The Years of the Great Depression

When I was 10 years old my brother, John, left in the fall and went to Joes, Colorado to shuck corn for Uncle George and Aunt Irene Cross, my Dad’s sister. They had had a bumper corn crop that year while it had been quite dry in Pawnee County. It was at the beginning of the Great Depression and in Kansas and other states in our area, there was a drought to go along side of the depression that brought even greater hardship upon the people of our state---especially as an agricultural state, Kansas depends upon rain for survival. While John was in Colorado, he met and married Thelma Leone Black and they had a little girl Avis Lenore. She was my first niece. I really enjoyed her. They lived in a house about a mile from our house and Leone and Avis spent a lot of time in our home. It was hard for me to understand when Leone took Avis and went home to her folks never to return. John seemed to be unconcerned about it happening. Mama took it hard. She had a deep love for her first grandchild plus the word "divorce" wasn’t nearly as acceptable in 1930 as it is today. Paul DeWayne was born about a year after Avis Lenore. He was Fern and Joe’s first born. He was born with a heart defect and lived about two days, I think. It was another sad time. The preacher had a little service in our living room, so Fern could hear it where she was in bed in the bedroom next to the living room. Paul DeWayne was buried in the cemetery at Kinsley in the Merwin Family Plot. Richard Leigh, Fern and Joe’s second son was born in June 1934. He was a healthy baby and I had the opportunity to spend the summer helping my sister. He was really a special child to me. I can remember when he was about six weeks, old Fern had an early morning appointment to get a permanent at Lewis (Fern and Joe lived in Belpre) and left me alone to bathe Richard and to finish up dinner for Mama and Daddy and my Aunt Sadie who was Mama’s twin sister and had come to visit my mother a few days. I really felt good about being given that responsibility and had done, John, Fern, Jesse (father), George, Cathrine (mother), Richard, LeonaI think, a good job of carrying it out. Mama, Daddy, and Aunt Sadie got there before Fern got home. I had Richard napping, the table set and all. Fern got there a little bit after that with her new permanent and all still seemed well---then when I wasn’t supposed to be close enough to overhear, I heard Mama tell Fern she wasn’t very wise to leave Richard in my care for such a long time (about four hours) and then I heard Aunt Sadie say, "Now, Cathy, she did a good job. Fern knows what she can do. I think it was all right." I couldn’t help but think about one of my mother’s cousins who ran off and married a neighbor boy when she was 14 (I was almost 14 then) and less that a year later she had a baby. Mama always criticized her Aunt and Uncle for being angry about it. I know Mama just didn’t want anything to happen to that third grandchild after she’d lost the first two, but it really hurt that she didn’t trust me.

The depression kept growing. From the time my mother had typhoid fever in 1928, times grew harder for us and with the dry weather compounding low prices by the time the Fall of 1934 came, my dad knew he had lost our home. I had graduated from grade school in the spring of 1934. Nina Lea Rush was valedictorian and I was salutatorian (2nd). Nina Lea and I had started school together. That summer I had helped Fern after Richard was born and in the fall of 1934, I started to high school. Basically, the freshmen students were the same group I'd gone through grade school with. I rode the same bus to school. Even the teachers weren't new or strange as they taught on the upper floor of the same consolidated school building where I went to grade school my favorite teacher way Lydia Hven. She taught English and Latin. My principal was Helga Philbad who taught algebra, also. I can't remember the names of my science teacher and my glee club and physical education teachers. (Helga Philbad was married to Lydia Hven’s sister). I really liked school. I got to be in Girl’s Reserve, a club for high school girls with a Christian emphasis. Lydia Hven was sponsor for the club. I don’t suppose that a club of that sort could survive in schools today as they would protest about its Christian emphasis. That fall the whole high school and the 7th and 8th grades got to go to see "Treasure Island" at a movie theater in Kinsley, Kansas. I can remember a teacher telling us that is was a worthwhile movie, but if our parents objected then we shouldn’t go as we still must be very aware that we must honor our fathers and our mothers. Several kids couldn’t go because their parents didn’t believe in going to the movies (too worldly). I can't remember that any protested others going though or felt the school was wrong to promote it. our gym clothes (physical education) were big black baggy bloomers—like bottoms that reached to the knees, a white middy blouse, long black stockings and a white canvas laced shoes that reached above the ankle. Even though we were well covered, some wouldn’t let their girls take part in "gym classes" because they felt the girls were immodestly dressed. I wouldn’t say it was a beautiful costume, but we sure weren't exposed in any way. Again, the school made an exception for these students and the parents seemed satisfied as long as their children weren’t forced to participate.

The Jesse Rice Family about 1921: Fern, Jesse, Cathrine holding Leona, JohnFootball seemed to be a favorite sport at Garfield. Even the grade school boys played football at noon hours and recess. My brother, George, really liked playing until he was hit in the head and trampled on (rough play, not anger involved) and he had a concussion. I can remember the teacher calling me out of class to go to the "health room" which was a room where ill students could lie down on a cot. They had called the doctor from downtown Garfield. He sort of looked at him and said to let him go home on the bus, but to let us off first (run the route backwards) as he needed to lie down as soon as possible. Then he gave me some pills for George to take when he got home. They hadn't been able to get my parents on the phone. It had happened at the last recess, so the bus was ready to leave by the time the doctor left. By the time we got home I knew George was irrational. I was really glad Mama was home (and had been working outdoors). She called my dad, he called the doctor from Lewis who had cared for Mama when she had typhoid fever. He came and told the folks how to care for him and to call again if he was needed. The next morning he called to see how George was. George’s mind had cleared and he was getting along O.K. but he had a loose front tooth. It didn’t come out, but it turned dark. The folks rarely had a doctor except when it was really unusual circumstances. I can remember having the red measles when I was 13. I was in bed over four days until I broke out with rash. I can remember having what seemed like gallons and gallons of hot lemonade poured down me to get me to break out. When I broke out I felt better, but I was weak. The folks didn’t call the doctor. When I got up several days later and tried to walk across the room to the window, I fainted. It was in the spring and I missed taking the county examinations. They gave them to me by myself later. I’ll never forget that strange teacher sitting at a desk while I spent the day (the only child in the room) taking the eight grad examinations. I think I did well in all of them.

George and John did a lot of trapping when they grew up. It made spending money for them. One winter they trapped gophers. The government paid $.10 a piece for their heads. They would salt the heads down and after they had quite a few they would take them to the county seat (courthouse) at Larned to get their money. Sometimes the government paid money for coyote ears, too. This was done to reduce the "varmints" population as the wild animals were doing damage to the land and crops. I sort of think there was a bounty for rabbits at times, too. At times farmers would have rabbit or coyote drives---round them up from the bushes, etc. drive them into pens and slaughter them. It sounds cruel, but there were so many of them that they were destroying the crops. George and John also trapped some animals and "skinned" them and cured their hides. They stretched the kids on a board and dried them and then sold them. George started trapping when he was very young. I can remember him going to check his traps in the winter when it was still dark before going to school. My dad always was strict about seeing it was done, so the animal wouldn’t suffer in the traps. One Saturday morning I can remember seeing George carrying two skunks—one in each hand that he had caught beneath an abandoned building. The Colorado camping trip in 1926skunks had been in traps. He had to kill them before he brought them home, so it was really quite a chore for a seven-year-old boy to do that then carry two traps and two skunks nearly a mile home. He made it, but my mother made him undress outside, then he took a hot sudsy bath. He still smelled. She washed him down with two (1/2-gal.) jars of tomato juice. We smelled that skunk odor for a week. After he was washed and had clean clothes he said he was sick and he was for the rest of the day. My dad skinned and stretched the skunks for him. One would think he would have quit trapping, but he trapped until he was grown. But never did we have that odor like it was that day.

In December 1934 my grandpa Harrison died. He had a breathing problem, which probably would be diagnosed as emphysema today. My grandma Harrison was in ill health having suffered a stroke and couldn’t live alone, so my parents (who were losing their home from crop failure and drought) decided to move back to Franklin County and be with her. We lived with her about a year and then we moved to a rented farm. She continued to live with us about two more years when she went to stay with my Aunt Almira Shuler and died there.

When we moved, it was really hard on me to be uprooted from the people I'd grown up with. Going to a new school was really a time of apprehension (s). I'd been warned how hard it was to make "good grades" in Ottawa, Kansas schools. I was really surprised when I found that we had covered as much Latin in one semester in Garfield as they covered in a full year at Ottawa. They were on their last half of a general science course in Ottawa High School. I had finished the same book in one semester at Garfield and was ready for a course in another subject. In fact, I skimmed through the second semester of my freshman year and made as good grades as I had made at Garfield. I also found that there was a girl’s reserve program. Making new friends was somewhat harder, but I got to know more people and could exchange smiles and "hellos". I went to Ottawa High School for 1-½ years. My folks were living on a farm and they just plain didn’t have the money to send me to OHS when I could take a free bus to Appanoose High School which was North of where we lived.


  1. Jesse & Cathrine Rice family.  Left to right:  John Rice, Fern, father Jesse, George, mother Cathrine, Richard Merwin (Fern's son), and Leona.  This is the last picture of Jesse & Cathrine with their entire family.
  2. Left to right:  George Rice, Jesse Rice (father), Cathrine Rice (mother), and Leona Rice.
  3. Jesse Rice's and George Cross's trip to Colorado in 1926.  Taken  by Fern Rice.  Left to right: George Cross, Irene Rice Cross (sitting - she later married a Palmer), Cathrine Harrison Rice - age 36, George Rice - age 3, Wayne Cross, Twyla Cross - age 6, John Rice - age 15, Leona Rice - age 6, Della Cross - age 15, and Jesse Rice - age 37.