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As It Was: Southwest Depression-Migrants Pick Southern Oregon Crops

Although the Great Depression hit Southern Oregon hard despite the active mining and agriculture that dominated the region, Dust Bowl migrants headed there, looking for work.

One family, the Southards, packed up their possessions after farm and business failures in Arkansas and Oklahoma and headed West in a caravan of old cars towing makeshift trailers.  Odie Southard said it was a big adventure, “the biggest in our lives” even though they were used to moving around. 

It didn’t take them long to pack and head for California because they had already been camping and didn’t possess much more than a wood-burning cook stove.  After traveling for a few days someone gave them a pamphlet saying workers were needed in the Rogue River pear orchards.  They turned north after scrawling “Oregon or Bust” on the side of their lead car. 

The latter-day emigrants picked pears in Rogue River and Medford area orchards until the season’s end.

Unable to find other work, they decided they didn’t want to “just sit there camping” in Oregon all winter, so they “high-tailed” it to California’s San Joaquin Valley cotton fields.

Sources: Taped 1987 interview by the author of grandmother Odie Southard in her home in Dunsmuir, Calif.; Battistella, Edwin. The Oregon Encyclopedia, The Oregon Historical Society, oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/grants_pass/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.