Times are hard for lots of folks right now. Yet they were harder still for those trying to get along back in the 30's. However, for one Texas Panhandle boom town, the Great Depression was of little consequence .
Gushing with money from the oil and gas reserves below ground, Pampa, Texas barely noticed the bust. The same cannot be said about the dust.
Wind erosion and drought decimated the southern plains and deepened the depression in those areas that relied solely on agriculture to get by, but boom towns like Pampa thrived and swelled as hungry, desperate people poured in from surrounding states.
One such person was a fellow named Charles who was forced to leave his family behind in the town of Okemah, Oklahoma. Charles eventually settled in Pampa and sent for his family, including his oldest son Woodrow who was named after President Woodrow Wilson.
Woodrow was a young man of 19 when he arrived in Pampa, Texas, but despite his dad's efforts, his heart wasn't in oil field work. He preferred to while away his time with a harmonica, but did manage to save enough money doing the occasional job to eventually buy a guitar.
Woodrow fell in love with a girl named Mary, the younger sister of a fellow musician and in 1933 they were married. Along with his brother-in-law and another man, Woodrow formed a musical group called The Corncob Trio. Later they added more members and changed their name to the Pampa Junior Chamber of Commerce Band.
But as the depression worsened and the the dust storms became more frequent, Woodrow struggled to support his growing family.
In 1937, he took to the road. Like his dad a few years earlier, Woodrow was forced to leave behind his wife and kids. They stayed in Pampa.
Traveling along Route 66 with other dust bowl refugees, Woodrow took whatever odd jobs he could find. He hitchhiked, hopped freight trains and walked until he reached California. Never without his guitar, he often played and wrote songs in saloons and in appreciation for a place to sleep at night.
In California, he faced anger and scorn from those who opposed the influx of "Okie" outsiders, but eventually he landed a job playing old time traditional songs at a Los Angeles radio station. Woodrow was an instant hit among the thousands of dust bowl refugees living in cardboard cities as the sound of his voice reminded them of home.
As his audience grew, he began to intersperse political commentary into his program. Soon his criticism of corrupt politicians and business men began to come out his his songs. As did his passionate support of the union organizers for migrant farm workers and other humanist principles.
But Woodrow wasn't the type to hang out in one place. He was the kind of man that had to keep moving so he decided to try his luck in New York City. He arrived in the Big Apple in 1940 and that same year John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath. Here was Woodrow, the spitting image of a Steinbeck character in real life. Woodrow was quickly embraced for his musical authenticity, especially by those in the leftist movement. His popularity grew and finally he had the financial means to send for his family who were still living back in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa, Texas.
It was also during this time that Woodrow, better known as Woody Guthrie, wrote his most famous song ...
There is much more to Woody's life than I am able to include in this post, but I wanted to highlight Woody's connection to the Texas Panhandle and how his early life shaped the creation of that song that every American has sung at one point or another, and was sung by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen at Barack Obama's recent inauguration.
Knowing the history of his life, I can almost picture him plodding along dusty Route 66. A guitar is slung over his back, his thumb is in the air, the soles of his shoes are tattered and flapping to the steady rhythm of his stride ... and deep in his brain, the words of this land are taking seed.
Please check back for more My Town Monday links
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Jenn Jilks -- Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada
Chris -- Hong Kong, China
Barrie Summy -- San Diego, California
Lyzzydee -- Stanley County Durham, England
Linda McLaughlin -- Anaheim, California
Reb -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Kyles -- Orara River Australia
Clare2E -- Larchmont, New York
Lauren -- Chicago, Illinois
PreTzel -- Iowa
Barbara Martin -- Toronto, Canada
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Britta Coleman -- Fort Worth, Texas
Paul Brazill -- Hartlepool, England
Clair Dickson -- Livingston County, Michigan