Subtopic : Bust and Boom: The Depression Years and World War II: Dry Years, Hard Times
Themes: People and the Environment, Social Relations
Drought arrived in northeastern Oregon in 1928 and remained until 1940. The Great Depression, the most severe economic crisis in the nation’s history, came a year after the drought and lasted about as long. Prices for wheat and other crops had been declining throughout the 1920s and now nosedived. Farmers west of the Cascades could at least feed themselves. But the drought made even that difficult in eastern Oregon. The combination of depression and drought drove hundreds of families from their farms in the 1930s.
The decline in agriculture helps explain why five of the area’s ten counties suffered a net loss in population during the decade. The cities did better. La Grande declined slightly, but Baker City grew substantially. In 1930 the Hotel Baker, the “tallest building in Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains,” opened at a cost of nearly $3 million. Pendleton’s population swelled from less than 7,000 to nearly 9,000, as it joined Baker City as one of the ten largest cities in the state.
Ontario, once a shipping center for cattle, expanded along with Vale when a major irrigation project drew hundreds of farmers to the Snake River Valley in the 1930s. But establishing small, stable farms remained difficult. Four out of ten settlers in one study had sold out by the end of World War II, and another two out of ten had rented their farms. A family of nine who settled on Willow Creek in 1936 had to rely on public assistance, friends and relatives, and sent its children out to work in other people's homes or as laborers in sugar-beet fields. They left after just three years.
© David Peterson del Mar, 2005
Themes: People and the Environment,Social Relations
Regions: Northeastern Oregon
Author: David Peterson del Mar
The great drought in northeastern Oregeon coincided with and lasted about as long as the Great Depression.
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