Skip to content

For Poor Folks, Living In The Depression Was A Matter Of Survival

(Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series written by Baxter Jones about his early years.)

Things were looking up for the country. The Great Depression had finally past, and there were jobs about. Daddy did carpenter work to try and pick up a little extra money to run the household, and he said that by now, people had a little money to pay  you for your work. Just a few years past, he said that you got paid with a bucket of lard or molasses or a side of bacon. Daddy said that most everybody had plenty to eat, especially country folks, but, there was simply no money.

Historian still argue over the finer points as to what caused this terrible period in our economy. For the most part, President Herbert H. Hoover caught the blame. My daddy could get on his soapbox at the mention of his name. He said that he’d  never vote for another one of those damn Republicans, and didn’t want to hear of any of his family doing so. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t have the cure at hand early on, but, he began throwing  money into work programs. This, arguably, may not have been the cure, but it got money flowing down where people could feel it. You could hear stories of people getting up at four o’clock in the morning, carrying their lunch, and walking five or 10 miles daily to join a road repair crew, for wages of fifty cents or a dollar a day. This doesn’t sound like much, but, it was a job, a little security, and, I’m told that  you could buy a pair of shoes for fifty cents. 

A lot of strong young boys joined up with the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps), as did my brother-in-law, Cleo Hughes, along with his twin brother, Theo, and older brother, Leon. They  were given uniforms, were fed and housed at government expense, planted pine trees and kudzu from can to can’t and were paid five dollars a month. Uncle Sam mailed their parents $25 dollars each month. I’m sure this program was more popular with the parents than it was with the boys.

There were a lot of people, my daddy included, that thought Franklin D. Roosevelt was a latter day saint in the harder years of the depression. It must have been awfully frustrating, having the equipment to farm the land, but not being able to borrow money to raise a crop that you might  not be able to sell, anyway. Take away the bad timing that no one could predict, I think Daddy was ready to make his mark in the farming world. He was a good farmer, with good mule farm equipment.

We had two tenant families who  lived on the place, actually old hands, by the time I came along. I suppose their children had gotten grown and left. Mac Wiggins lived a short distance behind our house with his wife. Mac actually lived on a portion of the old run where it made a sharp turn. His house was on piers, as was ours, this spot of ground was actually higher than our house place, I suppose this was due to years of flooding silt and sand. 

I can’t remember very much about Mac except that he was big and strong and he took up some time with me.  One night daddy and Mac were going possum hunting and I begged to tag along. It was Mac who carried me on his strong shoulders when my short legs played out. The other tenant was Ann Woods (man’s name). I knew even less about Ann, but he lived on the south line of the property where the ground was high enough to weather the floods, without piers. The only fault that I heard about Ann was that he had a lot of trouble with his women. I suppose that this was not an occupational hazard, as I only  heard good things about his talents in farm work.

These men stayed with daddy through the hard times. Raising food was the job at hand—plenty of corn for the livestock, as well as to  make meal for the families, dried peas, and dried butter beans. An occasional beef was slaughtered, and of course, plenty of hogs to be killed and cured, and lots of swamp rabbits, quail, ducks, and squirrels. It was simply a matter of survival, there were no utility bills, no rent to pay, just make sure you had enough of the staples and firewood. Daddy believed in this firewood reserve to a fault—we had so much wood on the front porch you could hardly walk past it. This was security, and it took hard work to get it, with a crosscut saw and axe.

Mama and Daddy had bought this old place a good many years before I was born. Mama worked at the Camp Ground School lunchroom and they saved their pennies. I think it was the year before Mama and Daddy were to get moved into “the lower place” (that’s what Mama always called the place in the bottom). They lived about a mile from the property, across the ditch just south of where Charlie and Betty Appleton now live. 

It was then referred to as the old Jenkins place. It had been a very tragic year for my mother’s family, as her brother, Sam Carothers, accidentally killed himself while crossing a fence in a hunting accident. For whatever reason, Sam’s widow gave my brother, David, Sam’s Shepherd dog, “Sport.” 

They kept this lovable dog for nearly a year, until he somehow contracted rabies, biting Daddy, David, and seven cows. Daddy and David survived by taking the shots, but they lost all seven of the cows. David said all the cows died at the place where they drank water. When this ordeal was over, Daddy would walk, or ride, a mule to tend to the never-ending projects which needed to be taken care of on the lower place before he was ready to move his family in.

My uncle was in the lumber business for several years. He bought and sold some timber from Daddy. Hugh and Daddy were real close and I’m sure that he assisted Daddy in getting a fair price for the timber he sold, as well as helping him haul some of it over to the groundhog sawmill that was run by Mr. Hamp Varner, to get the lumber necessary to build barns, tenant houses, and of course, our house. 

Daddy was a  hard working little man, but it makes me dizzy when I try to understand how he accomplished all the things he did. There was also the  job of fencing, and in draining the fields. Somehow, all of this took place. David thinks that Mama and Daddy paid 50 cents an acre for the land, buying it from the government in some sort of drainage sale. They couldn’t have paid much as they were poor as Job’s turkey.

All  of the buildings on the place were cypress. I’m sure this was the most plentiful lumber, as well as being probably the best. I remember Mama and Daddy telling about the huge cypress that had been submerged in the old run for many years. Daddy said it took a double team of mules to pull it out. He cut it into about 18-inch blocks and shingled it off with a fore. He shingled our house and some of the outbuilding from this single tree. It was a good roof. I don’t remember a leak during any of the storms. 

The only problem we had with this place was that it was low land, and it was just a matter of time before it would flood. Daddy had taken all precautions that he could to weather these floods. The livestock could go to the higher ground. If the duration of these floods warranted such, a little hay could  be brought to these high spots. Our place was low to the point that it was a real challenge to Mama and Daddy’s hard work and ingenuity.

Leave a Comment