Homer Curtis Crouch
An Okie Farm Boy-Chapter One Farm Life Ain't Easy
Eight miles south of the Kansas line just before the Panhandle of Oklahoma, in Harper County, are160 acres of land that my Grandpa Gilbert homesteaded.
The dirt on this farm is red as any you will find in those Red Hills of Oklahoma. After Grandpa Gilbert died, his son. my Uncle Claude, tried farming the land. He had asthma so bad that he moved to Enid, Oklahoma with Grandma Gilbert. Uncle Claude worked for the Rock Island Railroad until his retirement.
Dad bought the farm for twenty-five hundred dollars from Grandma Gilbert. There was an old sod house on the property at that time. Sis was born in Kansas and was just a baby when they moved to the farm. Six years later my brother was born, and nine years later I was born. Before I was born Dad built a little three room wood frame house which still stands today. The old house is beginning to fall apart. Cattle are using it as a shelter. The little house that Mama kept so spotless and clean now has cow manure all over the floor. The east kitchen window that Mama would look out of and see those beautiful Oklahoma sunrises is broken out. Nothing but the window frame left.
I can't stand to visit the old farm any more, so I just drive by and remember all the good and bad times. Guess they call them the good old days. Now I know what Mama meant, when she would sit at the piano and play and sing, "Precious Memories." I'm hoping that lightning or a tornado will remove the old house from the farm.
Dry land farming in those rolling hills of Harper County was not easy in those days or even today. This part of Oklahoma is subjected to drought or heavy rain storms that will wash the top soil down the creek to the low lands. We called those down pours, gully washers. After years of neglect, the farmers started terracing the land to control the erosion. Today, with terracing and building lakes and canals in Oklahoma, they have eliminated a lot of the problems they once had. Oklahoma today has more acre feet of water than the Land of 10.000 Lakes Minnesota.
I can vividly remember the Dust Bowl days of Oklahoma. Hardly anything would grow except Russian Thistle and Sun Flowers. But how they did grow! The thistles would get to be 2 to 4 ft., in diameter, and. would blow up against the fences, the dirt would blow in and filter down amongst the thistle. Eventually the entire 5 to 6 ft high fence was covered with dirt. The cattle could walk right over the fence. Today you can still see where fences are built on top of fences. You can still find farm machinery completely covered up by the dirt from the Dust Storms of the Dirty Thirties.
Most of my Uncles, who owned land near dad's farm, finally gave up and left their farms. Uncle George's farm is owned by his son, Glen Crouch. Uncle Henry's farm by his son, Marvin. Uncle Bill sold his 320 acres of land for five hundred dollars. Today it is worth quite a few thousand dollars. The man who bought it was a very good farmer and knew how to terrace and summer fallow the land. Uncle Charley sold his farm and moved to Ashland, Kansas. In a four mile area around Doby Springs, most all the land was owned by Crouch's. Dad's land was probably the least productive of all the Crouch brothers farms. It is most all rolling hills. Uncle Bill probably had the best farm land of all. Most of his land was flat and made good wheat land. Uncle Charley's land was very good flat land also.
In the late thirties the drought seemed to lift and farmers could start raising crops again. They say what started the dust bowl days was when the farmers began burning their wheat fields to get rid of the heavy straw and leaving bare ground. When the wind blew, it started blowing the dirt. The dust storms were so bad that it would blot out the sun, and the chickens would go to roost at noon. At times, the dust would be so bad that we would place a damp rag over our face to breathe.
Tornadoes were quite plentiful then and still are in Oklahoma. This part of Oklahoma is known as Tornado Alley. I have been through three of those devils. They are something to be afraid of. I especially remember one on a Sunday. Mama and my brother were in the house, She was playing the piano and the two of them were singing and having fun as they often did. I was out side playing in the yard. There was no wind blowing, and it was deathly quiet. A very cold breeze started blowing, I looked up. About a mile southwest of our house was a big black cloud and an object like an elephant's trunk hanging down, swinging back and forth, coming towards our house. I ran to the kitchen door and yelled, "TORNADO!" Mama and Lawrence came out, and we made a mad dash for the storm cellar. As soon as we got into the cellar Lawrence tied down the storm cellar door. Just then it sounded like a huge vacuum sweeper trying to suck everything up around us. I remember Mama saying, "Oh, my God there goes the house." After it seemed to quiet down we opened the cellar door. The house was still there but the barn was gone, a few dead chickens and a cow with a two- by-four through her belly. Mama was crying and saying, "Thank you God, for sparing us."
Our neighbors to the south-west of us were not so lucky. Not one building left standing on their place. Even the out-house was gone. While I was living at home, I recall three tornado's just missing the farm. I believe that the 80 foot cliffs that are about 100 yards south of the house are what has kept the house from being destroyed. During the thirties it seems like we spent as much time in the storm cellar as in the house. It was equipped with beds, a kerosene lantern, ax, garden hoe and shovel. The garden hoe or the shovel was used to kill the snakes that also liked to take refuge in our storm cellar. They got in trying to find a cool place and then would fall down the steps. Most of the time it was a rattlesnake, so dad or someone would send the snake off to snake heaven. The storm cellar was also used for storing all the fruit, vegetables, and meat that mama canned.
The little town of Buffalo is seven miles east and three miles south of the farm. Buffalo was the town where we went shopping, and I attended High School. The farm was four miles north of Doby Springs. Doby Springs was supposed to have been the county seat of Harper County. Somehow, there was some collusion in Buffalo and they got the county seat away from Doby Springs. I never did understand the full story and probably will never know since all the old timers who would have known, are gone. Doby Springs would have been the best location for the town since it has a beautiful natural spring for water. Buffalo has always piped its water from there. The little settlement got its name from Cris Doby (full name was Christopher Columbus Doby), who homesteaded there. It is a pretty little place, with groves of trees, big old cottonwoods along with the willows, and mulberries. Back in the WPA days they built a small dam in the bottom and stocked it with fish. When I was a kid I used to ride my horse, Joker, down to Doby Springs and go fishing. Doby Springs became a nice place for the people of the surrounding area to have picnics, family reunions and gatherings of all types. They still have the Old Settlers Picnic there every year. Mama's cousin used to have religious camp meetings there at least once a year back in the thirties.
During those dust bowl days Dad did everything he could to make a living. The farm wasn't really doing it. He even had a hard time keeping up the payments on the farm. In 1934 he sold part of the mineral rights to the farm and bought a Black 1934 Ford long-wheel base truck. He made a box for it so he could haul grain, iron, or about anything he could to make a few dollars. I believe dad said he paid $650.00 for it. It was brand new, and he was proud of it. This was at the time Japan was buying all the scrap iron from the USA. There was a lot of old farm machinery around the country so dad would haul the scrap iron to Alva, Oklahoma to a little Jewish fellow who would buy all kinds of metal. Even I started hunting brass, aluminum, copper or any kinds of metal. Dad would take it to Alva and sell it for me. Between picking up scrap metal and trapping skunks I kept a few dimes in my pocket.
Most of dad's work was hard work lifting heavy iron and bales of hay. I never heard him complain, other than hear him say, "Boy, I'm plum tuckered out." God bless him, we never did go hungry. I recall when the WPA came along, Dad would not take welfare food. He said, "Give it to the people who really need it." He would get upset when he saw the neighbors, who had a lot more money than we had, picking up welfare food.
Dad would take his truck and haul anything he could to make a dollar. He hauled bales of hay for the various farmers from wherever he could find it. Around Cherokee, Oklahoma there was alfalfa hay raised since they had water for irrigation. From Nash, Oklahoma he hauled cedar and black jack timber posts and sold them to the farmers. He hauled a lot of coal from Tulsa, Oklahoma back to Buffalo to sell to people for their stoves. On one occasion dad took me with him to Tulsa where the coal mines were. This was great. He stopped at Pawnee, Oklahoma where I got to meet "Pawnee Bill," the Indian scout, who was in his eighties. I also got to see the Pawnee Indians that I had heard so much about. The Government thought they were giving the Indians worthless land, and then oil was discovered on this Indian land. The Indians became very wealthy. Most of the Indians couldn't drive, but they hooked horses to the front of their cars to pull them wherever they wished to go.
On this trip I especially remember the dinner we had one noon. (Dinner was at noon, back then.) Dad asked if I was hungry? I think I was always hungry. He stopped at a house in one of the little towns, and said, "This is where we eat, I think you'll like it." The dinner was fantastic, fried chicken, gravy, home made bread, butter, the works. It was served family style. We sat down to one great big table, you could eat all you wanted, and it only cost 25 cents for each of us. Those were the days when you could get a hamburger for five cents, or three for a dime. Breakfast at a restaurant would cost twenty- five cents. Dinners and suppers about fifty cents, unless you had a T-bone steak, and that would cost 75 cents.
I didn't get to go with Dad on many of his trips, especially the long trips, as Mama and I had to stay home and do the chores. He did take me to Alva a couple of times when we would haul scrap iron to the junk dealer. These were only one day trips and we would be home in time to do the chores. He would have the scrap iron loaded by evening the day before and we would leave just as soon as the chores were done the next morning. Sometimes Mama would go along and she and I would window shop while dad was unloading the iron. We would go have lunch somewhere, then head for home.
One of the saddest moments while growing up on the farm was when Dad was on one of his hauling trips. I was about 11 o r 12. Dad had a beautiful team of big bay colored horses, they looked so much alike, you could hardly tell them apart. Dad was proud of them. The mare, Bess, had laid down on a rattlesnake, so the vet told us when he came out to look at her. She had been bitten on her fore legs just at the neck line. She probably laid down to sleep or to roll over in the dirt as horses will do to help keep the flies off. Dad told me the morning before he left, if she didn't improve that I would h ave to take the .22 rifle and shoot her. A day or so later I went down to the south pasture to check on her. She could hardly move, and couldn't get up to drink water. I knew that I had to do what Dad told me. I rode back to the house and told Mama and got the .22 rifle. I went back to where Bess laid and shot her in the forehead to end her misery. I was crying so hard, I could hardly see. I later told Dad, "Please never ask me to do anything like that again."
The WPA did give people jobs, which didn't pay a lot. Dad maintained the roads in our district, with his team of horses and a county road grader. He got 5 dollars a day for himself and his horses. When I look back remembering how my parents had to work, it is hard to believe they lived as long as they did. Maybe that is why they lived so long. It is said, " That hard work never killed anyone. Only the worrying and fretting about it kills you."
In 1936 dad traded the old truck in for a new one. It also was a black Ford long-wheel base truck. In 1937 when I was 13 years old, and school was out, Dad took Mama and me on a vacation to Colorado. We didn't know what a vacation was other than going down to Doby Springs grove on a picnic. It was the first time I had ever been out of the state of Oklahoma other than going to Kansas which was only eight mile north of the farm. For our trip to Colorado, Dad rigged a canvas tarp over the bed of the truck and took the folding cots out of the storm cellar, he found a portable gas stove somewhere and loaded it all in the back of the truck. This is the first mobile home I recall. First stop was at my Uncle Herman's ranch at Springfield, Colorado. We visited 2 or 3 days there. Uncle Herman's daughter, Joy, showed me a great time. She saddled up a couple of horses and we rode around their ranch. She said somewhere on their ranch, saddle bags full of gold coins were buried. They had been hidden by Outlaws who had robbed a bank. The bank robbers had dropped the saddle bags between some big rocks. After the robbers were captured, they tried to show the posse where they had put the saddle bags, but couldn't remember exactly the spot. The gold was never found. I've always wanted to go back to Springfield and look for the gold. After we left Uncle Herman's we went to Manitou Springs. We went through the Garden of the Gods, made camp that night and the next day we took a bus tour to the top of Pikes Peak. What an experience for an Okie' kid who had never seen such country before. That was when I first fell in love with Colorado. We left Manitou Springs and went to Canyon City. Visited a Monastery, where dad bought jugs of apple cider. We then visited the State Penitentiary Farm, Dad bought lettuce and tomatoes to take back to Buffalo to sell to the stores. He had been there before and bought apples and peaches from their orchard. The Penitentiary at that time was a self-sustaining institution. They raised cattle for meat and milk; chickens to eat and for eggs. They had very large gardens and sold a lot of the garden produce. This was back when the inmates would learn a trade to benefit them when they came out of prison. When someone went to prison back then, they lost all their rights and privileges. After the visit to the prison farm, dad took us back to the State Prison with its big high walls and guard towers with all the guards and their guns. Dad had heard about some of the hand-tooled leather goods the inmates made and had for sale in their shop. We went through the gate and into the visitors center, there the guard asked if we would like to see where the prisoners were kept. The guard gave us a tour and answered our questions. As we walked by a cell a prisoner spoke to us and wanted to visit. He told us he was in prison for killing a man during a robbery. He said that he would be in prison for the rest of his life. He looked at me and said, "Kid, you be sure you mind your mama and dad and stay out of trouble. If you don't you will end up just like me. Dad and mama could tell that fellow made quite an impression on me. We loaded up on produce at Canyon City, stopped in Rocky Ford, and dad bought more produce like onions and whatever was available. By the time we arrived home we had a load on the truck. We talked about that vacation for years. Dad made other trips to Colorado to bring back produce to sell to the grocery stores. He would bring back a truck load of cantaloupe from Rocky Ford, go to Canyon City in the fall and bring back a load of apples. He drove the old '36 Ford for a number of years. I drove it hauling wheat for dad during the harvest until I went into the service. The first real date I had was picking up my girl friend in that old '36 Ford Truck. I don't know how many miles were on it, but it helped to keep food on the table at the Crouch farm.
An Okie Farm Boy
Autobiography of Homer Curtis Crouch