The Great Depression

by

Kelvin Keena

Senior High Division

 

When a country changes from peace to wartime, productionfactories have a hard time and the economy experiences mild setback.

The 1920's was an all-around prosperous decade in whicheveryone shared a good feeling and a higher standard of living.

Stocks were being sold at high prices and being resoldat a ridiculous high price. The balloon just kept expanding until it finallyburst that fatal day of 1929. The stock market fell and fell, and in justa few days it lost 30 billion dollars, equaling the amount spent on WorldWar One. It was only a matter of time until everyone felt the crush of thecrash. Local banks closed, farmer's prices dropped, and people were beingissued pink slips (1) and the economy was in a state of shock. It was onlya matter of time.

Even today, the senior citizens recall these tragic days,and many of the pressures they felt then.

In October of 1929, the citizens of the United States experienceda big economic setback that would affect them for about a period of sixyears or more.

The farmers of the Red River Valley had enjoyed good pricesin the previous decade and so had most farmers around the rest of the nation.

At one time, Humboldt had five elevators for the storageof grain, but when the stock market fell, so did the prices. The price ofgrain, or wheat fell from $1.00 to 37 cents and the price for a bushel ofbarley from 50 cents to 8 cents. (2) Most of the farmers around here didtheir own threshing, but some of them, like the occasionally big farmerhad custom threshers do it for them. Many farmers lost their farm becausethey could not pay their mortgage or else many remortgaged their land tothe State of Minnesota.

Most people did not have to worry about starving to deathfor they could always grow gardens and keep milk cows on their farms forcheese and milk. And, as far as meat goes, there was always a deer or tworunning loose in the woods.

Beef producers in cooperation with the government, triedto kill beef to raise the price of meat, and they told the people that ifthey wanted to take home a calf and can that they could, and many peopledid this.

Most farmers tried to ship cattle, and they found thatthey would end up paying a bill for the cost of the freight. The same problemusually applied for hogs. The farmers that kept beef cattle usually waiteduntil it was cold enough to butcher in order to keep the meat fresh. Therewere no freezers in those days.

Dairy farmers found times were hard and frustrating forthem also when they could not sell their cream for a price that made itworth while going to market. Many people did not just raise only dairy cowsbut a few had about 20 head. And then there was the family-size herd ofmaybe 5 or 6 head just depending on the amount of milk the family needed.

Ice did not come from a refrigerator or freezer. They werenot invented yet. So, during the winter the people would pack ice in bigblocks and cover them with about fifteen or sixteen inches of sawdust. Thiswould preserve the ice until at least August, thus the harvesters wouldhave ice water in the fields. In the summer after a hailstorm, people wouldrun out and gather hailstones and make ice cream. It always seemed worththe while.

In the summer, big gardens were raised and in the fallwomen usually canned sometimes five to six hundred quarts of vegetablesfor the big winter to come.

Most farmers found ways to make ends meet during the winterand times when they needed money. Some of the ways were as follows:

One farmer, with his sons, started to raise a few sheep.Soon his rams were producing good flocks that had long wool and ewes thatgave birth to strong lambs. Before he knew it, his kids had entered thesheep in a 4-H contest and won many prizes. Soon his sheep were in demand.

Another farmer owned many acres of land that were coveredwith woods and in these woods there were many petrified stumps. He thoughtthat they would make a very nice decoration. He got in touch with some merchantsin cities such as Chicago and other cities and he made much money by thesale of petrified wood. Thus added a little jingle to his pocket.

At one time, a single rabbit sold for 25 cents each. Theskin was used for moleskin, a product used in the production of dress hatsfor men. And the people ate the meat during the winter - some say it tastedlike fried chicken.

Mink sold very high in those days and often a hunter ortrapper could sell the fur for twenty five or more dollars each. So, peoplewere always on the watch for a mink that wandered a little too close.

Bankers also probably felt the pinch as much as farmersand maybe even a little sooner. Many banks had closed before the stock marketcrash, which was an indication of what was going to happen. And, the onesthat had lasted this long were now surely going to go broke. More was thetrend for the closing of state and independent banks, because they werenot as closely regulated as the national banks.

Many people could not get money for pay and they receiveda slip of paper called a registered warrant. (3) These had to be cashedanywhere one could get them cashed, usually a store or business. Those thatwould buy only did so at a five per cent discount.

Banks weren't few and far between, and all of them in KittsonCounty closed with the exception of the one in Humboldt. Joliette and Northcotehad a bank each. Pembina and Hallock had two and three respectively. And,to think that the towns then were only about the size that they are now.

People tried to withdraw their money but the banks wouldn'tlet it go because they didn't have it. It was all lent out to small businesspeople and farmers. This money was often an older person's life savingsor retirement money.

During the depression, people had a hard time keeping theirjobs in the big cities and at one time teachers actually even had to bidfor their jobs. Unemployment did not affect the people in the valley, becauseeveryone was pretty much self-employed in farming.

A government plan called W.P.A. (4) employed men to buildroads and bridges for a dollar a day and their food for that day. Thesemen were the creators of Lake Bronson which now has a nice state park builtaround it. They also replaced thousands of acres of logged forests by plantingnew trees in place of old ones.

When people had time off in the winter or on lazy summernights, they would make their own fun by having card parties and socials.These people that were experiencing such hard times took their minds offof their problems in several ways. For example, they would really celebrateoccasions as weddings and birthdays... things that we wouldn't even paymuch attention to now.

It wasn't far to the neighbor's farm for farms in thosedays were not as big. Usually, the distance was not more than one mile.

Granary dances were very popular during the winter monthsand people would come from all around the area in sleighs pulled by horseteams.

Many people saved their money for the whole year and inthe summer went all out and traveled to the Hallock Fair, which was muchbigger then, than it is now. There was much livestock to be seen and soldand there was horse racing. At the end of the fair, there was usually dancingand a grandstand. When it was all over and the dust had settled, the peoplehad to go home and start saving for next year.

Radios were also an important part of every day life andmany people have fond memories of such shows as W.L.S. (4) Saturday NightBarn Dance, Show Boat, and Ma Perkins.

Saturday night was the night everyone took a bath and gotcleaned up - after all, water was free. All the people had to do was gopump themselves some.

Sunday was a day of prayer, as the minister traveled fromchurch to church restoring the eternal hope that tomorrow would be a betterday. And, the minister also restored the life into the weak souls of thevictims of "THE GREAT DEPRESSION."

(1) Notices telling a person that his or her services weren'tany longer needed at a particular place of business.

(2) Considered to be good prices at that time.

(3) A type of I.O.U. System. Used when people were shortof cash

(4) Work Progress Act

(5) Worlds Largest Station

 

Bibliography

Meltzer, Milton, "Brother can you spare a dime?"New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1969

Clow, Walter, Humboldt, MN, Interview

Roberts, Orval, Humboldt, MN, Interview?"New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1969

Clow, Walter, Humboldt, MN, Interview

Roberts, Orval, Humboldt, MN, Interview