Wednesday July 29, 2015

Life during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s was most depressing for those in the middle of it. Dust Bowl stories — along with news of war-like antics of the Germans, Chinese and Japanese — filled the local newspapers during those times.

Talk to farmers who lived in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and other “dusty’” places during the 30s and you will hear plenty about the rough times they had. (How many readers have had to shovel sand out of their attic to keep the floor from collapsing from the weight?)
Farmers knew only too well that if the crops didn’t grow, there would be no income. Millions of dollars had been poured into the 14 southeastern Colorado counties by the federal government for various forms of relief. Circumstances simply did not allow the ability to repay much of it. Over 7,000 farm families in Colorado alone were on relief during this time of the depression.
The federal government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of the serious situation, passed legislation creating a Federal Resettlement Administration.
In brief terms, the government was prepared to relocate those Dust Bowl families hit the hardest and place them on agriculturally productive farms, give them low-interest loans to relocate and charge them very modest rent to live in their government-built farm houses.
In December 1935, several hundred Colorado families were considered for resettlement to the Grand Valley and the Uncompahgre area.
By March 1936, a proposal was submitted to the Resettlement Administration to relocate 50 families — from a long list of applicants — to the California Mesa area. Each farm unit was to be allocated 60 to 80 acres of land. At that time 35 of the families were to be located in Montrose County and 15 in Delta County.
The plan called for the government to purchase the land and allow the farmers 33 years to pay for the same. The government was to build the homes and buildings for the farmer, also allowing 33 years for repayment, and provide farm equipment and livestock to the farmer, with a five-year payback on those items.
The whole cost was estimated to be about $7,000 to $8,000 per farm. By June 1937, only Grand Junction and Delta were considered for the resettlement families.
In Colorado, the Dust Bowl hit the southeastern plains the worst and about 100 farmers with their families were placed in the resettlement program and were scheduled to relocate to Delta and Mesa counties in late 1937.
A total of 3,044 acres of farm land was purchased by the federal government for the Western Slope portion of the project. Research shows that most of the families in Delta County were located along Hwy. 348 on California Mesa.
The Resettlement Administration referred to this area as an “infiltration” project since the resettlement farms were widely scattered and not all grouped together, though there was at least one grouping on California Mesa.
In Delta County, there were 24 identical small farm houses built for the resettlement project. Each had a poultry house and barn, about 40 acres of tillable land, and 20 acres or so of pasture.
In addition to the new houses, 27 other units were built by private contractors. These included both new and remodeled existing homes.
By early March 1938, all of the resettlement farms were occupied. The relocated farmers were then given a $2,000 low-interest loan for operating expenses. The farms were essentially turnkey operations, however seed and feed and other supplies still had to be obtained, based on each farmer’s requirements.
Was the resettlement project successful in Delta County? Apparently so. Though the principal farmers of that time are now gone, many of their descendants are still living in this county. The farms on California Mesa continue to thrive and produce.
At a later time some of the resettlement houses were moved into the Delta community. Two of these can be seen next to each other in the 1100 block of Grand Avenue, across from the former Delta Care Center.
Could another Dust Bowl happen? Let’s hope not!

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