Nutting Parties

Extinct Tradition

Nutting parties were a popular October activity in the late 1800s, both nationwide and at Cottey. The pastime, often performed by friends or acquaintances, involved venturing into nature to shake nuts from the trees. Some of the collected nuts would be eaten that day, and others saved for the coming winter. At Cottey College, nutting parties were held annually from 1885 till the turn of the century. The tradition was akin to the all-school picnic that presently opens each school year.

Cottey held its first such outing in 1885, when it was still Vernon Seminary, a boarding and day school for girls. The teachers accompanied their intermediate and collegiate students on a day's excursion to Marmiton bottoms.1 They embarked in carriages at eight in the morning, journeying some six miles north to the Marmiton River. The chilly drive would have taken about 45 minutes by horse. A large basket of food was brought along for a picnic lunch, which they ate after a morning collecting black walnuts and pecans. At the end of the day, they rode home, singing all the way.

Caton bridge over Marmiton River, 1993
Caton Ford bridge, 1993.4 Several of Cottey's nutting parties took place here. The bridge pictured was erected in 1894.
Nutting parties map
Map of Caton's Ford and the Marmiton River. Click for interactive map of Cottey's nutting parties (Google Maps).

Another nutting party was recounted in an 1891 issue of the Cottey Chronicle:

October 26, being a holiday, had been set apart by the teachers as a day for rest and for renewing old acquaintances with woods and all things wild. The weather gods were in a lenient mood and the day dawned bright and warm, . . . By the time the hoards of nuts had grown heavy, the sun and appetites gave warning for the midday feast. The caterers carried their treasures to the creek bank and while one spread the repast the other made the coffee. The creek looked black and still as the river Styx, but water is a necessary concomitant of coffee so there was nothing to do but try this water and see if it were palatable. It was so cold and in small quantities clear but tasted like a decoction of maple leaves; one could lessen the latter quality though by not breathing while drinking. . . . As the lengthening shadows gave warning of the coming night, we gathered ourselves, baskets, shawls, etc. together and climbed reluctantly into the wagon, wishing that the day had just begun.2

In 1893 the girls were not taken to Marmiton River, but to Tucker Lake for an all-day picnic.1 They traveled in borrowed carriages of all sorts, including a farmer's wagon, and returned to the college with many full baskets of pecans and walnuts.

The last nutting party I have record of was in 1899, and again featured in the Chronicle. The event took place at the Caton Ford bridge over the Marmiton River (most likely the same location as the first party in 1885):

It is needless to say excitement ran high in the college halls when it was known that our good president had again consented to our nutting party. At 7:30 Monday morning, October 9, the wagonettes called and were soon filled with happy girls, equipped with bags, baskets, etc., for the purpose of stowing away the coveted nuts. When we reached Caton’s ford all started in different directions and worked hard until reminded by an “aching void” that it must be near the hour for lunch. The tables were bountifully spread and beautifully served by the teachers, who were untiring in their efforts for our comfort and pleasure. The afternoon was spent in strolling through the woods or resting on the banks of creeks, some still looking for nuts, others chatting gaily, and admiring the beautiful scenery with which we were surrounded. All too soon the call was sounded for our return home, and tired girls loaded with rich brown nuts again crowded into the wagonettes; but if limbs were weary tongues surely were not, for the woods reverberated with the echo of voices as we gave repeatedly the college yell—the only time and place when we were allowed to use it during the scholastic year.3

Works Cited:

  1. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955. Print.
  2. "Day in the Woods." The Cottey Chronicle. 1891. Qtd. in Cottey College: The First 75 Years by Dr. Orpha Stockard. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 20. Print.
  3. The Cottey Chronicle. 1899. Qtd. in Cottey College: The First 75 Years by Dr. Orpha Stockard. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 19-20. Print.
  4. "Caton Ford Bridge." Historic Bridges of the United States. Web. 19 October 2009. Web.
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