“Bits and pieces about the Thirties,” written by Margaret Carr of Glendo, Wyoming, was printed in “The Fence Post” in November 1996. Carr’s story was very similar to stories recorded by families in this area. The ’30s were the ’30s, no matter where one might have lived.
“They have been called many different names,” wrote Carr. “The Terrible Thirties, The Dry Thirties, The Dirty Thirties, The Depression Years, to name a few. Most of us old enough to remember those years do so with mixed emotions. I certainly do.”
Margaret married her husband, Wick Carr, in the fall of 1928. She said they were both dirt poor. Her husband, who was from Missouri, was one of 17 children. She grew up as the middle child of three who lived on a “small, dry, hard scrabble ranch in the northeast corner of Wyoming, in the little backcountry community of Buffalo Basin.”
When she married him, Wick had a Model A Ford coupe, a part-wolf-part-German shepherd dog, a saddle horse and gear but no money.
“We were young, strong, healthy, knew how to work, were willing to work and we were in love. I was 18; Wick was 25.”
They were sharecroppers on a 320-acre ranch, which meant they did the work for half of everything raised and sold, as well as paying the taxes which were very low. Many people in this area got their start that very way at Pepper’s Gardens in Coal Creek or on other large ranches in the area.
“Very good for us and good for the landowner,” wrote Carr. “There was a livable house, odds and ends of furniture and lots of nasty, smelly bed bugs. We worked from sunup to dark and beyond, preparing fields, sowing, tending the crops, harvesting and doing chores.”
Carr had a good sense of humor, telling that their heating and cooking was fueled by “free” wood. All they had to do was cut down trees with a two-man crosscut saw, haul it all to the house, cut the trees into blocks, split the blocks into usable sizes, carry them into the house to burn in the wood stoves, then carry out the ashes — all for free!
Water also cost nothing. They dipped it from the spring many yards away, carried pail after pail into the house and heated it on the wood stove. They had no sewer or garbage bills. There was a “slop pail” in the kitchen for liquids. Dry garbage was burned in the stoves; wet garbage was fed to the hogs or chickens; the few tin cans and glass containers (no plastic in those days) were reused for many things.
They had the “little house out back” with free Sears, Robuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. No telephone or electric bills to pay because they had neither. Their lights were kerosene lamps inside; kerosene lanterns outside to do chores, check calving cows or farrowing sows.
Their farm machinery was powered by their team of horses, Sal and Fuzz, who were fed off the land, as were the Carrs themselves. Margaret raised a big truck garden. They butchered, cut up, cured and smoked meat from the hogs, rendered the fat for lard which they used for shortening. She set hens to hatch chicks which grew to lay eggs or were butchered for Sunday fried chicken.
They used fresh produce as much as possible, then canned, dried or brined the rest. They thrashed beans by hand; sold or traded produce to the small grocery store in Belle Fourche for 100 pound sacks of sugar, then used the unbleached muslin sacks to make sheets, pillow cases, dish towels, maybe even curtains. They also gathered wild fruit, eating lots of rhubarb which they called “pie plant.”
“Life was not all work and no play, even in the thirties,” wrote Carr. “We took Sundays off to rest and relax. We went to see friends and neighbors, or they came to see us.
“There were community picnics with lots of trees for shade and level ground for games. The men played horseshoes or just sat and talked. The young men and older boys had foot races, horse races, high jumping, broad jumping and rock throwing contests, sometimes using cow chips.
“The women gossiped, got lunch ready and made coffee over a campfire. The young ladies helped the women, took care of the babies and watched the toddlers.”
Winter Saturday nights were filled with card parties or dances at each others homes. Someone might offer to have the party, but would need for someone else to bring some coffee or even some kerosene for the lamps. Others would bring cake, cookies, pie or sandwiches made from ground ham, pork, chicken or eggs with homemade mayonnaise.
“We should have died from potato salad and eggs!” wrote Carr.
If the home was large enough, furniture would be moved out, then corn meal sprinkled on the floor for dancing.
“Someone always had a fiddle, Jew’s Harp or mouth organ and away we went ... the parties usually lasted until 2 or 3 in the morning. One time it was 20 below zero when Wick and I left to walk home. A beautiful still night, almost as light as day from the moon and snow ...”
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.