Skip to comments.How Americans Helped Each Other During the Great Depression
Posted on 02/08/2009 10:59:26 AM PST by Vendek
In October 1929, Oklahoman Edgar Bledsoe believed a newsboy's cry of "Stock Market Collapse" referred to a disaster at an Ardmore cattle auction barn. By 1932, Bledsoe had been riding the rails for two years picking cotton and doing menial work that rarely provided a living for the 18-year-old and two cousins.
That summer the trio rode a freight to Comanche, Oklahoma heading back to his cousins' home on a drilled-out oil field. They had to walk the last 13 miles through the woods.
"We ran across a log cabin deep in the blackjack oaks. It had a well in the backyard with a rope and a pulley. A man who must have been close to ninety years came out of the cabin. We asked if we could have a bucket of water," Bledsoe recalled.
"'When did you boys last eat?' the man asked.
"When we told him, he told his wife to bring us food.
"She set out a gallon crock that was half full of milk, a pone of cornbread and a bucket of sorghum molasses. The milk was beginning to turn sour -- 'blinky' we called it -- and the molasses was full of tiny ants. We were hungry beyond being picky and we lit on the food. I still remember we couldn't fault the old lady's cornbread."...Read more
(Excerpt) Read more at erroluys.com ...
My parents were raising two boys (my older brothers) during the depression, and besides the horror stories of poverty, I will always be amazed that they maintained their sense of humor. My dad was a farmhand and moved from job to job. They were better off than some. Dad had a team of horses, a wagon and a cow. And chickens. When they moved, they threw their few sticks of furniture in the wagon and tied the cow behind it. Dad tied the chickens’ feet together with binder twine and tossed them in the wagon. “We moved so many times one year that every time I hitched up the team, those chickens would lay down and cross their legs.”
—during those years half of the population (or more) were engaged in agriculture—making it a lot easier to assist on the farm for food, as did most of my relatives—
People who up to now have kept immaculately cut and trimmed yards had best start thinking in terms of planting a few edible things on those fancy lawns. Get a compost going in one of those plastic composting cans, fix some raised beds if you can. Read Ruth Stout’s gardening advice on how she and her sister gardened (the easy way) in their nineties if gardening intimidates you. (Ruth Stout’s No Work Gardening Book for people who don’t care about straight rows.)
We all need to put our shoulders and minds to the wheel and learn how to do things in a more self-reliant way.
We don't know how to do without. We now require instant gratification. If that means killing someone so that I don't have to skip breakfast tomorrow -- well, what's more important than me??
Heaven knows, they needed a sense of humor, plus courage, compassion and ingenuity:
One of the old ‘bos I got to know very well was Arvel “Sunshine” Pearson who began work as a waterboy on an Arkansas strip mine at age 9 — Arvel was sixteen and about to get a job underground when the Depression hit. The next ten years, he bummed his way around the country, never without a sense of humor amid the hardest of times.
One of the stories Sunshine loved to tell happened on a summer day in a small town in Kansas. In his own words:
“I saw a lady sitting in a rocking chair on her porch, fanning herself with a newspaper and trying to keep cool. The train I was riding stopped a short distance away. I hopped off and walked over and asked if I could do a chore for a meal.
‘Son, you can chop me some wood,’ she said. She pointed to a rain barrel that stood out in her yard, ‘When youve cut it, throw it in the barrel.’
That ladys ax was awful dull. I was out there working and sweating, wiping and chopping for 20 minutes and I had about five or six sticks.
I saw the lady was in her kitchen fixing me a meal. When she wasnt looking, I grabbed the barrel and turned it upside down. I took the sticks and laid them crosswise over it.
The lady came outside. ‘Thats enough, son,’ she said. ‘Come and eat.’
When I took my last mouthful, I said, ‘Lady, I think I hear the train whistle, Id better be going.’ I jumped off her porch and ran down the tracks. I guess she was frowning on the next hobo that came along.”
Of course, the lessons learned when you have to shift for yourself, are enduring.
To quote “Sunshine:”
“In those days if we got a pound of bologna, we thought we were doing great. When I go to the store today, I pass the bologna and move over to the T-bone steaks. People see me driving a Cadillac and ask, ‘If you were on the road that long, how did you accumulate this?’
“The road taught me that if I made a dollar, I had to save some of it. I used to have a ledger where I put down everything to see how I was progressing. During the 60s and 70s I was saving an average of $5,000 a year.
“That doesnt sound much today but over the years it mounts up. When you get to where you dont owe anybody a dime, thats the best feeling youll ever have, if you live to be a hundred years old.
Arvel lived to be 91, still able to drive himself cross-country only a few years before he passed away.
LOLOLOL - and the pigs were honking the horn...
Those photos at the link could easily have been my mother’s family - they snared rabbits and planted spuds to survive, but never begged or complained.
That's my concern also. Back then people tended to blame themselves and just sucked it up.
During my tramp printer days in the '50s-'60s, I worked mostly the country weeklies. (I was trying to get a driver's license from every state in the Union but gave it up when Alaska and Hawaii came in.) Anyhow, I made a point to talk to as many people as possible who went through the Depression. Short story - the folks in the cities starved, the folks who could hang on to their farms didn't have any money but at least the ate and had a bed. Some stories boggled my mind and gave me the uneasy feeling that I wouldn't survive in some cases. I fear I may be tested in those areas.
Just a couple of 'em for posterity's sake:
1) A guy who worked in a mortuary kept a box full of false teeth taken out of the cadavers. Some old-timer would knock on the back door and ask to try on a pair, and kept at it until he got a close fit. I always wondered if they were washed beforehand.
2) An older black man knocked at a farmhouse door, asking if he could work for a meal. The famer jokingly said that he could either have a meal or an old suit of clothes he had. The old man said, "Well, folks can't see how hungry I am, but they can see that I'm shabby. I guess I'll take the clothes." The farmer choked up and gave him both, as he would have anyway.
3) One guy told me he still had a box full of 1870s coins, although most were pretty well worn. I asked them how he got them and he said that he ran a gas station back then and people would pay for gas with old coins they had been saving. I expect to see the pre-64 coins used the same way - at face value.
There's lots of books out there with similar stories; one by Studs Terkel is a good start. It may be a primer.
ping for later read
My folks worked for a well-to-do farmer for quite a while. Dad was allowed to build a tiny log cabin and dig a well on his property. The middle brother was born there in 1933.A neighbor and his wife built a shelter by sinking posts, cladding them with rough lumber and filling the void with sawdust for insulation then stretching a canvas roof. Dad said it was cozy during Nebraska winters. He was a rabbit hunter and a dead shot and traded rabbit meat to my folks for milk. One day the feds came and took him away. Turns out he was a prohibition-era bootlegger or moonshiner in Ohio and escaped from a train on his way to prison. He was undone after years of freedom when the T-men found him through his subscription to Capper’s Weekly magazine.
Heck, I might have met you. I started as a reporter in 1959 at 19 and stayed with it for about six years. Then did a career in corporate management for 20 year and returned to reporting in New Mexico for 15 years or so before retiring.
I recall passing many evenings as a kid hearing depression tales, WWII war stories and family history stories.
Wish I’d listened better.
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Obama Says A Baby Is A Punishment
Ah, yes, we “ole-reporters,” how we remember the days! I also go back to the Sixties, hot metal and lead! Not to mention ole-time “objectivity” or editors who would’ve skinned you alive if you did more than report the facts.
Yes, we all wish we listened more. To quote another one of those old ‘bos, a guy called Jim Mitchell, who hailed from Wisconsin:
“Those days you didn’t get a check in the mail. You took a little red wagon and dragged it around and waited in line. It was the most humiliating thing in the world for a fourteen year old kid.
“Our country was on the brink of hell. I ran into two types on the road. One type firmly believed in the American system: ‘By God, this is gopnna work.’ The others, honest to God, I swear they were Marxist revolutionaries. They wanted to start the revolution now. Communism looked very attractive to people.” That was a lot of baloney, but people were ready to believe anything. We were looking and searching for anything to get us out of that mess...
“Yet despite all the horrors of the Depression, there was never a time that we didn’t have hope. We didn’t live in terror but looked ahead. We knew that down the road thrings were going to get better.”
When the depression comes along this time, the people who have leeched off the government their whole lives will continue to demand what they feel they are entitled too, and the government, if it is still around, will force people with plenty to give to those who don’t. If the government falls, these people will become bandits.
However, those of us who believe in working for a living, value-for-value relationships and business, and have respect for property rights will more than likely form communities similar to Galt’s Gulch in “Atlas Shrugged”.
The deciding factor will unfortunatly be Big Brother.
Good Guys and Bad Guys will be reversed (at least in my opinion). There will be warlords who are quite prepared to see that the Bad Guys get what's coming to them.
I meant they would become bandits if the government falls. If it doesn’t, they won’t have to; Obama will use either the military or his goon squads to “spread the wealth around”.
I’m not sure I’m ready to distinguish between “warlords” and “Obama’s government”.
My parents were city folk. They always told the story about the darkest day: It was 1937, they were newlyweds. He was 23 and she was 20. My mother was out of work and my father’s factory was on strike. They had 36 cents between them. The went to a movie, split a bag of popcorn and had a penny left for a paper. Mom got a job out of the paper and Dad’s factory went back to work the next day.
My mother had one outfit she could wear to work selling children’s shoes. She washed it out by hand every night and ironed it in the morning. Dad routinely put cardboard in his shoes and they were resoled regularly. He probably replaced them every 2-3 years during that time.
There was some envy of the farm people, because, as my mother said:”At least they had food.”
I have posted over the past months about the downturn in my little business. My last order was nearly a month ago and I am perhaps 50% down Y/Y from last February. Today I got a small order from a shop in upstate NY. Tomorrow, my supplier will get an order. As slow as its been in fits and starts since last April, when I did the bookkeeping for the taxes, I was surprised to see that I was only down about 20% and my husband’s business was down less than 1%. I think the increases in property taxes, food and the Spring/Summer gas prices, plus the cold winter and high utility bills made it seem worse than it was.
The small order from an area I know is hard hit raised my spirits. Something I wouldn’t have thought much of a year ago is now a sign of hope.
“People who up to now have kept immaculately cut and trimmed yards had best start thinking in terms of planting a few edible things on those fancy lawns”
Yep..instead of ‘Victory Gardens’(like they did back then)..We can call them ‘Surrender Gardens’...LOL
My Dad used to tell us stories, I could sit and listen for hours. He was an infant when it all started.
We might have to start well armed ‘Conservative Communes’...can you imagine?
To make; Soak a cup full of wheat over night in water. The next morning make a light milk gravy with milk and flour, add the soft wheat and a little sweetener, sugar, honey, molasses etc.
Very filling and nutritional.
The penny auctions were another way they helped each other.
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