Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Family and Roosevelt's "New Deal"

My great grandfather, Andrew Anderson was a farmer and cattle rancher. He spent the majority of his life ranching in Koosharem, Utah, part of what is called Grass Valley. Some of his land was in Sevier County and other parts were in the neighboring Piute County.

His daughter Vione wrote of her father's young years, "My dad had started raising cattle by beginning with little dogey calves when he was just a kid." This early experience proved very valuable to Andrew.

My great grandfather survived year-to-year as most farmers being some good, some not so good and then were those years where he went clear broke.

The Ogden Standard Examiner newspaper of 16 October 1928 claimed my grandfather was paid a record price for his cattle, 10 cents/pound for steers, 9 cents for heifers and 8 cents for cows. I wondered how he and his family felt about their lives that year.

Not too much later, the Great Depression hit the Sevier valley. My Grandma Vera, Andrew's daughter-in-law, wrote, "One day we woke up and all of the banks were closed. A check was no good. The only money you had was what you had in your pocket. In a short time, the government came and killed the animals you had but maybe one." LeGrand [Vera's husband and my grandfather] came home one day with one half of a calf, one half of a cow, and one half of a pig which had been butchered. Vera said, "We had to preserve them the best we could as well as render the lard." For a cattle rancher like my Grandpa Andrew, what must he have been thinking? He had spent his life to that point raising cattle and now the government said, "No more!"

When I first read my grandmother's history, I did not understand why the government would be involved in killing farm animals. I questioned, "Why would the government come in and take away something so valuable to people in such hard times?"

I have done a little research recently and found that during those early years of the Depression, livestock and crop prices had dropped disastrously. Farmers no longer were able to make any profit when they sold their animals or crops. The government felt that the whole economy of the nation hinged on the success of its farmers. It was thought that when the farmer could make it again, maybe everyone else could too.

Officials with President Roosevelt's New Deal program believed prices were down because farmers were producing too many commodities. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was passed and was used to reduce the over supply. So, in the late spring of 1933, the federal government carried out "emergency livestock reduction." 

The U. S. government bought the animals from the farmers at very low rates--such as 3 cents per pound. Hogs and cattle were just killed. Thousands were shot and buried in deep pits. Farmers felt they had no choice. The federal buy-out saved many farmers from bankruptcy, and AAA payments became the chief source of income for many that year.

Farmers had worked hard to raise their livestock, and they absolutely hated to see them killed and the meat go to waste, but this was simple economics and the government's plan worked to some extent. The program may have helped farmers temporarily by causing prices to go up, but that was at the expense of millions in larger cities who could hardly afford to eat. Those living in rural areas could raise fruits and vegetables which helped them.
After several years, the Depression started to ease its way out of Utah and the rest of the country, but my grandfather Andrew Anderson never again saw the same prosperity he enjoyed in 1928. I am sure many lessons were learned during the Depression era--frugality and thrift among them

Andrew's Hoist System


Some time before those hard years, Andrew had taught his three boys, LaRell, LeGrand and R.D. the trade of slaughtering and butchering animals and built on his ranch in Koosharem a manual hoist system which he used for slaughtering. This proved to be a valuable thing as all of Andrew's boys found employment during the Depression years butchering animals. In fact, LaRell owned and operated his own meat packing plant in Vernal, Utah for about 30 years. 

LaRell, LeGrand and R. D. Anderson
LaRell's Uintah Packing Company in Vernal, Utah

I suppose if history has taught us anything, it is that nothing in life is sure. My family fell pretty hard during the Depression years along with most of the nation. 

What I heard in the voices of my grandparents as they talked about living and surviving the years of the Great Depression reminded me of taking tests in school. No one liked taking a test, but if we passed, we felt really good. I suppose they hoped they never would have to take that same test again.

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