Yoshio Mayumi, Fannett, Texas
Taken from The Japanese Texans , by Thomas Walls. The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1987
In 1904, when Shinpei Maekawa visited Texas to look into the prospects for farming rice near Houston, one of his three traveling companions was Yoshio Mayumi, a banker, wealthy landowner and a former member of the Japanese parliament. After the groups initial visit, Mayumi returned to Texas in 1906 with a number of Japanese men, including Maekawa and Teisho Takeda. Both Maekawa and Takeda established farms south of Houston, but Mayumi purchased 1,734 acres of land near Fannett, ten miles south of Beaumont. He paid $15,000 cash for this property, which included water wells, pumps and several old houses. A balance of $20,000 plus interest was due in five years.
In 1906 eight men from Yoshio Mayumi's home town in Mie Prefecture on the main island of Honshu came to Fannett as contract labors. Seven more followed the next year. The exact terms of the three-year contract offered by Mayumi are not known, but he probably paid for the immigrants' travel expenses to the U.S., deducting the amount later from their salaries. Wages for Japanese farmhands at the time were $10 to $20 a month plus room and board. This was substantially lower than the prevailing rate of pay among other labors in Texas, who received from $1.25 to $1.5 a day without room and board. Still, the Japanese were making much more than they could have earned in Japan, and many were learning skills which would help them later on.
Mayumi's farm did well in the early years. In 1908, on 705 acres of land, he harvested 7,500 sacks of rice, or approximately one and a half million pounds. The rice sold for $27,000. Such success prompted Mayumi to persuade his younger brother in Japan to join him. The workers on the farm, however, were not at all satisfied. Working conditions were poor, and they found the hot, humid climate quite unbearable. After their contracts expired most of Mayumi's workers left the area completely; in fact, some departed before their three-year terms were up. The majority probably went to California, but a few may have stayed in Texas. By the summer of 1909 Mayumi had only four Japanese workers helping him. All other work was done by local labor.
Although Mayumi's only crop was rice, he also owned and raised livestock. In 1909 he had 100 hogs and ten head of cattle, and to help with the farm work he had 33 mules and four horses. Together these animals were worth more than $7,000. While this was a substantial investment, Mayumi could have afforded much more, for when he entered the United States, he reportedly had cash and property with him worth $100,000. Such wealth allowed Mayumi to finance his rice venture without outside help, quite unlike the Saibara and Onishi projects.
Mayumi's money, however, could not buy him continued success. He did not use fertilizer in his fields nor did he let them lie fallow. Such land mismanagement led to a depletion of minerals and nutrients in the soil, and ultimately to smaller harvests. The drainage on his land was also less than ideal, so in 1924 when rice prices were low, Mayumi and his brother decided to quite and return to Japan.
Southeast Texas Rice Beckoned Japanese
By Gwendolyn Wingate
The growth of the rice industry in the Beaumont area and the availability of rice land in the early 1900s drew groups of Japanese to Jefferson and Orange Counties.
In 1905 Yasuo Mayumi, a small, shy Japanese just out of college brought a group of his countrymen to a site about 6 miles southeast of Fannett in Jefferson County, and Kichimatsu Kishi, a hero of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria, established a colony in 1908 in Orange near the little town of Terry.
Mayumni settled on 1,734 acres bought by his old brother, Yoshio, from Joseph H. and Maggie Hoopes. Hoopes had dug one of the early rice irrigation canals there in the late 1890s, pumping from Taylor's Bayou.
The Japanese and Mayumi planted fruit trees, worked ground and planted their first rice crop in the spring of 1906. One of the men was killed that spring attempting to break a horse.
At first the people of the Fannett community regarded their Japanese neighbors with suspicion. But saddle weary cowboys who stopped at the “Jap Farm” could always depend on a cold drink and the offer of coffee or tea. Youngsters rambling on the prairie found a piece of fruit or a sweetmeat an inducement to stop and visit.
Gradually, the Japanese broke through the barrier of suspicion. Mayumi and his men built a long one-room building and game community dances. People came from miles around, everybody chipping in to pay the band.
After Mayumi and his men had been there several years, his parents back in Japan arranged a marriage for him, and a bride he had never seen arrived in this country. She was shy, and few of Taylor's Bayou people ever saw her. Artemise Wingate was the exception.
One evening in early December Mayumi rode horseback up to the Bailey Wingate home. For days it had been raining a cold drizzle, and the roads were under water. Apologizing for what he said was an intrusion, Mayumi explained that his first child, a son, had been born, but after only one day of life, the baby was dead. Mayumi needed help.
Wingate's sturdy widowed mother, Artemise, who had borne nine children and had seen three buried, bundled up against the cold and rode back to the Mayumi place with the men. She found Mayumi's wife with the dead child in her arms rocking back and forth in mute grief. She tried to comfort the woman who spoke no English and helped prepared the baby for burial.
Two days later, on December 13, 1917 Mayumi's son was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont, far from his ancestral burial ground. Not long after the child's death, Mayumi's wife returned to Japan. Now and then Mayumni, too returned to Japan for a visit, and another son is said to have been born there.
But the farm on Taylor's Bayou continued to be Mayumi's permanent home. He had been in Fannett almost 19 years when growing hostility toward the Japanese immigrants brought about the Immigration Act of 1924, aimed at keeping Orientals out of the United States.
Despite many friendships in the community, Mayumi sold his land to J.J. and George Burrell of Fannett. He and his men returned to Japan.
Mayumni's manservant, Matsuoko stayed on. He became a naturalized citizen
and was married twice. Matsuoko became a top chef at Hotel Beaumont during
its glory days. Later, he operated a small grocery store on Holmes and
Wall streets. He is buried in Baytown beside his second wife.
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