Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New Deal programs push farm security

Grand Valley Resettlement project workers photo by Authur Rothstein, Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information.

Programs offer options for hard hit "Dust Bowlers"

By Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan1@gmail.com

The Resettlement Administration (RA) was a New Deal U.S. federal agency created May 1, 1935. It relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government. On September 1, 1937, it was succeeded by the Farm Security Administration.

Colorado benefitted from projects all over the state.

In the 1930's, Fruita also participated in several government projects including the Grand Valley Resettlement Project (later Western Slope Farms). Settled in groups of two or three families per area, thirty-four families were relocated by 1937. 

According to the town of Fruita's site, "The original town site was planned to take in eighty acres with a park in the middle. In the 1930's Fruita participated in several government projects including the Grand Valley Resettlement Project. Settled in groups of two or three families per area, thirty-four families were relocated by 1937. Another program was Rural Electrification Project which brought electricity to between 800 and 900 farms. Fruita also had a Civilian Conservation Corps several Works Progress Administration projects including the town library, a federal loan for the new central school and the construction of the spectacular Rim Rock Drive to the top of the Colorado National Monument, elevation 8,000 feet."

Resettlement projects were also present in the San Luis Valley.

“In the 1930s, the Waverly area once again was to be the site for newcomers seeking a better life. Henry Gestefield, a German immigrant, worked as a Farm Management Specialist for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) Resettlement Division to develop 82 farms for the resettlement of destitute Dust Bowl farmers. Along with Mr. Yoshida, he was integral to the raising and shipping of iceberg lettuce in the San Luis Valley. The town of Waverly was established with support of the FSA Resettlement Project. The Houlton and Russell families were among the first of many families to relocate from eastern Colorado to the San Luis Valley in 1937 having been hit hard by the Black Rollers of the Dust Bowl. While only a few of the original families remain in the Valley, those who stayed were able to put their lives back together in Alamosa County after the difficult years in the Prowers County area. With the help of the “CCC boys” (Civilian Conservation Corps), several families were able to successfully work the land, develop ditches, and produce profitable crops of alfalfa, oats, and potatoes.” according to Alamosa County Centennial.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States. It succeeded the Resettlement Administration (1935–1937). 

The FSA is famous for its small but highly influential photography program, 1935–44, that portrayed the challenges of rural poverty. The photographs in the FSA/Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed for most of its existence by Roy Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935–1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937–1942), and the Office of War Information (1942–1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and nongovernmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations.

In total, the black-and-white portion of the collection consists of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time.

Residential district of Durango, Colorado. Durango is trading, shipping and distribution center of southwestern Colorado. Creator(s): Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer. Date Created/Published: 1940 in September.

The FSA stressed "rural rehabilitation" efforts to improve the lifestyle of very poor landowning farmers, and a program to purchase submarginal land owned by poor farmers and resettle them in group farms on land more suitable for efficient farming.

Critics, including the Farm Bureau, strongly opposed the FSA as an alleged experiment in collectivizing agriculture—that is, in bringing farmers together to work on large government-owned farms using modern techniques under the supervision of experts. After the Conservative coalition took control of Congress, it transformed the FSA into a program to help poor farmers buy land, and that program continues to operate in the 21st century as the Farmers Home Administration.

"Doc" Conway, rancher from Craig, Colo., talking with Beckman, commission merchant from Denver stockyards, by livestock pens in Craig. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer, photo created September, 1941.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Rise of facism and fall of McPhee

"The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, 88 the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in inter-war Europe. It should not be surprising, after all, that the most precocious democracies—the United States and France—should have generated precocious backlashes against democracy.”
Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

Klan present as a force against McPhee

By Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan1@gmail.com

It can be difficult to talk about — but what had been one the biggest towns and the largest industries in Montezuma County — also suffered from rising fascism in the form of local Ku Klux Klan ascendancy. The effect of a Klan boycott of mill products should not be underestimated as a contributing factor to the demise of the town of McPhee, according to area historians.

"The company town of McPhee, Colorado, owned and operated by the New Mexico Lumber Company, lasted from 1924-1948, serving as an important economic and cultural town of the Dolores River Valley. During the industrial town's peak of operations in 1927, it was Colorado's largest and most productive mill town, producing more than half the State's annual lumber. The town featured a lumber mill, housing for approximately 1,500 employees and the last logging railroad in Southwestern Colorado," says historian Lisa Mausolf, in her field notes at the Library of Congress, August, in 1981. 

In one of the more embarrassing chapters of Colorado conservative history, Clarence Morley, the Ku Klux Klan-picked Republican candidate, became Governor of Colorado in 1925.

“In the spring of 1924, Klan members packed the precinct caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties , then supported Klan candidates in the primary and general elections.” according to a 2003 article by Ed Quillen. “In Colorado, the Klan captured few Democratic nominations, but had its most success infecting the Republicans.”

Jason Brockman and Erin McDanal, staff archivists for the Colorado State Archive, said Morley’s “political ascent paralleled the anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920s.”

Under the charismatic and persuasive tutelage of Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, the Klan was able to create one of strongest political machines in state history. Locke, the short, extremely overweight Denver physician, ran the Klan and much of the state from his office at 1345 Glenarm Place.

“Beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state,” according to the Denver Post at the time. Locke, as Klan Grand Dragon controlled Morley as Governor, Ben Stapleton as mayor of Denver, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship and seven benched in Denver District Court, according to state archivists.

Although, on cue Locke espoused the usual Klan nonsense messages of hate and bigotry in public, but didn’t seem to live the life himself. “He had been married to a Catholic and employed two Catholic secretaries, paying their pew rents,” wrote Dark Cloud column author Richard L. MacLeod of the Boulder Lout Forum.

"Despite all attempts to create a cohesive community at McPhee, the town remained a loose union of transients on their way to new lumber operations. Much of the local news in the Dolores Star related the immigration in and out of town. Many came to McPhee from neighboring lumber mills, numerous Mexican-Americans from Lumberton, Chama, Alamosa and El Vado," said Mausolf.

Anti-papist sentiments permeated McPhee and McGinnity operations in the Company town of McPhee.

The period around 1925 marked a peak in Ku Klux Klan activity in Colorado as well as in Montezuma County. The power of the Klan and their prejudices against Black, Catholic and Jewish persons during this period has been generally underestimated. The year 1924 marked a wave of bigotry witnessing the election of all KKK candidates in Denver. The Klan's influence reached McPhee in the form of a boycott on McPhee and McGinnity and their subsidiaries. The Dolores Star hailed the alleged efforts of the Klan to root out bootleggers, gamblers and the like and went so far as to declare in 1925 that today the best Americans are Klansmen. 

A group of Blacks was hired from McNary, Arizona, remaining until World War II. Farmers from Oklahoma came westward pitching tent colonies. Swedes and Finns were also present, common in the logging camps. A large number of local small ranchers and farmers also sought work in the off season. There were few Indians. One of Colorado's longest lived Civilian Conservation Corp camps also located at Beaver Camp 20 miles north of Dolores between 1933 and 1945 adding yet another group of transients to the community. The CCC men sometimes shopped at the commissary and attended local dances. 

Religious worship in McPhee was influenced by the company. Because McPhee and McGinnity were both Roman Catholic, as were a large number of Hispanic workers, this denomination received special attention and support from the company. 

In the early years a train was sent into the town by the company to take Catholic employees into Dolores for mass. Work began on a Catholic Church in 1928, to be located near the school/ on a hill to the west overlooking the town. A cemetery was planned and constructed on adjacent land serving all employees of the New Mexico Lumber Company Company carpenters were released from other work to build the church with lumber also donated by the company. Two dollars a month was withheld from the wages of all Mexican-American employees for the building. Apparently this met some dispute from non-Catholic Hispanic workers. 

These funds were combined with a $2500 donation by McPhee and a $100 donation from the Catholic Extension Society. The church was dedicated in June, 1929 and merited a half holiday for services, work resuming at one o'clock so visitors could see the plant in operation.

It is indicative of the company's power over community affairs, the company refused the Archbishop's request that the land on which the church stood to be deeded to the diocese.  

The church, measuring 30' x 84' was labelled the "largest and finest edifice of the kind in Montezuma County." 
The building featured a single center bell tower extension and side wing. The roof was a single medium gable with projecting eaves and exposed rafters. The nave windows were multi-paned and double hung. The interior was constructed of vertical planks to a point four feet above the floor and the horizontal planking extended to the ceiling. The planks were three inches wide with decorative grooves. A semicircular loft extended over the rear; two broad platforms atop each other formed the chancel. On Sundays the church hosted one service for all worshipers, conducted in a combination of Latin, English and Spanish.The church was moved to Dove Creek in 1949 where it received a stucco covering.
"Other religious groups played lesser roles in the McPhee community. Many of the Mexican-Americans who migrated from El Vado brought with them a strong belief in the Penitente order. Frowned on by the Roman Catholic Church, the Penitents believed in penance such as flaggelation for sins. Private services were held in households, the believers keeping a rather low profile, A Baptist minister and reverend of the Salvation Army preached at the school at times; Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists were also active in the early years," Mausolf said.

"The initial parent company also owes its failure to reasons quite removed from those which ended the town of McPhee. McPhee and McGinnity filed bankruptcy in 1930 as an immediate result of the panic of 1929 which severely shook building and lumber industries. A hard winter in 1929 further worsened matters. The company had also over-invested in government and private timber purchases which proved too sparse for profits. Likewise, the effect of a Klan boycott of mill products should not be underestimated as a contributing factor," wrote Mausolf.

Yet McPhee and McGinnity's operations, as well as those which followed them were all impeded by the quality of the lumber, which did not prove as good as initially assumed. Much of the timber was overmature by grading standards and was knocked down in grade to utility construction level, resulting in losses and debts for the company, according to Lisa Mausolf in "The River of Sorrows: The History of the Lower Dolores River Valley," a publication put together by National Parks Service using much of the information gathered in her field notes.