© Copyright 1996-2003 by Diane Haugen. All rights reserved.
The two oral histories below were selected to illustrate how people survived during the Depression, one account from a man's perspective and one from a woman's.
These are short, but fit nicely on the front and back of a single sheet of paper, with room for suggested discussion, questions, or activities.
"I've heard my mother say her job when she was little was to go out and set the turkeys up when they fell down."
"They did tip over on their backs one in a while. I guess we did used to go and straighten them up. Everybody raised turkeys then. I guess we'd raise 50 or so."
"Did you get the chicks from a hatchery?"
"Oh, no. Raised them. Had the old ones. They'd lay and we'd set 'em. You didn't have money to order anything. If you didn't raise it, you didn't have it. The neighbor would come over and help us kill and pick 'em."
"You didn't take them to a livestock ring?"
"No. We'd pack 'em all in a barrel and ship them on the train, to Chicago, I think."
"They didn't spoil?"
"Well, that was the fall of the year. November. It was probably freezing outside, so they didn't spoil."
"I wonder how long it took 'em to get to Chicago?"
"Oh, two or three days, probably. We had good train service them."
"Besides turkeys, how did you get money to buy what you needed?"
"We milked 30, 32 cows, or something like that. There were about five of us milking. We each had five or six cows to do."
"You sold the milk?"
"No, the cream."
"Just the cream was all you sold? What'd you do with all that milk?"
"You had cream separators and you fed the calves the milk, or the hogs. That's what kept the hogs going. The milk and the weeds."
"How often did you take the cream to town? Every day?"
"Once a week. Whenever the cream can got full."
"How big was the cream can?"
"Ten gallons. Some people had little ones, 5 gallons, but I don't think we ever did. They were all 10 gallons as far as I remember."
"Didn't it spoil?"
"You kept the cream can in the basement. A lot of people pumped cold water into a tank and set the cream can in that. Some people set it in the stock watering tank. But we never had one."
"They bought the cream, whatever condition it was in?"
"It didn't matter if it was sour. You only got $3 a can. You put $1 worth of gas in the car, bought groceries with the other $2, and went home. We always had to cross some of the things off our grocery list. The $2 never was enough to get everything on the list."
"So you got married and started farming just when things got really bad, in 1929?"
"At the beginning of the Depression and drought. Yes, we farmed for 10 years where we never had a crop." "How did you survive?"
"Cream. And turkeys. I don't know how we lived, but we made it somehow. I remember one year, my husband went threshing, you know. The neighbors had a little something to thresh. Well, we had a little bit too. By the time my husband paid up the bills that we owed, we had exactly $35 to make the winter on and no other income all winter long."
"Well, what did you do?"
"We bought flour to last us over the winter. We had eggs. And we butchered two pigs for meat. I saved up some eggs during the summer months. I used them to make noodles with. Then, when my husband went to town with the sled in the winter time to get the mail, he shot jackrabbits. They bought jackrabbits. Twenty-five cents a piece. And that's what we used, then, to buy salt and yeast and items like that with. "
"Twenty-five cents a piece was quite a bit for a jackrabbit, wasn't it?"
"They bought 'em for the hides, you know. So that's the only income we had one winter."
"If you didn't have any crop, how did you get seed to plant next year?"
"Borrowed it from the government. We planted the seed and it never even came up. It was that dry. Well, then in the fall we'd make another loan. They called it a feed loan. To buy feed for the cattle we kept. We could only keep the cattle that we thought we just had to have. And the rest we had to sell. Government bought 'em. A calf would bring ten dollars, I think. Ten dollars a piece."
"And that was to pay off the loan?"
"No, that was so we buy enough feed to get through the winter. The feed wasn't even straw. It was like bean straw and peas, you know. They mixed molasses and things into it to make it more nutritious for the cattle.
"What if you needed clothes in those years you only had $35?"
"We didn't buy very many clothes. I think my husband bought a pair of overshoes that he had to have and a pair of leather mittens. I remember my aunt giving me a piece of material for Christmas and I made a dress out of it. That was the only new dress I had that year. I never got a new dress for Christmas like everybody else except twice in my life."
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