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Hoovervilles-A Downturn In American History

Survivors of the Great Depression

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Survivors of the Great Depression
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Survivors of the Great Depression

Jessica Spencer, survivor

I was born in the little town of Torrey, Utah, which is now a gate-way to Capital Reef National Park. I was born on October the 5th, 1920. We lived on a ranch way out of town. There was no running water, there was no indoor plumbing, and we just all had to work. We raised a garden, we raised our fruit, and did all of our canning. My father was a farmer and a cattle man. We had plenty to eat, but sometimes we didn't have very much to wear. Not new clothes for school and that sort of thing.

At that time, in the Great Depression, there was not much money. I remember my dad sold cattle in the fall and didn't receive very much, and so our economic situation was pretty poor. We had plenty to eat, but we didn't have money to buy lots of clothes. So we just had what we could get by with.

I remember going to school and we were lucky to get two new dresses at the beginning of school; we also got a new pair of shoes. When we came home from school, our school clothes were changed into grubbies. We never went hungry. So I think we faired probably better than a lot of people did in the Depression, but there was not much money to do a lot of extra things with.

My mom raised a big garden; she canned and dried all of her food. My dad raised pigs and, of course, being in the cattle business we always had plenty of beef, and we always had plenty of pork, and lots of fruits and vegetables. It was really difficult to find money at that time with kids in school to buy for. He raised the wheat for flour and we took it to the grist mill and had it ground. But there was sugar, and salt, and baking powder, and soda, and the essentials of life that we had to buy. I never remember going without, never. We did fairly well, I think.

As I got a little bit older, we moved from the ranch into Torrey, and, of course, [for entertainment] they were all silent movies. I remember going up to the church house and someone would come in with a little projector, and they were silent; you had to read what they were doing. It was really funny, but that was a big treat to get to go even to a silent movie.

My mother had a beautiful singing voice, and she sang a lot and so the songs that I remember;of course, we all went to church; I remember the church songs very well. And my mother played the mandolin and just as a family group we would all get together and sing, and it was a lot of the older songs that you hardly ever hear anymore. So, but we enjoyed it.

I wasn't old enough then to work other than we all had our responsibilities at home. Mom and us girls usually took care of all the planting of the garden, weeding the garden, harvesting the garden, and harvesting the fruit. Scrubbing on the board, there was absolutely no electric washing machines. We did the scrubbing on the board. I remember as a child, no more then 10 years old, seems like my job was to, lots of big brothers and a father and irrigating, and what-not, their socks were so dirty that it seemed like every Saturday my job was to scrub these dirty socks on the wash board. I use to hate Saturdays.

I remember at one time I don't know whether it was because of drought or what, but cattle prices dropped to nothing. I do remember the government buying some of the cattle. I remember my dad had an old white milk cow that we just adored, but she was getting old and he said we can't afford to feed her. I think it was because of a drought, there wasn't much feed and so he did sell to the government, I don't know, something like twenty-five head of cattle or something. Literally, they dug a big pit, and they dropped the cattle up there and shot them. Covered them over and didn't save the meat for nobody or anything. They just shot the cattle in this big trench and covered them over and let them stay there.

I think the depression me. I like to have my year's supply. I'm a great one for saving, and I am not a spend-thrift. I think due to the fact that I lived in this day and age is what made me as conservative as I am today, but we get by just fine.

At my age I can see that a lot of the old remedies and things that we did, for instance, like making our soap, and the young kids today would have no idea how to handle things. So I think it would be a good thing if the young kids would learn a few of these old time recipes or whatever you want to call it. Learn to do a few of these things like use herbs and what-not; people didn't have chance to go to the doctor and so I think young people can learn from a lot of these things. I think this is a great idea, to have these young kids interview us older people because they can sort of get an insight of what our life was like. I am grateful to have been able to live in that era, and today. What a difference, and I'm sure the next fifty years will bring us as many changes as the past fifty have.

Mark Gabriel, survivor

I was born here in Richfield on July 21,1917 in my Grandfather Erickson's place. That's where Ted Yowell lives. That's an old house, there. My grandparents moved there in 1906 and my mother grew up in that house.

Some of the most pleasant memories I have are when I could go up to Beaver and stay with my grandparents and hear the train coming along. I felt bad when they took that away. You could hear that whistle and it just made everybody happy. The line went through Marysvale, when it was prospering, but they had that terrible flood in 1983 and just took out a lot of the railroad. Just figured it was too costly to rebuild it.

I was around twelve years old in 1929. That's when the stock market crashed. My mother told me about it. Up until about 1935, it was pretty tough growing up. Like someone said, "We were broke, but we weren't poor!" We had a farm, and chickens, and cows, so we never went hungry. Money was hard to get, though. My mother's brother-in-law, Claude MacIntire, was in charge of finance and western loans. He went haywire. Of course, he came out all right. When it happened, I was only twelve, and the rest of the kids hardly knew anything about it.

My dad was a good provider, and like I said, we never went hungry. He actually helped some of those old guys in town by giving them a little employment. Dad went to a little packing plant and he'd get them to work out on the ranch. He had Barney Pottingham, quite a character. He paid him five bucks in cash and the rest was in beef! Barney'd say, "I gotta have tea and coffee and tobacco or I can't work!" So Dad brought it to the ranch for him.

We were out to the ranch quite a bit. But, we mostly just liked to roam the hills. We had a little reservoir, kind of our own private swimming pool. It was cold water, but quite invigorating!

My lifestyle changed, of course. But, things were still ducky. I graduated Beaver High School in 1935. Then I went up to Brigham Young University. I don't know how I ever got by, even though your money went farther. Tuition for the whole year was $86.50. You can't get that kind of tuition anymore. I went down to Sears Roebuck, bought an iron, and I finally learned how to iron my own shirts. One of the girls upstairs showed me how to use it. President Roosevelt helped out when I went through BYU. It was called NYA, National Youth Administration. You had to fill out a form and say your dad was pretty poor, and they helped you out. Then I got a job as a janitor. Enough to get by. During the fall season, I'd help some of the students pick apples, help the farmers, and get a little money that way.

Back home, our neighbors all seemed to get by pretty good as far as I could tell. Our neighbor across the street was a banker; he, well, he was okay. But, a lot of it was tough. Many of our neighbors had small dairy herds, and that's how we got our milkshakes. One of them, Wallace Yardley, was my Aaronic Priesthood teacher. He done a lot of good for me.

The Depression kind of made a tightwad out of me. When I went to BYU, I had to watch money so dang bad. I had it tough. But now when I look back, I'm glad I did have it tough; you appreciate things more. If you have things too easy, you don't appreciate them. I envied the kids who could afford to board at the boarding house. But the worst part was that I had to eat my own cooking.

Some of the best advice I can give young people is to realize that our free agency is the greatest power on earth. There's nothing to stop you from digging in a little harder. A lot of these that got so far in life, they had it tough to begin with. They all had one thing in common, and that's persistence. Take, for example, Zane Grey with his western novels. He was turned down by publishing companies, but finally he had a hit. After that, he could work any place. Just one example.

It's also hard to believe about John Wayne. In a Paul Harvey story, he was just a skinny kid, and he was picked on by a bully. He came past the fire station, and a fireman there asked him what was wrong and he says, "Listen, don't run from that bully anymore. I was a professional boxer in my time. You stop by the station and I'll show you a few lessons in boxing. So he did and, boy, the next time the bully came after him, he stood his ground. And you know about John Wayne. Seeing his picture, it's hard to believe he was a skinny kid and that he was picked on.

Also, know what you want in life. My only trouble was I liked too damn many things and I had an awful time in BYU deciding a major. I think I got the most good out of my freshman English under Mrs. Elsie Carole. She had us read hearty things like The Luxury of Integrity. Not everyone can afford that. Do you notice how some have to advertise, to tell the world that bad products are good. Near the bottom of the whole thing are politicians. This article I read said the lowest of all are the corporation executives. They've sold their souls so bad that they don't even dare take a bath without getting the approval of the company!

Something else that has helped me is that I love music very much. Learn to type when you're young, too. I'm glad I learned to type in high school. When I came back, I used to work for a resort hotel. When I came here, I didn't have any job. It's a good thing I went to church that day because Art Tucker, the manager of the radio station of the time, said, "Joe, can you type?"

I says, "Yep," so he had a job for me. That helped me during the depression as well.

But, you gotta be doing something. I don't like that word retirement. Take that out of your dictionaries. Just keep on going. I just hit the big eighty and heck, I feel more like sixty! When I was your age, you'd go hell, oh, excuse me, good gosh that's a long way off, it'll never come. But it does come, things change. It is hard to believe. I've enjoyed life more in my sixties and seventies more than any other time in my life. When you're younger, you do a lot of stupid things. We're young and foolish. George Burns said, "Youth is great, but it's too bad it has to be wasted on the young!"

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