Ford County Dust Bowl Oral History Project
A Kansas Humanities Council grant project
Interview: Betty Cobb Braddock
Interviewer: Brandon Case
August 13, 1998
Brandon Case: Could you share with us your name, and where and when you were born?
Betty Braddock: Yes, my name is Betty Braddock, my maiden name is Betty Cobb, and I was born in Dodge City in 1923.
BC: What did your family do while you were growing up?
BB: My mother was County Superintendent; and do you know what that is?
BB: Okay and my father was, he farmed and he was also a carpenter in his spare time.
BC: She was in the school system then?
BB: Yes in, well not the city school system.
BB: She was in charge of all the rural schools.
BB: And the rural parochial schools also. So she had a job all the way through the Depression.
BC: So that job lasted the whole time?
BC: Where did your family live then in proximity to Dodge City?
BB: In Dodge City.
BC: Oh, in town?
BB: We lived down on 7th Avenue.
BC: You said your father farmed.
BB: Yeah, but we didn’t live on a farm. My father came from Oklahoma; my mother was born in Ford County. My father came from Oklahoma in, oh, the teens I think.
BC: How’d he come out here to Ford County?
BB: How did he come?
BC: Yeah, how did he decide to come?
BB: You know, I don’t know. My grandfather had been a cotton grower and he went bust and so then they went to Indian Territory during the land rush, 1893 somethin’ like that. And he had a mercantile store down there near Medford, I think. And then in the teens my grandfather, who was a widower and three of his single children just decided to come to Ford County, so they did.
BC: Now, how much land did your family own?
BB: You know, I don’t think they owned, well my, my father didn’t own any land; my grandfather and uncle did.
BC: How much did he farm then?
BB: He farmed, I don’t know that he called it a tenant farmer, I don’t think so, ‘cause tenant farmers lived on the land, I think. He rented land, that’s what it is, and probably just not more than half section.
BC: What was that experience like then in the, from the 1920s, the good years, to the 1930s that weren’t so good; did he continue in farming that whole time?
BC: Do you remember much about it?
BB: No, I don’t. I remember kind of vaguely when a government payment came sometime during the ‘30s, I remember that. But I think because of my mother’s income, you see we weren’t really, well we were affected certainly, ‘cause I think her salary was $75 a month, which was pretty good in those days; but we weren’t effected like if you lived on a farm and depended on your farming income.
BC: So what did he raise?
BB: I don’t know.
BC: Did he, you recall a government check, did your father do any other types work for other government agencies, WPA or CCC?
BC: Now, as you were growing up, the Depression hit right as you were going into Elementary School.
BB: I was later on in Elementary School.
BC: What were your experiences like as an elementary student during the Depression/Dust Bowl?
BB: Well, my mother’s office was in the Court House, and I went to Lincoln School, which is on Sixth. And, I remember I didn’t go home after school, I went to the Court House, because there wasn’t anybody at home; and that’s the biggest thing I remember. I had a friend who’s parents were custodians at the Court House and lived there, and we went to school together and we’d go to the Court House together; spend all of our Saturdays at the Court House.
BC: So you kind of grew up in the Court House?
BB: You bet we did because that lasted for years.
BC: Did your father then primarily, did the wheat harvest, he did the farming?
BB: Yes, he did the farming.
BC: You weren’t sure of what he raised for sure?
BB: Well, I suppose wheat, I don’t know.
BC: As you were, I guess growing up; you said your mother’s income was stable enough you didn’t have much to worry about. You were there in the Court House a lot. Do you recall, you know, the County provides some assistance? Do you recall much of that here in Ford County?
BB: Well, I’m sure, uh-huh. I don’t know that those offices were in the Court House, I think they were in a separate building. I remember Katherine Sughrue’s husband came, or he was a Dodge City person, but his job during the Depression early on was something about overseeing those projects, the works projects and so forth. Every girl over ten years old had a crush on him. He was kind of an Errol Flynn type.
BC: He was, he had a knack?
BB: He must have been a very young man, but he seemed, you know, an older guy.
BC: When do you remember your first dust storm here in Dodge City, about?
BB: I have no idea; they just clouded up day after day after day.
BC: There were a lot of them?
BB: Oh yeah. I remember we used to clean house in the evening after we came home after my mother got off work and we would be home; and clean house and you didn’t have vacuum cleaners, you had to sweep with a broom and then damp mop and wipe all the window sills. And then it would be nice in the morning, and then by afternoon the next day, you know you had it to do all over again. I don’t know how many stood it, you know. As a child, I had no past comparison to compare it to. I mean, it was just happening. But, I don’t know how any stood it.
BC: Were there any other things that made life different because of the dust storms?
BB: Well, I’m sure. I don’t really think of anything, but there had to have been.
BC: What do you recall those dust storms being like? Like your experience of one that you remember?
BB: I’m not gonna speak about the “black” one, because everybody tells you about that. But I remember, I would wake up in the mornings and it would be nice, the weather would be, it would be a nice morning, you know, clear, cool; and you’d get ready and go to school and by noon, the wind would be blowing and the sky would be darkening, and then if they didn’t let school out early, by the time you got out of school it was bad. In our house, I learned a lot about breathing problems, I don’t remember that, I don’t guess nobody in our family had that, but I can sympathize with it now.
BC: You’ve got some?
BB: Uh-huh, yes.
BC: You, you were talking about “Black Sunday”. I think that even though I’ve heard this, and everyone has told me, how, what was the day like for you?
BB: Well, like I say, it was a nice day, until and I think it was a little after noon, I don’t really remember. But, I was outside and all of a sudden, my mother ran out and got me and took me in the house and it was just, just black and blew with dust. And we went to the basement, and my father wasn’t home and he came home later. I think he must have been downtown some place, I don’t know. He came home later and he had to crawl along the curb to find his way.
BC: That must have been hard.
BB: I think my mother thought it was the end of the world, really.
BC: Did the “dusters” ever interfere with school?
BB: With schools? School would be dismissed early lots of times. Other than that, think what the poor janitors of the schools went through, having to clean the school every night; I never thought of that. The teachers probably did it too, but I don’t remember desks being dusty, I probably didn’t pay much attention.
BC: What sorts of things would you do during those years to amuse yourself?
BB: Oh, well, like I said we spent a lot of time at the Court House and we spent a lot of time at the movie theater. I mean our parents probably just got rid of us, you know, but the movies was a big thing. And then at home you listened to the radio. I lived in a neighborhood where there were several children around my age and we got together in the evenings and made fun. We collected movie star pictures; we played all kinds of imaginary games. And then in the summer of course we played outdoor games.
BC: With the times, you have a pretty normal childhood?
BB: Well, they were for me. You know, as compared to what? And like I said, it’s all I knew, I didn’t have much memory of anything different to compare it to.
BC: Now, can you recall kids in school whose families would be seeking assistance through WPA or CCC or in general?
BB: There was on family in our neighborhood. Most of the parents of the friends I had were employed. There was one family in our neighborhood I know that did. They had a large family and it probably wasn’t easy for them to accept, to have to accept it. And I had one cousin, two cousins, who went into CCC.
BC: They were from Dodge?
BC: Did they work out of Dodge then?
BB: They worked down in Clark County, I think it was building; developing Clark County Lake is what that job was.
BC: What about your neighbors or I guess any other school children? Was there much of a turnover during the 1930s, do you recall many who left during the ‘30s?
BB: Oh, one that I remember and they left well, 1939 or 1940. They moved to California. Their father worked at the Laundry here and he worked all during the Depression there. They saw better deals in California, so they left.
BC: Follow the trail.
BC: What are some things you did or your family specifically, to get by during the ‘30s? Were there are special projects or special things that your family would do to cope or provide?
BB: I’d forgot about this, but my father was a great reader of Popular Mechanics and those type of magazines, you know. And one time, he answered an ad, dad answered lots of ads that I didn’t know about. But this one time he answered an ad for “men’s clothing salesman”, and he got these little suitcases, little black suitcases and they were full of samples of woolen materials. And my family made quilts out of those materials.
BB: Now, I still have those boxes and I keep the family pictures in, and you know, and I’d forgotten about that.
BC: Yeah, how cute.
BB: And one of my friends, the one who’s parents were at the Court House, they lived just up the street from us, and her father signed on as a candy salesman. And one time, this friend and I got into his sample case and we ate all those beads of candy, candy cane beads. I’ve never seen it since, I probably wouldn’t want to, but we ate all of that.
BC: Were there any special instructions you had during a dust storm?
BB: Any instruction?
BC: Yeah, like what you should do, if one comes up like if you were out?
BB: I don’t remember any.
BC: Do you remember any of the processes you’d take or what you’d do?
BB: Run for home. Really the “black one” was the only one where you would lose your way and really would be absolutely, and that’s the only one I can remember that was that bad. The others were very bad but not so that you would get lost.
BC: So you graduated in what 1940?
BC: So then, by that point it was pretty much over?
BB: Pretty much over, uh-huh.
BC: Do you recall much of the transition from the Dust Bowl years, like what how people reacted at the end, or how it was handled; the Dust Bowl versus the end?
BB: Like I say, I probably didn’t pay attention, but I mean it wasn’t, it was just, no end and no beginning, it just went on, you know. I think, in our family, you just accepted what was dealt to you, you know, and you made due and you made the best you could of it. And you didn’t say you hoped the dust wouldn’t blow that day, and you hoped it was gonna rain, but there wasn’t a beginning and an end, and end and a beginning. That I know of it wasn’t noticeable, just a transition, a smooth transition, a gradual thing. I hadn’t thought of that.
BC: During those Dust Bowl years, there were rabbit drives in this area, do you remember?
BB: I don’t. I’ve seen pictures of it and heard men talk about it, but I was never close to anything like that, my family wasn’t involved. One thing that’s interesting is, my grandfather and my uncle and aunt, who were both single people, lived out on the Sawlog; and my uncle raised greyhounds, and raced greyhounds. And I was around that crowd of people a lot.
BC: Was that going on during the 1930s?
BB: Oh, oh yeah - well he had a little track out there and the people in Dodge who had greyhounds would go out there on Sunday. Take their dogs out there and they’d have little races and so forth, getting ready for the big one in Abilene. And, I’d read in the paper, I didn’t know anything about it, but there was a National race here one year, I believe. But that, that was interesting the way those people talked, you know. There was a dentist who was involved and two men who worked for the city, the City Engineer and City Water Manager, they all were big dog people; those are the only ones I can remember.
BC: So, that was another form of entertainment in other words?
BB: Yes. That took up some of the afternoon.
BC: The 1930s were hard times, how did people keep hope alive then?
BB: How did they what?
BC: How did people keep hope alive?
BB: You know, I don’t know. I think just thinking, “this too has to pass”, probably, “there would be a better day”. And the movies were, were quite hopeful appearing, you know. Most of the plots had a hope context in them. Now, I don’t know many parents that went; all the kids did.
BC: So that’s one way the kids?
BC: What would you say is one of the greatest lessons that you learned from that time?
BB: That you know that I learned how to do things, how to make things work, how to use things, how to appreciate things. Don’t throw anything away. I think, I had to know how to do things, know how to cope.
BC: So, that helped to cope?
BB: Well, I think so.
BC: There were also some dry years in the 1950s, do recall much about those?
BB: Yes, I recall those too, and to me they were much worse.
BC: Why do you say that?
BB: Well, because I had children by then and I was the one cleaning the house. Yeah, and in your mind you always, I always remembered the 1930s you know, and it’s just another start of the '30s. My sister-in-law, my brother and sister-in-law lived in Syracuse. And my sister-in-law tells this story, she had several children, that it had been a bad week and she hadn’t had time to clean house and on the bare floor at the top on the landing at the top of the stairs, it was just dust, just terrible, and the kids had made little roads in it for their cars and when people came to call, how embarrassed she was.
BC: That was in the 1950s?
BB: Uh-huh, that was in the 1950s?
BC: So, the dust got bad then too?
BB: Oh yeah, not as bad at night, and for as long of time, but everyone was concerned that this was a start of another one. That’s when the 1930s really took on more seriousness for me, most of my memories of the ‘30s are ya know, not bad, they’re happy and hopeful and they were fun. That was the age I was I guess.
Transcriber: E.L., 8/17/2006