Part one of three parts
In 1929, the West still exhibited vestiges of the frontier. Homesteaders were sprinkled over the region trying to "prove-up" on their land so they could gain title to the property offered to them by the federal government. These rugged individualists were joined by miners, oil field hands, and prospectors living in tents or wooden structures spread across the vast western landscape. In the early twentieth-century west pioneers lived either on the newly created energy frontier, or in old hard rock mining districts where they stubbornly searched for the last traces of gold. Yet these hardy individualists were no longer as isolated as they would have been a few decades earlier. The automobile, telephone, and rising numbers of Westerners lessened their isolation. Moreover, the nation's economy entwined the individualist into a net of dependency on merchants and bankers. There was little Westerners could do to completely escape the impacts of the Great Depression.
The West of the 1930s was still dependent on outside capital for development. Historically, traditional sources of revenue included eastern and foreign investments and federal funds. Federal monies were used to underwrite projects such as the construction of railroads or, more recently, to build new irrigation projects. During the early years of the Depression, private investments continued to reach the West but in diminished amounts. With the loss of private investment, the region turned to Washington. Depending on Washington for revenue followed traditions as old as the land grants to the railroads and the Homestead Act for farmers and ranchers. Both the land grants and Homestead Act were initiated by the Republican Party during Abraham Lincoln's administration. The federal government's land grants and loans to Union Pacific Railroad led to the creation of Wyoming Territory. The precedent was set. If Wyoming needed money to initiate change or fuel growth in the state, it turned to the federal government. It was a reluctant request, but one made nonetheless. Continue to Endnotes
In the 1930s, bound in the depths of the Depression, Wyoming briefly turned to the Democratic Party to provide the federal funds needed to solve the state's problems; this was a departure from the past. The request for money was not the departure; the political party Wyoming turned to was. On a per capita basis, the Democratic Party's New Deal programs provided more funds to the West than any other section of the nation. In the years from 1933 to 1939, each person in Wyoming received $626. Nationwide, only Montana and Nevada received more per capita.
The New Deal as not welcomed by everyone in Wyoming since the arrival of federal funds was followed by direct federal involvement. In the West, varied economic conditions combined with diverse natural environments to create dissimilar needs and responses. In Wyoming, the New Deal policies were resisted. As James Patterson notes, "local traditions and personalities guaranteed that the New Deal would have almost as many different effects in the West as there were personalities." With the high per capita expenditure in Wyoming, the reception would be what it always had been: while always "dependent on various types of federal aid, they wanted as little government as possible, and preferred most of that be in state and local hands."
The Depression served as a crucible in which Wyoming politics were reshaped. Statewide political attitudes were not reshaped into an unrecognizable form but did begin to take the form of the present political patterns still evident in the state. Wyoming entered the Union a Republican state, briefly experimented with the Democratic party, and emerged once again a Republican state. The state took on a distinct political culture in the years following 1932. In many ways this culture began to emerge in the 1920s. Yet, it would take the Great Depression and the New Deal to create the distinctive political characteristics recognizable in the 1990s. In the 1930s, Wyoming's political values and attitudes moved through a series of phases that led to the creation of the Wyoming Democratic Party shaped both by the New Deal and Wyoming conservatism. It would also create a Republican party not so much changed, but forever resistant to certain forms of federal government intervention. In essence, the modern political culture that is distinctively Wyoming's took on its present form in the 1930s. Continue to Endnotes
Wyoming has always been a Republican state. The minority party, the Democrats, only raise their heads in resistance during times of economic stress. Most notably as the result of the Depression of 1893 and again during the Great Depression following 1929, the Democratic Party witnessed its greatest success in Wyoming history. This generalization holds true for the state as a whole, but not necessarily for all counties in Wyoming. Most notably, Sweetwater County, with its rich ethnic diversity that grew out of its mining heritage, has traditionally been perceived as different from the rest of the state. This difference is measurable in numerous ways, but the most obvious is in the field of politics. In the 1890s, Sweetwater County briefly experimented with Populism, at the turn of the century it moved towards Socialist candidates. In the 1920s, the majority of the voters followed the Democratic banner. It would continue to follow the party of Roosevelt while the rest of the state remained in the Republican camp.
Prior to 1932, the Democrats in Wyoming were normally poor, unorganized and dispirited. They also lacked the backing of the state's newspapers. From 1912 until 1930, the turnout in the Democratic primary elections "never reached 15,000, and had averaged less than one-half the Republican turnout." This changed in 1932. "Departing from the normal pattern, 25,000 participated in the Democratic primary in 1932 (40,000 in the Republican primary) and in the general elections the voters rejected Herbert Hoover emphatically, giving Roosevelt 56 percent of the vote, not far below the 57.4 percent the nation gave him." Sweetwater County Democrats could boast of having one of their party as the chief executive. Republicans in places like Park County, where Cody was the county seat, had lost their national leader.
On the state level the Democrats also fared well, but it was not a radical change. The returns for the 1932 election showed a persistence in conservative values. A Democrat, Leslie A. Miller, was placed in the governor's mansion in Cheyenne by a margin of only 3,438 votes, but "he was well known for his rugged individualism." The U.S. House of Representatives' race was won by a conservative Republican. Still sitting in the U.S. Senate were two holdover Senators, Robert D. Carey, who was a conservative Republican, and the other, John B. Kendrick, a conservative high-tariff Democrat. On the state level, the Republicans still controlled the Senate in Cheyenne, while the Democrats held the lower house. Thus, as T. A. Larson concludes, "The leftward deviation in 1932 did not constitute a complete rejection of conservatism and the Republican Party." Rather the political shift reflected dissatisfaction with the economy. Once the economy was returned to a more stable condition, Republicans quickly voted for the party they never really abandoned in Wyoming.
The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 had an immediate impact on the Nation and Wyoming. The initial impact came in the famed "One Hundred Days" following his inauguration in 1933. Wyoming was slower than most in accepting federal aid. In June of 1933, the head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Harry Hopkins, "complimented Wyoming for being the only state or territory which had not asked for or received any federal assistance for its needy." Only briefly could the state point to this recognition by Hopkins with pride. For on June 29, 1933, "the state accepted a federal check for $44,620, its first New Deal relief allotment." The New Deal had arrived but it would be implemented in a manner uniquely tempered by Wyoming attitudes.
Throughout Wyoming, there were numerous politicians openly opposed to government programs sent west from Washington, D.C. after 1932. For example, Wyoming's governor, Leslie A. Miller, on December 2, 1935, delivered a speech to the "Coordinating Committee of Federal Departments and Agencies in Wyoming." In an address to this group assembled in Cheyenne, Miller stated, "Now the word I would like to leave here is this -- that you people have a very solemn duty in the management of the affairs which have been entrusted to your hand, [to] try to do everything in your power to encourage and enhance this improvement in general agriculture and industrial conditions to the end that these appropriations by the federal government may be reduced . . . ." Miller adds, "It has been the thought of many of us for some time that the federal government could not possibly go on making these huge appropriations for work relief and general relief for the country will not stand it interminably." Miller then offered his philosophy of government: "It is contrary to our conception of government, for example, that our government should compete with private industry for the production of food." The governor went on to say, "the quicker these agencies for relief find that they have no work to do, then the quicker we will know that our country has gotten back to that state that the Administration considered it should get back to when it began all these activities." Miller was a Democratic state governor, one of only ten to ever serve in Cheyenne.
Miller was reflecting an attitude not uncommon to other leaders in Wyoming. A few months earlier, The Cody Enterprise ran a front page article stating: "Give business a chance! This is the cry from one end of the country to the other. It expresses not only the yearning of the American people but also their sound common sense." The editor, who assumed to speak for all Americans, wrote: "They know that if only the government will stop interfering with business the natural forces of recovery will make themselves felt and many of the present problems will cease troubling." However, not everyone agreed. In Rock Springs, the New Deal was warmly welcomed by most.
The way Wyomingites dealt with the problems of the Depression reflects how they viewed themselves and their government. Initially, the solution to food shortages and the loss of homes was addressed by individual efforts. Neighbors, friends, and family members worked to help one another. At times, the major Wyoming corporate investors, such as Union Pacific Coal and Railroad Companies, assisted by providing homes and minimal employment. Local bankers, such as John Hay gave forbearance on loans. Politicians, such as Joseph O'Mahoney worked to bring jobs and federal funds to his adopted state. And the federal government through various relief agencies invested large amounts of monies in the State. The efforts of private individuals were praised and applauded. Conversely aid from corporations and the federal government while desired, were viewed with suspicion and contempt. The political cultural of personal action combined with the fear and resentment of big government and big business was reflected in the voting patterns and actions of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Wyoming reacted to the policies of the New Deal in one of three ways. Many communities welcomed Roosevelt's relief programs with gratitude. Others were ambivalent towards the federal governments attempts to improve the economic conditions of the state. Then there were those communities and individuals who were openly hostile to Washington's perceived interference. In many ways, the reactions followed party lines. For example, Rock Springs, as a coal mining camp, was Democratic and generally welcomed the New Deal. Cody, with its agricultural base, traditionally voted Republican and the reaction to Roosevelt's policies ranged from ambivalence to hostility. Most Wyoming communities contained elements that either supported or opposed the White House's Depression policies. An analysis of the situation in Cody and Rock Springs serves as a good comparison of the attitudes held by the citizens of the state.
While the politics of Wyoming needs to be looked at on a statewide level, the reaction to the adverse conditions created by the Depression are clearly seen in Sweetwater County. The county serves as a microcosm by which the rest of the state can be compared and contrasted. In Sweetwater County, attempts to solve the problems caused by the depressed economy were addressed on three levels: 1) personal and communal; 2) corporate, commercial, or industrial and; 3) by the federal government. While there were other reactions to the Depression the way people and towns responded to the crisis brought on by the Depression reflects the way people and towns felt about Wyoming's abiding myth that individuals should depend on self-reliance and their local communities to solve their problems. The corporate reaction was intriguing in that companies like Union Pacific both aided employees and also took advantage of the depressed wages and prices to modernize and better compete using new machines instead of manpower. Finally, the federal role through the various New Deal programs had a major impact on Sweetwater County. Viewing Sweetwater County as a microcosm then expanding the perspective to the whole state, helps partially explain Wyoming's political culture.
Personal and Communal Efforts to Ease the Economic Crisis
In the 1920's, Sweetwater County underwent a transition that was not readily apparent at first glance. These changes would temper not only the areas politics, but their response to the New Deal. For years, the county had depended on the railroad and coal for its economic foundation. Other sources of revenue were evident, such as the banking and the retailing industries, and coupled with ranching and, to a lesser degree, tourism, these industries provided a few jobs; but the bedrock of the economy was mining and transportation. This was about to change. In the 1920's, a slow transition was occurring. As the use of mining machinery grew, the need for coal miners decreased. This further shift to machinery over men came at a critical point. The coal industry was depressed. Miners needed work; companies desired profits. The answer for the company was more machines and less men. Efficiency became the perceived means to success. More importantly, petroleum was becoming more widely used as a source of fossil fuel. In addition, natural gas slowly became an attractive alternative to coal for heating homes. The combination of these diverse changes was deadly. Lessening demand coupled with the mechanization of mines, meant fewer jobs. Coal mines were closing and those that remained open needed fewer workers.
As coal contracts vanished, so did the towns in Sweetwater County that depended on either coal mining or the railroad for their existence. Railroad towns like Green River experienced layoffs. By the end of the 1930s, both the coal camps of Gibraltar and Gunn either no longer existed or were shadows of their former self. The loss of revenues due to the decreasing demand for coal affected Rock Springs and Superior whose livelihood depended on the mines to fuel their economies. From 1920 to 1932 coal towns waxed and waned, but in the background oil and later natural gas slowly emerged as industries destined to shore up the local economy. Still, in the 1920s, at least in Sweetwater County, the oil industry was in its infancy. Statewide, the story was different. People were being drawn to the oil fields in increasing numbers. In fact, throughout Wyoming the petroleum industry became one of the leading employers; but this was not yet the case in Sweetwater County. In the 1920s, the oil fields of the county were of secondary concern in comparison to the petroleum development taking place in areas like the Salt Wells Field in Natrona County. Continue to Endnotes
Toward the end of the 1920s, changes were also on the horizon for the ranching industry. A primary concern to most stockmen and homesteaders in the 1920s was the over-grazed range. Overgrazing had reached the point that Senator Taylor from Colorado said, there was not a blade of grass left in Wyoming. It was an exaggeration, but reflects a serious problem. In addition, agricultural prices were depressed in the years following World War I. While homesteaders worked to improve their land, they often found the price for their products could not cover the cost for those improvements. The ranching industry, never the domain of small ranchers in Sweetwater County, increasingly required more and more land in order to insure a profitable operation. When the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 based the amount of public land that could be leased on the amount of land the rancher owned; the Act was reflecting a fact. To make a profit, large amounts of grazing land was required. Small homesteaders with their limited revenues, rarely could hope to control enough land to turn a profit. The days of the small rancher were numbered, this was becoming increasingly apparent in the 1920s. Nonetheless, it would take the Taylor Grazing Act to end the dream of acquiring free land by homesteading on federally owned lands.
The Cowboy State, Wyoming historian T. A. Larson points out, "was already quite lean and hungry when the Great Depression began." The three principal industries, "agriculture, coal, and oil" were already "in the doldrums, there had been little prosperity in 1920s." In the decade of the twenties, one hundred and one banks failed in Wyoming: in the 1930s, only twenty seven closed. The lack of bank closures in the thirties did not reflect prosperity, it was due to the fact that those that had tenaciously survived the twenties were not able to endure the final blow leveled with the onset of the Depression.
The Stock Market Crash in 1929 did not go unnoticed in Sweetwater County. Yet, in many ways, a recession had existed since the early part of the decade. While the coal mines still operated, often they were idle during the summer months. This was part of the national trend in the 1920s. Homesteaders who made their homes in Sweetwater County during the first two decades of the twentieth-century found prices for their crops were not equal to what they received during World War I. The expansion of the oil industry in the county was a bright spot in the area's economy, but it did not offset the overall depression that was affecting the area's economy. In fact, by the time of the "Crash," Sweetwater County's economy had stabilized near rock bottom. The nationwide Depression simply compounded existing problems and did not lead to any immediate changes in the local economy.
To improve the local economy, in November of 1930, the Wyoming State Federation of Labor and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) united their efforts to urge Wyoming citizens to burn coal as a means of lessening unemployment. They were also combating the rising use of natural gas in homes. The UMWA claimed that one way they could lessen the problem and stem the growing "unemployment among the coal miners," was to encouraged homeowners to use coal. Rock Springs, Superior and other southwestern Wyoming coal camps stood to benefit from the use of coal fired home heaters. Yet, some felt there was no real unemployment problem in Rock Springs.
In a speech given to the Rock Springs Lion Club, Union Pacific Coal Company official, George B. Pryde "stated that there was no alarming unemployment situation in Rock Springs." The unemployment problem might not have been alarming to Mr. Pryde, he had a job. Pryde later admitted that while, "the coal mine payroll of the Union Pacific Coal company is normal . . . the railway payroll has fallen off slightly." The old adage seemed to apply, "a recession is when you're working and can't pay the bills, a depression is when you don't have a job." In spite of the rosy outlook in the speech given by Pryde to the Rock Springs Lion Club, the Lion's Club appointed a committee "to investigate the condition of employment with the view of helping the situation if need be."
Some of the county's unemployed were absorbed in road building crews and in airport construction. Both of these reflect pre-New Deal expenditures of federal funds in Sweetwater County. In the fall of 1930, "with unemployment one of the greatest problems confronting the country, there [was] a gain in the number of men engaged in road building." Nationwide it was estimated that in the number of men employed with federal highway aid led to a four percent increase in employment over 1929. Wyoming and Sweetwater County benefited from the increased amount of monies spent on road improvements.
Rock Springs also profited from funds used to improve the regional airport. Since the town was one of the stops along the route of the first transcontinental air mail line, the city had always benefited from private and federal funds spent on improving air mail services. In 1930, $40,000 was spent on a combination "hangar and administration building" that would contain enough space for "tri-motored planes, shops, ticket, radio, and weather service offices." Road improvements and construction of new facilities at the airport helped offset the loss of jobs, but they were seasonal construction jobs and did not replace jobs lost on the railroad.
In spite of funds invested by the government in the two previous years, the news for Sweetwater County unemployed grew worse in early 1931. The Central Coal and Coke Company Coal Mine in Rock Springs closed. As a result, 75 miners were laid off. Managers hoped the mine would reopen in three or four months. They also speculated that "a number of the men affected by the layoff are in the habit of following other pursuits than coal mining during the spring months and [the mine manager] believed many of the 75 [would] find other employment." In reality, the possibility of finding employment in the midst of the depression was not good.
People's personal perceptions of the affect the Depression had on their lives varied. Hugh Crouch, a black coal miner who worked at the Dines Mine north of Rock Springs, felt that the Depression had pendulum swings that went from good to bad times and then back again. Crouch states: "in the early thirties, it was pretty bad." But at times, "you could still get $1 a day" if the coal mines were working. Yet, there were many periods when the mines did not operate. Crouch recalls: "there were several years there where we just drifted along. I don't know how we did it. When you eat everything in the house today and don't know what you're going to eat tomorrow, why you [are] just drifting along." To help feed his family, Crouch hunted wild game. He remembered that : "We hunted and fished mostly the year round. We didn't have a season . . . . I guess they had a season, but we ignored it. When it comes to survival, you're not going to worry too much if it's season or not."HOME
Wyoming was not immune to bleak conditions found elsewhere in the country. Wiley Shaver recalls that at the Union Pacific Railroad crossing of the Green River, there was "a hobo jungle." Shaver adds: "I've seen there when the police told me that they estimated that there'd be a hundred to a hundred and fifty there. People, they're not tramps just people without a job." Green River was not the worst place for a rail rider to get off the train. Shaver states, they "got off the train and stop there and those people would go around town and gather food and they had a big cooking pot up there. And whatever you got," from the people in town whether it was "beans or chicken or anything, cook or not cooked, went in there. That's what you call mulligan stew." Since the Union Pacific railroad was the major railroad line through the region, there were often trainloads of people headed west or east in empty rail cars. Wiley Shaver relates, "I saw freight trains go through here and every car that was empty and open had people in it. . . . Sometimes there would be a hundred people on a train."
Shaver worked for the railroad and had good knowledge of both conditions on and along the Union Pacific mainline through southern Wyoming during the Depression. Shaver was born in Garden City, Callman County, Alabama on June 9, 1892. He came to Green River in April of 1917 to work for the railroad. His first job was as a "Morris Telegraph operator." The railroads used telegraphs to gain information about train arrivals and delays. There would also be "a train dispatcher," a job that Shaver soon gravitated to. He gained his initial experience as a telegraph operator in 1908. At 16 he began his career working for the railroad began with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, he would retire from the Union Pacific Railroad at age 65. In his position as a dispatcher, he gained intimate knowledge of railroad operations during the Depression.
One fatality of the depressed economy was the volume of railroad traffic on the Union Pacific mainline. During the Depression, not as much freight was shipped nor were there as many passengers traveling by rail. The automobile was also becoming more attractive to travelers. Roads had improved and the numbers of cars had increased. Those traveling by car no longer desired rail service. Thus, passenger service began to diminish in the 1920s and the Depression accelerated the decline. Numerous employees were laid off. Others were retained but with a reduced workload. Shaver recalls that company-owned houses were empty but there was also some consideration given to former employees. Wiley states, "the employees, some of them didn't have a job, was given the house, lights, and water and heat, and a one day a month work as laborer." Union Pacific was providing a minimal amount of corporate aid to help laid off workers. That one day of work "entitled them to their medication. In other words, that paid the doctor bill. They could go to the doctor without paying . . . ." Union Pacific had company doctors and more than likely Shaver is referring to the fact the unemployed workers could keep using the medical care provided by the company.
Like Hugh Crouch, Shaver points out that one way people in Wyoming could survive was by hunting wild game. During the Depression, Shaver recalls "one day there I saw . . . some men go down to the firehole country" south of Green River. They each shot a deer. "The game warden was a man named Johnson, he was a native," meaning he was born in Wyoming. "It was determined after his term that he never did pick up anyone for [poaching]." According to Shaver, Johnson "knew what was going on, that people needed to live off the land." Shaver contended, "you could still live off the land . . . if you killed an elk and a moose and a deer and all that and did a lot of fishing."
Leona Hansen recalls that during the Depression, she took in odd jobs to help make ends meet. Her husband was a coal miner in the Rock Springs Megeath mine. While her husband, George, was able to keep his job, he worked "maybe one day a week if [he] was lucky." Leona said she would "take in ironing for a dollar, a dollar a basket. The people I worked for had three boys and a husband that worked, white shirts." Her use of the term "white shirts" reflects not only what she washed, but the status of the individuals she washed for and thus compared them to the blue work shirts worn by coal miners. The family she did laundry for "entertained" and she cleaned "white table clothes." Together she and her husband "simonized cars, shoveled shale for people's yards," they did anything to make more money. George contended that after all that work, "all we had to eat out of it was pancakes and eggs."
Mary Yugovich was born in Yugoslavia in 1906. At the age of seven, her family sailed to New York's Ellis Island. From Ellis Island, her family went by train directly to Superior, Wyoming. Superior in 1913 was a coal mining town. With the declaration of war against Germany in 1917, this small village became a boom town. Coal was needed to fuel the trains hauling supplies to the east coast. Yet, shortly after the war, a declining demand for coal created a local recession. By 1924 in Superior, the local economy was depressed with the mines working only seasonally or a few days a week. Mary Yugovich's description of the Depression is set against the backdrop of a coal camp already hit by declining demands for coal. Yugovich had to quit school "to help with the family support." In 1920, Yugovich quit school: "I was only fourteen years old when I gave up school and had to help and then deliver the laundry back and forth."
For Mary Yugovich, the years spanning 1920 to the late 1930's were fraught with economic hardship. Yet, she shows a keen ability to put it all in perspective. The family lived in a four room company house owned by Union Pacific Coal Company in Superior. Her father purchased two cows and thirty chickens. The laundry services provided by mother and daughter helped keep the family "from getting in debt." They lived on eggs and what they could raise in a small garden. Mary states, "we had a garden every summer. We even raised, right where our barn was, a whole field of potatoes. And we had potatoes, I think Mama said eight sacks to put up for the winter in the basement." At one time her father did not work for ten months. He would stay in the house and the rent would be subtracted from his earnings when he finally went back into the coal mines. For ten months, Mary said, "never a dollar came in. If we hadn't had the cows and chickens, I don't know what we would have done." barb
Seana Hinesley was born in Rock Springs in 1907. Hinesley says that during the Depression she "saw more meal times than meals." To stretch her meager food supplies, she made gravy with "water instead of milk." In Rock Springs, to insure no one went without homes, "two or three families liv[ed] together at times." To be homeless in the cold winter desert of southwestern Wyoming meant certain death in a long winter that stretches from September to May. Due to the unforgiving environment of southwestern Wyoming, growing a large supply of extra food was not a viable option. Hinesley said: "if there were places to grow food, we'd do it, but wasn't a lot of that either." Hinesley's description of conditions in Rock Springs shows how people stretched the dollar and aided one another to insure people had a place to live. Continue to Endnotes
Christine Booth, born in 1915, began working at the age of ten. The daughter of Yugoslavian immigrants, Christine worked through the Depression trying to help her widowed mother make ends meet. Her description reflects that of others living in the coal towns of southwestern Wyoming with the exception that her family's problems were compounded when her dad died leaving ten children for the older children and mother to support. Her father was a blacksmith for Union Pacific Coal Company. Death generally meant the family could no longer live in company housing. Christine Booth remembers: "My mother had cows and chickens, we lived way up on K street" in Rock Springs and there were only a few houses "there then, just hills and mountains. [Mother] had about eight cows and very little money." When her father died, Booth's mother, Urasala Adonike, "bought hay and chickens and pigs." Mother Urasala would "butcher the pigs and make garlic sausage and sell the garlic sausage." Adonike, Booth, and the other children took turns milking the eight cows. The milk sold "for about ten cents a quart, during the depression." She relates: "We made our living by having cattle. We also raised pigs, we went to the restaurant where they throw all the food out and we'd feed it to our pigs, then we sold our pigs. Those were hard days during the Depression . . . ." Continue to Endnotes
The Rock Springs Rocket dramatically portrayed the conditions those out-of-work faced in the city prior to Roosevelt's inauguration. Criticizing local relief efforts it appeared the citizens of Rock Springs, or at least the editor of the Rocket, was ready for federal aid. Headlines for November 17, 1932 read: "Children Going Hungry in Rock Springs Because Money Not Paid to Mayor's Committee: Situation Grave." The newspaper, playing on the heart-strings of its readers, reported on the front page the story of a family in Rock Springs that was out of food. The question asked by one small child was, "When will daddy bring us something to eat mama?" "Sobbing," the little girl "clung to her mother." The mother, "tears in her eyes" could not respond. "The little girl was hungry. She had very little to eat for a week. Her brothers and sisters, too, had been living on only a small amount of food." The reason these children were hungry was because the "Mayor's Relief committee was almost without funds and cannot buy food."
The mayor's relief fund was made up of money collected locally. Joseph McTee, chairman of the relief organization respond to the newspaper by saying: "We already have 26 asking for help and 800 who have been given flour. By Christmas, there will be probably 250 families without money to buy food or clothing." Local resources were being taxed to the limit. The brave frontier spirit was giving way, not to cowardice, but to the cold long winter nights that were growing longer each day. McTee said, "we are almost at the end of our rope." As laudable as past efforts had been, resources were stretched to exhaustion. McTee added: "We have pledges for about $4670 a month and none of the money is coming in, in the last 10 days, we have received only three dollars." Unless money came in soon, McTee warned, the soup kitchen would have to close.
McTee accused the citizens of Rock Springs of not sensing the gravity of the situation. He told the Rocket reporter: "This week a man told me his children were hungry. The family had been given flour and potatoes but the flour could not be made into bread because there was no yeast." The man went on to tell McTee he could not make pancakes "because there was no baking powder." The man, who was nameless in the article, said he had not been home since "early this morning, he said, I just couldn't stand to be there and see those kiddies crying because they're hungry." There were limitations to what local enterprise and volunteerism could do. The federal government was needed. Wyoming pride delayed the arrival of relief funds until late June 1933, but Democratic Sweetwater County warmly embraced much of what Roosevelt's "First 100 Days" offered. Other counties in the state quickly moved to follow the steps of the Democratic program for recovery. But acceptance was uneven; abiding beliefs that Wyoming could solve its own problems persisted.
Seemingly, for Rock Springs, aid did not arrive quickly enough because the state not accepting federal funds until June, towns such as the coal camp in Sweetwater County, began to acutely feel the strain on their minimal resources. McTee stated that on March 30, 1933, there were "2,240 needy persons" in the city. This represented roughly one quarter of Rock Springs' entire population. In 1930, 8,440 people lived in Rock Springs. Ten years later, the number stood at 9,827. A high percentage of the inhabitants were in need and the Mayor's Relief Fund contained only $38.00. In McTee's report he stated: "A total of 11,002 meals [had] been served at the soup kitchen at a cost of seven cents per meal. Soup kitchen expenses average [a] $70 per month." In spite of the number of meals served in the past, the present need was pressing.
The cost of meals were kept down through the donations of food by local residents. Donations had included "20 tons of vegetables, 120 head of sheep, nine head of elk, and three head of beef." In addition to the donated food, Union Pacific Coal Company gave the Mayor's Relief Fund 100 tons of coal while another Sweetwater County coal company, Gunn-Quealy, gave 25 tons to the cities relief efforts. County-wide, 800 families "embracing 3,500 individuals" were on relief. Frustration began to take its toll on McTee, the very day his relief report was published, he resigned one of his jobs as the "Sweetwater County Chairman of the governor's unemployment relief committee."
If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.