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MEBANE, ALEXANDER DUFF

MEBANE, ALEXANDER DUFF (1855–1923). Alexander Duff Mebane, farmer and plant breeder, was born in Mebane, North Carolina, on April 8, 1855, the son of David and Elizabeth Mebane. His parents, of Scottish-Irish stock, came from the north of Ireland and settled in Pennsylvania. They soon moved to Orange County, North Carolina, where the people named a town in honor of the patriarch of the Mebane family, Alexander Mebane, whose six sons had served with distinction in the Revolutionary War. The family moved to Dancyville, Haywood County, Tennessee, in 1860, and Alec attended the elementary school there. The devastation of the Civil War and glowing accounts of opportunities in the Lone Star State led the family to move to Hays County, Texas, in 1872; they soon moved to Caldwell County and settled on a farm south of Lockhart, where Mebane lived for many years in a two-room log cabin built by his parents. He assumed the responsibility of running the farm about eight years after arriving in Texas, but his effort to become a successful racehorse breeder came to a pathetic end in 1885 when fire destroyed his large barn and all his horses. He was forced to supplement his income during the next fifteen years by raising fruits and vegetables and selling them door-to-door. He did not marry his sweetheart, Sarah A. Owen, until 1904, when his debts had finally been paid in full. The couple lived for many years in a large brick house built on a site south of town (now inside the Lockhart city limit, about two blocks west of U.S. Highway 183). They had one son, who died without issue.

Although Mebane had only an elementary education, he became a self-taught expert in plant and animal breeding through practical experience and through buying and studying books on these subjects. His efforts to develop an improved variety of cotton began in 1882, when he observed that some plants had been devastated by a storm, but others had suffered only minor damage. His initial goal was to develop a storm-resistant variety, but he soon realized that other characteristics were highly desirable. By a lengthy process of selecting and cross-breeding plants with desirable characteristics, meticulously measuring and recording these characteristics as he went along, Mebane succeeded by 1900 in developing "Mebane Triumph" cottonseed, which produced strong, stocky, storm-resistant, drought-resistant, high-yield, true-breeding, early maturing plants with large, easy-to-pick bolls having a long lint, an increased lint-to-seed ratio, and easily separated seeds. He continued to improve this seed during the rest of his active life, and founded an agency to contract with local farmers to grow the seed and to distribute and sell it in bags bearing his trademark. His accomplishments revolutionized cotton culture and were recognized throughout the world by prominent agricultural experts, businessmen, and politicians, as well as by thousands of ordinary farmers. A devout Presbyterian throughout his life, Mebane served for many years as an elder in the Lockhart church. He also served as president of the school board of the Lockhart Independent School District. But perhaps his proudest moment came when July 12, 1917, was celebrated as Mebane Day in Central Texas. Five years later, on October 26, 1922, the Lockhart Post Register published a special "Mebane Cotton Section." Mebane died on April 30, 1923; his wife continued to live in their brick house until her death in the late 1930s.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Mabelle and Stuart Purcell et al., This Is Texas (Austin: Futura, 1977).

Stuart M. Purcell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Stuart M. Purcell, "MEBANE, ALEXANDER DUFF," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fme03), accessed December 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 28, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.