The Diaries of William DeLoach, A West Texas Farmer

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“Years are the milestones that tell us the distance we have traveled…” These words, the first to appear in the diaries of William G. DeLoach (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ttusw/00161/tsw-00161.html), were not a platitude. DeLoach noted daily events in his diary from 1914 to 1964, often documenting the mundane life of a West Texas farmer, but at times exploring the emotional and philosophical depth of a man whose daily accounts spanned two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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This is the first full page of his diary, written Wednesday, March 24th, 1914. It is a simple series of notes. He visited Ralls and Crosbyton, Texas, signed a cotton contract, and saw one of his laborers complete the maize harvest. Such entries comprise the bulk of his notes.

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This page includes October 29th, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Yet the crash’s effect took its time crossing the country, so all he described that day was cutting feed until a rain began that lasted well into the night.

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The Depression, and more importantly the Dust Bowl, haunt the background of his diaries, but DeLoach coloring his stories of day-to-day life. On July 23rd, 1937, however, its effects came to the fore. “I hurt all day. Not with much heart. I can’t do any thing with any heart with such surroundings. I even can’t write any more. My (?) are all shot. Just to be the paying teller and nothing more is bad.” But then, as always: “Bill finished the feed plowing.”

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Some entries are punctuated by tragic or amusing local news. Early November 1937 saw a man lose an arm in a cotton gin: “That is bad…. They take too many chances.” The next day, DeLoach heard about an acquaintance who was “pinched for drunk.” He mused, “Too bad to get sauced in Sudan [Texas] if one is a stranger. Homeguard can.”

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“This is March 28th, 1964. My first entry was made on March 28th, 1914.” Infirm “in more ways than one,” William DeLoach set down his pen. “Goodbye, Diary. You have been lots of help in lots of ways.”

(An abbreviated version of the diaries was edited by Janet M. Neugebauer, former archivist at the Southwest Collection, and published as Plains Farmer: The Diary of William G. DeLoach, 1914-1964.)

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The Dust Bowl, Photographically

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Over 80 years ago, fierce winds and sky-high clouds of dirt assaulted the Great Plains in a decade-long disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Texas’ Panhandle was not spared, as the stark reality of these photos from the Southwest Collection prove.

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Caused by a combination of overfarming in the 1920s and severe droughts throughout the 1930s, the Dust Storms blacked out the sky and covered whole towns in dirt. News accounts and oral histories conducted with survivors claim that oftentimes the air was so thick with dust that nothing was visible five feet away. There were even accounts of people choking to death on the dust.

12Some consider Black Sunday one of the worst events of the Dust Bowl. On April 14, 1935, over a dozen storms—called by some survivors “black blizzards”—scoured the Great Plains from the Dakotas to Texas. Its dust traveled as far as New York and Washington, D.C., where lawmakers were attempting to juggle Dust Bowl relief solutions alongside numerous other New Deal programs. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) told the tale of this intersection of nature, the economy, politics, and the realities of those who fled the storms—in this case, the Okies that traveled to California en masse to find work in a land that wasn’t actively trying to kill them.03

Over one hundred million acres of land in Oklahoma, Texas, and several nearby states were affected by the Dust Bowl over the course of the 1930s. This included towns and cities, of course, but farmlands were the primary victim. It would be many years before the Great Plains recovered. The land values and agricultural production of the 1920s would not return for decades.

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