Sarcoxie, Strawberry Capital of the World
The strawberry industry started in the area during the 1880s, reached its peak around the turn of the century or slightly later, and fizzled out about the time World War II began. Strawberry growers in the area banded together to form a cooperative called the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, and at one time the group had about 200 members. When the strawberry season came on about May of each year, migrant pickers, following the harvest north, would flood into Sarcoxie from the southern states in search of work.
A Sarcoxie bank issued tokens or "picker checks" to the various growers at the beginning of the harvest season, and the growers paid their workers in tokens that could then be exchanged for other goods or for cash at the bank. The tokens came in various sizes, and each size denoted a different value. A box of berries was worth a small token, a tray was worth a medim-sized one, and a whole crate of berries earned the worker a large token (about the size of a silver dollar).
I recently ran across a piece about Sarcoxie's 1897 strawberry harvest that was published in the New York Times in mid-May of that year. According to the report, the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, which controlled 1,400 acres of strawberry fields, had advertised for 10,000 pickers, but because of the high unemployment rate at the time, 20,000 people had swarmed into town in response to the ad "besieging the hotels and lodging houses of Sarcoxie." Many would-be workers were forced to sleep on the ground or live in shanties hastily constructed from branches and leaves. According to the newspaper, picker camps extended up and down Spring River on both sides of it, but this might have been a mistake. The stream in question might have been Center Creek, rather than Spring River, since Center Creek skirts the town while Spring River comes no closer to Sarcoxie than several miles.
"The weather is favorable now," concluded the report, "and the crop is being gathered very fast. The first shipments are going now in carload lots to St. Paul and other Northern points. Train-load shipments will commence in a few days."