I recently gave a speech for the Gooding Center of the College of Southern Idaho, and a few of my friends asked for a copy of the speech as they were unable to attend the presentation. I thought I would share much of it on my blog page for anyone interested in reading it. It is about 2100 words, which is excessively long for a blog in my opinion! But for those who wish to read it, here it is. Enjoy and best wishes to you all,
The Gooding County Experience 1921 to 1941
I think the coolest thing about studying Gooding County and Idaho history, is the fact our county and our state are so young, there are still many alive today who either were themselves, or whose parents and grandparents, were the pioneers that made Idaho, and Gooding County a wonderful place to live.
I don’t suppose a lot of folks today think much about it, but in 1921 Gooding County was still in its infant years—the tender age of eight to be exact.
Much of what we take for granted today—roads, sidewalks, irrigation canals, sewer, water, and power utilities—really didn’t exist in the first two decades of Gooding County’s history. To be sure, there were some who had it better than others. But overall, if one lived in Gooding County in the 1920s and 30s, one knew what it was to be without amenities many other Americans enjoyed.
Since a good many Gooding County folk either went to war, or sacrificed for WWI, one also had a pretty good idea of what it was like to come together as a community in times of hardship.
My Papa, Henry Howard, was born in Hill City in 1907, and lived nearly all of his 97 years in either Camas or Gooding counties.
Prior to his passing, I did several interviews with him about what life was like in the 20s-30s.
He always had a funny anecdote when he started a story. One of my favorites was: “Girls were much prettier in the 1920s than they were in the 1910s. I guess it’s because as they grew up from children into young women, their dresses naturally got shorter!”
Papa also said if you didn’t have the mettle to work hard, and the ability to make do with what you had, Idaho was a terrible place to live. Most every Idahoan he knew had the necessary attributes.
“The 1920s brought some prosperity elsewhere,” he told me, “but not to Idaho.” Here’s what he meant.
Following the end of WW1, the fine folk of Gooding County were ready to get back to work and get their community growing. Unfortunately, while much of the rest of the country was rebounding from the sacrifices it had made during WW1, and the depression of 1921, Idaho was still struggling mightily.
While there are other factors that contributed to the near non-existent recovery of Idaho in the 1920s, the number one factor was the sudden decline following WW1, of Idaho’s three main industries: Agriculture, Mining, and Lumbering.
During WW1, Idaho experienced the incredible incentives of high price and patriotic urging, to greatly expand these three industries. Land was opened for farming, old mines were brought back on line, and Idaho’s vast timberlands were exploited.
Had WW1 lasted a bit longer (I am glad it did not), perhaps Idahoans would have had time to plan a managed withdrawal from these expansions. But, no sooner had these massive expansion efforts taken place than WW1 ended.
With no planned withdrawal, the jubilant celebrations of victory in the War to End All Wars, soon turned to worry and despair as it became clear to Idahoans. They were in for tough times ahead.
In truth, recovery from the 1921 depression for the majority of Idahoans was so slow, it may as well have been non-existent.
It’s important to note throughout the 1920s, Idaho, next to Montana, had the highest rate of emigration of any wester state.
Still, a good many of those who didn’t leave were optimistic they too would pull out of the hard times and see prosperity again. Many of them had left their lives in the east to partake of the Carey Land Act offerings, and they were not about to give up just because of a few years of hard times.
Throughout the 1920s, the Gooding Leader ran numerous articles urging citizens to buy from local merchants, and encouraging local merchants to, “share their largesse,” by investing in community projects such as local boys and girl’s clubs, outlaw basketball tournaments, and many other activities sponsored by the Gooding College.
Despite hard times all of these promotions did, in fact, work. The people of Gooding County felt they were really moving forward—albeit a bit more slowly than anticipated.
Bliss, Hagerman, and Wendell—the Gooding Leader reminded everyone—also had plenty of sites worth seeing and things worth doing.
“Really, there’s room for all!” A 1927 editorial stated. “Come to Gooding County, you’ll be more than glad you did.”
By 1929, things were looking better for Idahoans, including Gooding County folks in the county were seeing an increase in prices for ag products, as well as new business openings in all four county towns.
County farmers had figured out one of the best ways to get top dollar for their product was to form pools and cooperatives.
Lamb associations brought top price. Turkey associations brought top price, a creamery, built on the north end of the town of Gooding was doing excellent. In June of 1929 a turkey association formed and by the time all the turkeys were shipped for Thanksgiving and Christmas markets, Gooding County farmers saw a wonderful pay off of over $135,000.
On October 29th, 1929, the United States and the rest of the world was plunged into the Great Depression when the stock market crashed.
While there was panic in the streets in many large cities across the nation in the days following the crash, the folks of Gooding County didn’t seem to get overly excited. No declaration of the stock market crash appeared on the front page of the Gooding Leader throughout the rest of 1929 and for most of 1930.
From then on, there was some information provided in the newspaper about various fallout from the crash, but for the most part, editorials centered on Gooding County happenings.
When I asked my papa what he remembered of the reaction, he just shrugged and said: “I don’t suppose most folks around here had much in the way of market stocks to worry over.”
Perhaps many of the county’s leaders felt the same way President Hoover felt:
“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort, we shall rapidly recover.”
Hoover, sadly, was wrong. As 1929 rolled into 1930, it quickly became clear to every American the crash had plunged the world into chaos, and the majority of Americans, no matter where they lived, would soon feel the bite of the Great Depression.
By 1931, the forming of pools and cooperatives had become an absolute necessity. In some cases, it was the only way farmers could obtain the maximum amount possible—which was, more often than not—barely enough to sustain them until the next crops could be sold.
In an article, Idaho and the Great Depression,” published by Idaho Yesterdays, Summer Issue 1969, Leonard Arrington shared this:
“Many Idaho farmers faced foreclosure, so neighbors dutifully showed up at sheriff’s auctions to bid the best price—after quietly agreeing to not bit against one another—as a result, a splendid team of horses sold for $1.50 cents; a grain binder for $2; a hay mover for $1. Prices of other animals and equipment ran from a low of .50 cents to a high of $3.”
The farmers paid the sums they had bid, received the items purchased, and promptly turned them back to the farmer who had been foreclosed.
Now that’s a good Idaho neighbor!
Throughout the 1920s Republicans ruled both nationwide, and in Idaho. But by 1932, Idahoans as well as much of the rest of the nation were ready for a change. In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as President, and Herbert Hoover was left to take the blame for the Great Depression and all of the ills associated with it.
People who lost their jobs and homes, often ended up in shanty towns called, Hoovervilles. Recycled nails were called Hoover nails. There were even Hoover hats and boots.
FDR offered a new deal that was in the opinion of many Americans, including Idahoans, their last best chance to hand on to what little they left.
Papa told me most of his family and friends absolutely hated the idea of government dole.
“What it really came down to,” Papa said, “Was there isn’t much taste in pride when that’s all you have to eat.”
By 1934, any job one could get was welcome. President Roosevelt came out with a number of programs, affectionately dubbed the “Alphabet Programs.” Papa went to work for the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. While papa did not work on this project, one of the most important WPA projects in Gooding County, was the riprapping of the Big Wood River through Gooding. This project was completed in 1941.
There’s little question a good many Idahoans had to swallow their pride in order to participate in New Deal programs, but swallow it they did.
It wasn’t until many years later, Idahoans began to realize the New Deal programs were really a boon for Idaho.
In Arrington’s article he stated: “If one reduces New Deal expenditures to a per capita basis, Idaho ranked 8th among the 48 states in expenditures of the anti-depression agencies of the New Deal.”
In fact, Idaho ranked 1st in Rural Electrification expenditures; 2nd in Civilian Conservation Corps expenditures; 2nd in Civil Administration expenditures; k4th in Public Works grants; 6th in Public Roads subsidies; 9th in Federal Emergency relief; 18th in Reconstruction Finance grants; and 21st in Works Program Administration expenditures.
In short, the 14th largest state in the Union, got over $330 million dollars in much needed infrastructure and other works.
New Deal money aside, people still had to be quite innovative in order to make it through the tough times.
My mama was four years-old when the depression started. She was a freshman in high school when it ended.
“We grew massive gardens, and canned or traded everything we grew. The hardest items to get were sugar, salt, and pepper. For those items we usually traded eggs.”
Mama said because her family lived in such a rural area, getting through the Great Depression was far easier than for people living in large towns. “People in rural communities had the opportunity to grow or raise much of their food. It made it a lot easier for people to take care of themselves and help others.”
In Gooding County, people who found themselves in possession of extra, often placed their excess in boxes or bins on their town’s main streets for others to take as needed.
Because Idaho is a land of bounty, hunting and fishing were helpful in getting folks through the Great Depression.
By 1939, Idaho, along with the rest of America, was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Farm prices were rising, new businesses were once again moving into rural areas, and larger enterprises were building and investing in Idaho.
The majority of the water projects that were severely hampered by the Great Depression, were near or at completion, and according to the Gooding Leader, the future of Gooding County was, “Looking rosier every day!”
Unfortunately, with the fading of the Great Depression there was a new worry for the fine folk of Gooding County to chew on.
A nasty fellow by the name of Adolf Hitler was stopping around Europe, acting like he owned the place. Another nasty fellow by the name of Isoroku Yamamato was figuring out the best way to put America’s Pacific Fleet on the ocean floor.
Most agree it was the onset of WWII that finally defeated the Great Depression. But the tough times kept coming for the fine folks of Gooding County.
In the last 100 years, Gooding County sons and daughters have fought in two world wars, fought in Korea, fought in Vietnam, and are currently fighting in the Middle East. We’ve suffered through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the farming crisis of the 1920s and 1980s. We’ve held our own against the globalization of the economy, and against the growth of multinational agribusiness.
I think my papa always said it best: “People around here understand, when the going gets tough—thank God you live in Idaho.”