1930, most agriculture workers, and especially the cattlemen, had
retained their independence from government help and interference.
However, the Crash of 1929 ushered in the beginnings of the Great
Depression. By 1931 severe drought set in all across the Great Plains
from Canada to Texas with annual rainfall
averages cut in half from normal.
By 1933, areas in the Southern Plains began to experience dust storms
that eventually grew into the Dust Bowl. Wind velocities often ranged
from thirty to sixty miles per hour, with Amarillo
experiencing 192 "dusters" between January 1933 and February 1936.
Commodity prices dropped approximately 50 percent by 1933 while
taxes and interest rates remained unchanged. A total collapse of
the agricultural industry threatened in spite of efforts by the
Hoover administration and numerous commodity marketing boards. The
situation became so desperate, massive federal action seemed to
be the only alternative for relief.
The inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated a number
of "New Deal" farm programs attending the problems of every phase
of agriculture and assuring everyone the government was aware of
Roosevelt's Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 ushered in voluntary
crop acreage reduction, allotments of crop acreage and extensive
education on changing farming practices. All 26 counties of the
upper Panhandle of
Texas required emergency aid in the form of crop loans in order
for farmers to continue. As the drought wore on, emergency livestock
feed was made available.
In June of 1934, almost as a last resort, Congress authorized a
Drought Relief Service for purchasing drought-stricken cattle. Depending
on weight and condition, the agency would pay $4 to $8 for calves,
$10 to $15 for yearlings, with cows, big steers and bulls bringing
$12 to $20. Those in the worst condition were killed immediately
and buried while others were sent to packing plants for slaughter.
Starting in June of 1934, the program ran until late January of
1935 with the government eventually purchasing almost 8.3 million
head of livestock providing $111 million in payments to the livestock
owners and their creditors. In spite of this help which basically
saved the industry from disaster, it refused to extend any cooperation
in future government programs.
I was born in 1933 and these problems and eventual solutions all
came before my time. But I certainly remember the telling of the
tales in later years about the livestock slaughter program. My parents
and grandparents took their oldest milk cows and an older bull to
the government buying station to be sold and slaughtered. I recall
the carcasses were buried in a local caliche pit.
It is simply not true that some purchased livestock were driven
over cliffs for slaughter, though tales still survive along that
line. I doubt that law officers were ever needed to control livestock
owners at the buying stations.
I do believe the hides and some meat were taken by families in distress.
At least one case noted people hired for carcass burial were indicted
for theft of meat which was sold for profit.
In review, it was a sad, hard time for all. The New Deal programs
worked, though they often were slow, always changing to meet the
newest crisis, cumbersome to operate and had government strings
attached that no one liked. Those who survived the times bore indelible
marks and memories from the sacrifices and suffering endured.