My granddad heard that they were giving land away in the Panhandle of Oklahoma and he’d originally come from Alabama to Dublin, Texas, but he brought the family in a covered wagon up the trail from Texas across the river and they had to avoid quicksand to get to the Texas County, Oklahoma. And they settled just west of what’s Goodwill now in a dug-out. And they hauled water and eventually they moved to ten miles north of Texoma where they homesteaded. And my uncle and my dad — well, my dad wasn’t old enough. He was just two, but my granddad and my uncle homesteaded north of Texoma and we still have that land, my brother and I.
If you came to homestead, you filed a claim and you had to live on it and build some kind of house on it if you wanted to keep it for free. All of the neighbors that we had homesteaded at the time. I was small and I just feel like that we’re the original people out here. I know we weren’t, but we feel like it! And my dad was two, so he lived out there, you might say, all his life and farmed that same land and raised cattle. I was born in what’s now the center — what was considered the center of the Panhandle, the Dust Bowl. I feel like that just being raised in that time period, I have a good history to remember.
On Farming the Land
When the farmers came into the Panhandle, they — well, I guess right after they homesteaded, they put up fences, barbed wire fences, around each quarter of land, 'cause most of 'em got a quarter. And then they decided that, they couldn’t all raise cattle, so they started plowing it up and planning and one of my uncles, my daddy’s uncles, planted a whole quarter nearly of cantaloupe. Well, he made a great cantaloupe crop, but he didn’t have any market for 'em. So no more cantaloupe. And gradually they started to raise wheat and I can remember my dad saying that he wanted that red cheap wheat 'cause it was the hardest and it was hardier and it would do better. And back in the ’20s, the late ’20s, he raised turkeys as well as cattle and everything 'cause he sold enough turkeys to buy his first Model A car. And I thought that was kinda neat because we got to take our first trip when I was about three. Gradually, they did plow up maybe four-quarters to — or a half section and they — the farmers would buy this from their neighbors.
On Living with Dust Storms
To begin with, we just had the low dust blowing off of the fields and my mother was expecting my dau— my sister in 1933, and she said, “We’ve got to get to town and stay in town, because a dust storm might come.” And she couldn’t breathe good because she was expecting and she wanted to be where there were people. So we went into Texoma for one month in July of ’33. And we had low dust storms then. What I mean is you could still see the tops of the telephones poles. One of teach— ladies from Gyman that had just started teaching at that time taught out at the Bethel School and she said that one started blowing before she could get to town and she couldn’t see the road at all, but she could see the tops of the telephone poles and she drove by the telephone poles and right before she got into Gyman, the road turned, but the telephones didn’t and she just followed the telephone poles on into town, cause she knew that they went to a building in town. And she followed then until she got there. While I was in school, we had an old building that was two-stories and the teachers would tell us when these dust storms were rolling in to go to the hall and get under the stairs so that if the building blew away or blew down, we would be protected by the stairway. And this is how we went to school. So we slept pretty good at night, but once in a while it’d go all day and all night and maybe blow for a week before it really was no dust storm. And, of course, our parents had to turn the plates upside-down on the tables and cover 'em with a sheet, or whatever, and we slept with the — the babies, especially, they slept with wet sheets over their cribs so that they wouldn’t breathe all that dirt.
One time I didn’t quite get back to the cellar before the dirt hit and I can remember that it burned my — the wind and the gravel it felt like it burned my legs. You know, it was hitting so hard on my legs before I got into the cellar. But we always went to the cellar when there was a bad one coming, 'cause the first bad, bad one that I remember, we didn’t know but what our house would blow away. And my daddy took the hoe and ax and a scoop to the cellar with us and I know that he took the ax in case it covered up the door and he had to break the wood in the cellar door to get us out. Then, he needed the scoop to scoop the dirt out. The only reason I think that he took the hoe was because it had the longest handle and he could poke it up through the vent in the ceiling of the cellar to be sure that we were getting air and didn’t cover up that hole where our air vent was. And we always took something to read.
On The Roof Falling In
One night when I was sleeping in a little room, my mother and dad were in the big room with my baby sister in bed. And the ceiling started falling in with the dust so heavy on it. It literally covered up the bed, but when they — they got out okay, 'cause Daddy yelled at Mother. He could hear it comin’ down and he said, “Grab that kid, Mom.” And he took her — they all got outside as soon as they knew that the ceiling was fallin’ in as a result of the dust sifting in. And I think I told someone the dust was just like face powder. It was so heavy and thick. It wasn’t like sand. It was just real heavy, like face powder. Only it was real dark, almost black.
On Staying Clean and Healthy
When those dust storms blew and you were out in 'em, it would just coat the inside of your nose literally. And sometimes your mouth would just get cottony dry because, well, you spit out dirt sometimes. It looked like tobacco juice, only it was dirt, when you’d spit. It was pretty awful. But I just thought that was part of livin’. Everybody else was in the same boat. So I didn’t think anything about it. I just thought I was one of the lucky people, and I was. I didn’t have to do a lotta things that other students or kids did, because I … I felt like my daddy took better care of me than anybody. And I — I really didn’t. We had meager food at that time. Everyone did, and we lived literally on cornbread and beans and we had milk and Mother had always made chow-chow out of pic— you know, cucumbers. And that was our main meal and at night we’d just have cornbread and milk, but so did everybody else. In fact, I felt like we had good food compared to a lot of people. So I really didn’t think about it.
Mother just thought of ways to try to keep the dust out of the house and, of course, as soon as it quite blowin’, well, that was the first thing, was to sweep the kitchen and — and get a meal and then we’d clean up the rest of the house. And we always had quilts and blankets hangin’ on the line to get the dirt out so that we could go to bed in a clean bed. And I remember wearing patches on some of my clothes and I said somethin’ about 'em one time and Mother said, “Patches aren’t a disgrace. All you need to worry about’s being clean.” So she wanted us clean and — and healthy.
On Saying Goodbye
We hated to see anyone leave. There were so few close neighbors or close friends or relatives. And we hated for 'em to leave, but we all told 'em to be sure and write us from California. We wanted to know if it was as great out there as we thought it was. And nearly everyone left that was close to us but my dad and one of his brothers. And they stuck it out. They stayed through all the Dirty Thirties and everything.
My daddy was an optimist. I think he just kept thinking, “Next year will be better and we’ll have a good crop and we’ll raise some more cattle and we’ll get rich.” We never did, but he thought we would. He was a good farmer and he was a good cattleman and he — he really believed that everything would work out for the best, that we’d have a good crop and — and everything would be better.