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Cowboy Jam Session: Weather cycles & the Great Depression

With unusually abundant moisture in the Northern Great Plains this year, the countryside was greener in August than we typically see in June. For miles in any direction, verdant pastures and fields met the horizon. Could this be, I asked myself, what this country looked like when my ancestors arrived, during the seductive wet cycle of the early homestead era?

Having worked as a carpenter and sharecropper, my paternal great-grandfather arrived in Montana in the fall of 1910. He came west with dreams of farming and ranching. By 1919, following an extended dry spell, he had disposed of his stock and was operating a road ranch, general mercantile, and U.S. Post Office.

Upon returning from WWI, his son – my grandfather – purchased the mercantile. In 1920, he married my grandmother. During the ensuing drought and Depression, they nurtured not only a family but a large vegetable garden, cattle, hogs, horses and grain. Grandad said the main reason they stayed as others moved away was they couldn’t find a buyer. They were sustained by his partial veteran’s disability, his position as postmaster, and delivering government food aid. In the mid-30s, they traded the store and post office for a section of land.



A new CD by Wrangler Western Heritage-award winners Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges captures the gritty essence of drought, despair, and survival. Mining the Motherlode embodies the struggles of those who experienced the Dust Bowl and Great Depression – along with those facing the current drought decimating Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of other states in the region.

At the core of the album is the life-sustaining water of the Ogallala Aquifer. Lying beneath approximately 174,000 semi-arid acres in eight states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas), the underground reservoir is mined via water pump. Municipalities, agriculture, manufacturing and recreation rely on the dwindling supply. The water table has been declining for years; it cannot keep up with demand.



While I had previously read about the situation, nothing else so convincingly delivered the message as this album. Wilkinson’s original songs and poetry (www.andywilkinson.net), paired with arrangements of Dust Bowl and Depression-era songs by Woody Guthrie, Maybelle Carter, the Bently Brothers, and Uncle Dave Macon (the Grand Ole Opry’s first star), paint a picture that’s hard to shake. I’ve played the 18 tracks several times (see a complete listing at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/andyhedges.htm#Motherlode), listening again and again to the masterful word pictures, hoping to better understand those who lived through the economic and environmental disaster.

It’s the story of hundreds of thousands of American families and their communities: part history lesson; part prophetic warning. Given the subject matter, it is surprisingly entertaining. Wilkinson’s writing is imaginative, colorful and deeply insightful. Beyond his smart wordsmithing and performance, credit for a job well done goes to reciters and vocalists Andy Hedges, (www.andyhedges.com), Alissa Hedges and Emily Arellano. I will be very surprised if this fine example of Folk Americana isn’t rewarded with a repeat Wrangler Award – as presented by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Mining the Motherlode may be purchased as downloadable (MP3) files or as a traditional CD album. Prices range from $9.99 to $17.98. Look for it at http://www.yellowhousemusic.com, on iTunes, or at CDBaby where you can listen to brief track samples: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/andywilkinsonandyhedges.

Feeding and clothing a family during the Depression took a great deal of effort and ingenuity. All were admonished to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” An unassuming collection of nostalgic and heartwarming, first-person accounts of getting by when times were hard is contained in Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and More From Your Kitchen Today (Volume 1) by Rita Van and Janet Van Amber Paske (Van Amber Publishers, 1986, 306 pages, wire bound, ISBN: 978-0961966317).

Part oral history and part cookbook, I reveled in both aspects. Given current economic concerns and rising food costs, it would be helpful for families looking for ways to stretch their budgets. Technically, it could have benefitted from a more thorough editing. However, that hasn’t deterred from its popularity. My copy is the 34th printing!

There are five volumes in the Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression series. Order directly from the publisher for $15 each, plus $5 shipping. Order as many books as you want, you pay only $5 shipping per order: Van Amber Publishers, 862 E Cecil St., Neenah, WI 54956-3418; 920-722-8357. Amazon.com also carries the books and offers a “Look Inside Feature” for your previewing pleasure.

With unusually abundant moisture in the Northern Great Plains this year, the countryside was greener in August than we typically see in June. For miles in any direction, verdant pastures and fields met the horizon. Could this be, I asked myself, what this country looked like when my ancestors arrived, during the seductive wet cycle of the early homestead era?

Having worked as a carpenter and sharecropper, my paternal great-grandfather arrived in Montana in the fall of 1910. He came west with dreams of farming and ranching. By 1919, following an extended dry spell, he had disposed of his stock and was operating a road ranch, general mercantile, and U.S. Post Office.

Upon returning from WWI, his son – my grandfather – purchased the mercantile. In 1920, he married my grandmother. During the ensuing drought and Depression, they nurtured not only a family but a large vegetable garden, cattle, hogs, horses and grain. Grandad said the main reason they stayed as others moved away was they couldn’t find a buyer. They were sustained by his partial veteran’s disability, his position as postmaster, and delivering government food aid. In the mid-30s, they traded the store and post office for a section of land.

A new CD by Wrangler Western Heritage-award winners Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges captures the gritty essence of drought, despair, and survival. Mining the Motherlode embodies the struggles of those who experienced the Dust Bowl and Great Depression – along with those facing the current drought decimating Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of other states in the region.

At the core of the album is the life-sustaining water of the Ogallala Aquifer. Lying beneath approximately 174,000 semi-arid acres in eight states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas), the underground reservoir is mined via water pump. Municipalities, agriculture, manufacturing and recreation rely on the dwindling supply. The water table has been declining for years; it cannot keep up with demand.

While I had previously read about the situation, nothing else so convincingly delivered the message as this album. Wilkinson’s original songs and poetry (www.andywilkinson.net), paired with arrangements of Dust Bowl and Depression-era songs by Woody Guthrie, Maybelle Carter, the Bently Brothers, and Uncle Dave Macon (the Grand Ole Opry’s first star), paint a picture that’s hard to shake. I’ve played the 18 tracks several times (see a complete listing at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/andyhedges.htm#Motherlode), listening again and again to the masterful word pictures, hoping to better understand those who lived through the economic and environmental disaster.

It’s the story of hundreds of thousands of American families and their communities: part history lesson; part prophetic warning. Given the subject matter, it is surprisingly entertaining. Wilkinson’s writing is imaginative, colorful and deeply insightful. Beyond his smart wordsmithing and performance, credit for a job well done goes to reciters and vocalists Andy Hedges, (www.andyhedges.com), Alissa Hedges and Emily Arellano. I will be very surprised if this fine example of Folk Americana isn’t rewarded with a repeat Wrangler Award – as presented by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Mining the Motherlode may be purchased as downloadable (MP3) files or as a traditional CD album. Prices range from $9.99 to $17.98. Look for it at http://www.yellowhousemusic.com, on iTunes, or at CDBaby where you can listen to brief track samples: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/andywilkinsonandyhedges.

Feeding and clothing a family during the Depression took a great deal of effort and ingenuity. All were admonished to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” An unassuming collection of nostalgic and heartwarming, first-person accounts of getting by when times were hard is contained in Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and More From Your Kitchen Today (Volume 1) by Rita Van and Janet Van Amber Paske (Van Amber Publishers, 1986, 306 pages, wire bound, ISBN: 978-0961966317).

Part oral history and part cookbook, I reveled in both aspects. Given current economic concerns and rising food costs, it would be helpful for families looking for ways to stretch their budgets. Technically, it could have benefitted from a more thorough editing. However, that hasn’t deterred from its popularity. My copy is the 34th printing!

There are five volumes in the Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression series. Order directly from the publisher for $15 each, plus $5 shipping. Order as many books as you want, you pay only $5 shipping per order: Van Amber Publishers, 862 E Cecil St., Neenah, WI 54956-3418; 920-722-8357. Amazon.com also carries the books and offers a “Look Inside Feature” for your previewing pleasure.


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