emigration from Scotland due to the British invasion simmering like burning coals in his soul? Was he itching to take a stand against the British? “He was so proud of his participation in this battle,” said Halley Ray, “that he had it engraved on his tombstone.”
TRAIN UP A CHILD
In Lafayette, La., Calvin met and married Lavinia Abshier and together they had 10 children. Joseph Asa, their youngest surviving son, was the great-grandfather of Halley Ray Moor, Sr. Calvin was a farmer and taught his sons to share in the responsibility of farming, teaching them how to farm and care for livestock. He also took time to teach them how to fish and hunt and, as soon as they became old enough to handle a gun, they were taught marksmanship.
THEY WERE FARMERS
“My family left Louisiana and migrated towards the area south of Beaumont,” said Halley Ray Moor, Sr. “From there, some of the other children of Calvin moved on towards Devers, settling south of Devers near Hankamer. It’s my understanding they were farmers and ranchers also. My grandfather, Euell Lester Moor, for some reason, I don’t know why, moved into Hankamer where my grandson Dylan lives now. My grandfather built the home where Dylan lives in 1903. He and grandma raised sweet potatoes. They would load the wagon up and take the sweet potatoes to Beaumont and sell them. It took them two trips to Beaumont to sell enough sweet potatoes to get the wood siding for their house,” exclaimed Halley.
“Grandpa planted his first rice crop in 1900. Daddy’s brother, Uncle Euell told me Grandpa had a boarding house next to his home. After the Clark’s bought the home place, Champ Clark turned the boarding house into a little office. There were no fences during those early days and the cattle ranchers would drive their cattle past there headed south to ship them to Galveston. Many times, they stayed there at the boarding house on their way and daddy and Uncle Euell’s job, as young boys, was to keep the herd corralled. Really, when you think about it,” contemplated Halley, “as the world goes it really hasn’t been that long ago. Uncle Euell farmed the land where Otho Turner lives now.
“When my dad, Halley Estes, married my mom they established their home in Anahuac and that’s where I grew up. I didn’t work too much on the farm when I was young except for driving a rice cart a few times. I do remember one time when I was about ten years old, I went out with Daddy and Uncle Euell cutting rice. Desra “Pluggy” Blue, who worked for the Moors over 40 years, was driving a combine and I’m on the little Ford tractor riding through the fields. It came to a point where I was either going to hit the combine or I was going to run over the rice. I thought I’d get killed if I ran over the rice, so I ran into the combine and dented the side of Pluggy’s machine, and he was all mad,” said Halley with laughter pulling at the corners of his smile.
“As a younger kid, I had a driver’s license at 14. A gang of us kids went out to Jenkins’ and we had two clover cutting crews using Farm All Tractors. I did that for a year or so then Meigs put me on a disking tractor, then he put me on a combine. Right after that I worked for the air services. I first worked for Tunze, Coastal Air, I think back in the day, then I went to work for A. J. Harmon. We were still all young kids. There are not many rice fields in Chambers County I haven’t been into at one time or another. When I got older, I started farming and I’ll tell you this,” said Halley, “up to today, I know where every low spot and every bog hole is in every field I’ve ever been in. That’s just something you always retain, I guess because it was such a nightmare.
HALLEY, SR. JOINS THE FAMILY LEGACY
“After I graduated, I went to college for about a year and a half and decided that wasn’t for me. I came home and Sheila Pennington and I got married and I started working for Dad the next year, in ‘72. He had two old combines and Pluggy always got the good tractor and the good horse, and I got the crappy ones,” laughed Halley. “Back when Pluggy worked for Grandpa and Euell, he would ride his horse to Grandpa’s place. When they were harvesting, there was a group of men and they had to ride across that ridge right there by where you live, the ridge ran down past where our camp is. They rode the wagons past our camp house down to where Grandpa farmed south of where the interstate is now on Eddie Ferguson’s land. That was White land at the time. I remember the stories about them being out there shocking rice until right at dark. Then they’d have to load up on the wagon, take the wagon back across the ridge to Grandpas, go out to the barn and catch their horses, saddle’em up, ride back to Hankamer and be back at daylight in the morning. That was a tough life for those guys, it was a tough life, it really was,” Halley softly replied.
A LOT OF SHOVELING & NO FOUR-WHEELERS
“I’ve farmed in Liberty County and Chambers County, and a little bit in Jefferson County. I leased a lot of land and finally bought some land in 1998, I believe, from the Boyt boys, Mark and Jeb. When I started farming, I was farming probably 350 acres. I remember back in the day we’d shovel to cut the overflow where the water goes from one levee to the next. We’d have someone holding the rice sacks and put the dirt in the sacks. A lot of shoveling and no four-wheelers back in the day,” said Halley.
HORSE CALAMITY & CHOKE CHALLENGES
“A lot of times Pluggy and I would ride horses, especially when we were going through the tall rice to cut the water off to let it dry up for harvest. We didn’t have roads in a lot of fields, and we walked a lot and did a lot of shoveling. I remember the mare I got to ride one time, she looked like she was going to be okay, you had to hold her reins when you shoveled. I let the reins down to shovel and I guess I moved too quick and she jerked her head up and went to running across the rice field. If I’d had a gun I think I would have shot her,” laughed Halley.
“But I chased her and finally ran her down. That was the days back then, a lot different from nowadays. Now you have four-wheelers and little track hoes, not as much shoveling goes on as back in the day. When I combined for my dad, he had a little Case combine, it was small compared to today’s combines. He also had an old Massey combine. Well, Pluggy got the Massey combine, it was the better one, and I got the little Case. The Case was like a tinker toy, just simple as it could be, I mean a blind man could work on it. But when the rice went down, and you had to pick it back up it didn’t really have the power. You’d get a slug down in the table auger and it’d get wet, and it would choke, then you’d have to try and roll it out backwards and get it out. Then you’d go about ten yards and have to turn around and do it again. . . it was a nightmare. Nowadays if you get a slug in there you just push a button on the floor of the combine and turn your machine on, and it’ll throw it out by itself. Things have improved so much,” said Halley.
“Back prior to aerial planting, the farmers had to drill to plant their rice. When the airplanes came into play they started flooding the fields to get them ready, then they’d throw their seed rice in sacks off in the canals. They’d let it soak for a couple of days then we kids would go in the canals and retrieve the sacks. We’d swim underneath them and catch them and load them on trucks, then they would put them in the barn overnight and let them sprout. The water was pink and purple from all the chemicals. It was fun for us at the time, but I’m surprised none of us have developed cancer or grown a third arm or something. It’s not too late, I guess,” laughed Halley. “They would take the sprouted seed and drop it in the field and turn the water off. The birds, blackbirds primarily, were probably a problem when they first started, but they came out with a chemical called Aldrin that they treated the seed rice with. I never saw the birds eating the rice because they sensed it was on there. Aldrin got outlawed and then when you dropped your seed it landed on top of the ground and the blackbirds would eat it up. When you see all that money you’ve spent getting your fields ready and the blackbirds eating it up, it’s really sickening.”
So, the farmers started trying to put the seed back in the ground, like they did in the old days.
“Some farmers would muddy their fields and drop the seed from airplanes, and it would kind of bury in the mud, not all of it but most of it, and the birds wouldn’t eat it like they did when it was on top of the ground. But that’s just a mess, when you work in the mud it’s never good. It’s hard on the equipment and the people, so most guys go back to drilling. Most all farmers now drill their rice unless it’s organic. The organic boys they’ll water up and will plant late in the summer when maybe the birds aren’t as bad. After the rice is planted, the best way to get it up is to have good rain because it doesn’t put too much water on it. Rice can’t take too much water for a long period of time when it’s in the ground ‘cause it will rot,” Halley said.
“Herbicides have changed over the years with different formulations. They are put out by airplanes and the more water you can put out per gallon per acre the better coverage you get. We have chemicals now that we put out half an ounce to an acre, a half an ounce to an acre in ten gallons of water. That’s not much, but it works, it’s amazing, but it costs a thousand dollars a gallon,” Halley said with emphasis’, but chuckled when he added. “but it costs a thousand dollars a gallon!”
It’s a lot easier to kill grasses now than it was back in the day. Back then, if you didn’t get it when it was young, you had to fight it harder and harder, and that made it more expensive.
“The chemicals have changed a lot, you don’t put near as much. When you used to go to the store to pick up chemicals, you had to take a trailer, nowadays you can haul it in the back of your pickup truck. You use lesser amounts but it’s more potent. Red rice is one of the biggest field problems, although it’s not as bad as it was back in the day. It’s a wild rice that’s probably been around since the days of the Indians. It grows really tall and bushes out real big and has a tendency when it’s really thick to just take your crop down when the wind comes in. It will choke out the good rice, and the mills, the buyers, will dock you for the red rice. I’d have to say the biggest problem for the rice industry is the price,” he said.
Rice has not kept up, pricewise, with the cost of living.
“It’s still basically the same as it was back when my grandpa and dad were farming. As a matter of fact, back in 1973, rice got up to over $20 a barrel, and considering the ratio of production and profit, they made as much then as they do today. It was right after the war and we were pretty much the big boys in the rice industry. The other countries grew rice, but they were not mechanized like we were. After the Vietnam War the world began to grow up on us, now Thailand, Vietnam, India, they’re some of our biggest competitors on the world market. We’re having to produce to compete with them and our cost of living is so much different than theirs. That’s probably the reason the price hasn’t gone up. It’s just an expensive crop to grow, I’ve heard farmers say right now it can range from $800-$1,200 an acre in and out,” he said.
When you’re farming a thousand acres, that’s a lot of money. Yields have increased with the varieties A & M and Louisiana have come up with, but, unfortunately the prices haven’t increased enough to keep it going.
“We all know the government has subsidies, but my thought pattern on that is, the government knows we have to have farmers around to farm and without the subsidies it would be over with, it would have been over with a long time ago. There’s somebody up there smart enough to know that. If we get to where we have to import food like we do oil, we’re in trouble,” Halley said.
One of the toughest things about farming is the financial burden; you’re borrowing a lot of money and almost everything depends on the weather.
“I remember in 1983 when Hurricane Alicia came through, I was farming 300 and some odd acres on Patty Boyt’s land south of the headquarters. We started cutting about two or three days prior to the storm coming. I had my old 95s out there cutting and couldn’t cut a whole lot. We cut as much as we could, I think we cut about 100 acres. I had some friends helping me cut and lightning was popping everywhere. How we got out of there without getting hurt, I don’t know. I had better than 200 acres left to cut and Alicia came in, which was a big wind and rain event. I’ll never forget the next time I saw my crop, which was probably about 10 days later. I couldn’t get in there before then because all the bayous and everything was flooded. The remainder of my crop was underwater, and that’s not good for it because the seed sprouts and the second growth starts growing up. That’s when Jerry Jenkins sent me some combines to help get the crop out, I’ll never forget it,” he said wistfully. “He sent the old 95s with crew and everything. We harvested the crop and got, I think, 17 barrels to the acre, about half of what we would normally get, which is not good, but we got through it. The rice we have now is short in stature, which has helped the rice industry a lot. The drought has certainly hurt the rice industry this year cutting many yields down to about 15-16 barrels per acre. That’s bad when you consider all the money that has been spent on production such as seed, fungicide, herbicide, and aerial costs.”
IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
Halley Ray Moor, Jr. following in his father’s footsteps, a legacy that began with Junior’s great-grandfather, has become one of the most prominent rice farmers in the area.
“My son, Halley Jr., had to move out of my house when he was 15 because he wanted to farm.” said Halley, Sr. “The banks won’t loan you money to farm unless you’re participating in a government program, which gives you a floor on your price. You couldn’t have two programs under one roof, so he moved to Winnie where he got a little house with a friend of his. He farmed on his own on an 80-acre field I let him have there and he made a pretty good rice crop. I always told my son if you’re going to farm, always buy your land, it’s better for you that way. So, Junior bought land, which was a big benefit to him. He bought his first section, securing a loan from a bank when he was 19.”
Halley is obviously proud of his son’s work ethic.
“He bought his second section when he was 21 and he’s been blowin’ and a-goin’ ever since. He’s always been a go-get-er. I’m proud of him and what he’s accomplished. He’s ventured into a lot of things,” said Halley.
THE ‘FUNNEST’ THING I EVER DID
“One of his ventures, which I believe is a big plus, is he bought the air service from Ronnie Jo Brown and added a couple more bigger airplanes. He flies one himself. When he was young, I had him with me when I stopped by A.J. Harmon’s place. A.J. Harmon had an airplane, a double-seater, and A.J. saw Junior out there looking at it. He said, ‘Do you think he’d want to go flying?’ I said, what do you think, A.J.! He took Little Halley out flying around and when he came back and loaded up in my truck to go home, I asked him, ‘What do you think about that?’ He said, ‘Dad, that’s the funnest thing I ever did in my life.’ Now he has a double hopper with a double-wing. I think that day as a boy in A.J.’s plane is where his roots came from for flying. A.J.’s the reason my son is flying today, he instilled that in him. I wish he wouldn’t fly because there’s an extra element of danger flying an ag plane, but he loves it,” he said.
KEEP ‘EM MOVIN’
“Junior bought a Walkabout Mother Bin for his rice farming, and I thought that was the dumbest thing he ever bought on the farm. But when it came time to harvest, and they set it up in the field I realized it was the smartest thing he ever bought. We were running six or seven combines and we needed those carts to get back to the combines to keep them going. The carts came on one side of it and the trucks on the other. The trucks are able to load from the mother bin at the same time the carts are dumping. The auger at the mother bin was so big the cart could dump in 3 or 4 minutes and be back in the field. Prior to the mother bin, they’d have to pull up to the trucks and slowly dribble the rice out, always having to pull up to finish dumping. We hardly ever wait on carts now, where in prior times we might have waited 3 or 4 hours on them. I think the mother bin will hold three truckloads of rice. I don’t know what it costs, but for someone farming a lot of acreage it is a very helpful tool,” assessed Halley.
Halley Ray Moor, Jr.’s sons are already working side-by-side with their dad in the rice fields along with Junior’s cousin, Dylan Reeser, son of Nicki Moor Staner. With the tenacious grit and love for the land ingrained in the Moor family, I have no doubt they will continue to carry on the family legacy and succeed at everything they put their hand to.
NO REPLACEMENT FOR OLDTIMERS
“The other day, I got to thinking, and I’ve thought about this a lot, back when I was young there were a lot of farmers, in Anahuac, Winnie area, Barbers Hill, Liberty, Devers, but over time those ‘old timers,’ most of them were old timers,” he said with a laugh. “They’re all gone, nobody replaced them. A lot of it was because of economics, the cost of farming; rice is the most expensive crop to grow. So, what’s happened, in the last 20 years especially, we’ve lost acreage in Chambers County, but not to the extent you would think. I think it’s because with equipment getting more expensive and living expenses increasing, and the whole nine yards, farmers, including myself, had to farm more acreage to make a decent profit, so they acquired more land. I would say the average rice farmer in Chambers County now farms probably somewhere between 800-900 acres, if not 1,000. There’s some that farm several thousand.”
Halley is reminiscent for the bygone days.
“It’s kind of sad. I remember the old guys, my dad and I used to help them cut rice, everybody helped everybody back in the day. There was Joe Bonnin Harvey Wolff, and Harvey Haynes, I can’t name them all, there were a lot of farmers, I mean a lot of them,” he said emphatically.
“Nowadays you can probably count them on one hand, especially around the Anahuac area. There’s just not that many breathing bodies. The other breathing bodies have taken on more acreage to help try and keep it going. When I was a kid and we’d drive around Chambers County you could hardly find a field without rice in it, nowadays you almost have to hunt for it. It’s kind of sad. The bird population, the ducks and the geese, they’ve migrated to other areas or short-stopped in Arkansas because they don’t have the feeding here they had back in the day. People might see a flock of geese today and think that’s a lot of geese, but that’s nothing like it was back in the day. The Jenkins’ area was well known for having tens of thousands of geese, but they don’t come around anymore. It’s hard on the hunters, the geese have become almost non-existent, but they’re going to go where the food is at,” Halley said.
“We’re going to have farmers. I think the government knows that we have to have farmers to feed the country. Rice is the biggest staple crop in the world, unfortunately, a lot of the world that buys our crop are the poor nations and they don’t have the money, that’s why the government has to step in. There will always be some farmers, but if I was going to guess I think at some point in time,” Halley said. “You’re going to see a corporation come in like Uncle Ben’s used to be, somebody like that who comes in and hires farmers to grow so much rice, maybe with an incentive to produce a certain quality and amount. I see that kinda’ coming, because the individual farmers are just having a tough time, they really are. In our area too it could go by the wayside, because the American Rice Growers Association has shut down the rice drying facility, and I’ve been told this is the last year Beaumont Rice Mill is going to operate, so your rice dryers around here are going to be slim to none.”
“The LNVA who control the canals don’t really want the farmers, but they inherited them because that’s what the canals were started for. They make their money by shipping it over to the industrial oil facilities. We’re a nuisance, basically. A lot of things going by the wayside,” Halley noted sadly.