BETTIE GULL, DUST BOWL DAYS & THE FLOOD OF 1935 by Zackary Schilz

Bettie Gull lived with her parents, Bill and Fredella Hill and an older brother Bill on a farm between Oxford and Edison, Nebraska in Furnas County during the early 1930’s. The farm was located along the Republican River; in fact, the house was less than one quarter of a mile from the river. She and her brother Bill attended a rural school, which was approximately six miles from their home.

 

They drove a horse and buggy to school and the brother fed and shed the horse on the school grounds where they attended school. Their home was a two-stories with a basement. It had no electricity so kerosene lamps were used for light. There was a wood-burning stove in the kitchen to cook on. There also was a floor furnace between the living room and the dining room, which produced some heat. In fact, when the baby pigs were born their father used to bring them in out of the cold and warm them up on a tarp over the floor furnace. The house was modern in that it had an indoor bathroom rather than an outhouse.

 

Some of the things they did for fun included ice-skating on the sandpits and the local lake, and swimming in the river. In the evenings they listened to the radio- such programs as Amos and Andy and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Family entertainment consisted of PTA meetings and lunches and card parties about once a month. Their father enjoyed going to meetings at the local Legion Club to visit with his World War I buddies once a month also.

 

They didn’t suffer as much from the terrible dust bowl dirt storms down in the valley as much as those who lived on the divide. When the dirt would move and blow, the only room they could breathe in was the pantry because it only had one window and they would put wet towels around it.

 

The most vivid memory of this time for grandmother was the flood of 1935. She was five years old when that happened. It happened late in the evening after the children had gone to bed. There was a general ring on the party line telephone that high water was coming and to protect the livestock.

 

Their father left the house and went out to let the cows out of the pasture. While he was out there a wall of water drowned out his car so it would not start. He tried to get to a neighbor’s house that was about a quarter of a mile from his home but was not able even to do that.

 

In the meantime, their mother had gone out to pick up her baby chicks, when a wall of water washed up over her. She was only able to get back to the house by holding onto a fence that ran from the chicken house to the home.

 

By this time, the children had heard noises down stairs and when they started down the stairs the water had already risen up the first two steps. Their mother came back and went upstairs with the children. In the meantime, their father had managed to climb a telephone pole and pulled himself along on the wires until he was across the road from their home. He told their mother he was afraid they were all going to drown and that he would rather drown trying to get to his family.

 

Somehow he managed to swim against the wall of water and got to a tree in the corner of the yard. There was a clothesline that was fastened to the tree he was in and the other end of the line was fastened to a tree by the house. Their father broke his end off the tree and tied it around his waist while their mother broke her end loose and fastened it to a bedstead, which she had pulled up to the window.

 

When their mother and the children pulled the father in, the water was level with the porch roof. Her father was chilled and shaking and there were sticks driven in his body from the force of the water.

 

The family was stranded in the house until after-noon of the next day. Her first memory of the next morning was looking and seeing nothing but muddy water and the tops of trees and buildings, and stock bawling and thrashing around. It was around noon of this day that rescuers swam horses down to the house and took the family out. At this time there were still people hanging in trees and calling for help and people trying to rescue them with boats.

 

The family was left with nothing. Their father had received a war bonus just before this, but he had invested it all in the stock and feed which, of course, was lost. They were offered a place to stay with the fellow who ran the local pool hall. Their mother had black hair and within three days it turned gray. Some people would say this couldn’t be but she said she saw it happen.

 

Their mother spent days and days washing clothing that they had salvaged, in fact, one of the things she washed out every day were some quilt blocks she had made. These quilt blocks were later made into a quilt, which hangs in her present day home. Another thing, which was salvaged from the flood, was a treadle sewing machine that is also located in her home in McCook.

 

Following the flood their father walked the river for days looking for livestock. He found only one cow and a pony that belonged to his brother. In fact, the horse remained with the family for another ten years. There were people loading livestock into trucks to be sold whether they belonged to them or not. Actually they were just stealing from people who had just lost everything they owned.

 

During the time they lived in town their mother worked making potato chips for seventy-five cents a day while their dad earned $2.50 a day. They saved their money, (as much as they could) to rent another farm.

 

About two years after the flood the family moved to a farm near Holbrook on the divide (This was high ground). Here, grasshoppers and drought plagued them but they were nowhere near the river. Their father suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a Veteran’s Hospital.

 

Their mother was temporarily left on the farm to care for it and the children. They had very little food. There was no meat and they often ate ragweed that can be said to be similar to spinach. They would not take handouts. This was a proud family whose way of life was to not beg from others or to ask for relief. They accepted life as it was dealt them and did what they could without complaint.

 

In conclusion, life in the thirties was vastly different from the way we live today. Times were rough (especially for this family). They had no choice but to keep on going.