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 Texas : Features : Columns : History by George

HIRED HANDS

by Louise George
Louise George

Personal interviews with Texas Panhandle men and women born in the early years of the twentieth century rewarded me with hundreds of stories illustrating their everyday life. I like to share those stories just as they were told to me.

Zuleika O'Daniel married Dick O'Daniel in 1929. Sometime in the early thirties they rented land, bought an old tractor and went to the farm. Dick was hard working, ambitious and innovative and would go on to become involved in a number of ventures, from movie theaters to a savings and loan business. But there was always the farm which became larger and more diversified over the years. That, of course, meant hired hands. In her own words, Zuleika tells how she took care of them.

Hired hands were a pretty big part of my life. I had to cook for them, sometimes one, sometimes two, but most of the time there were four. We just had one tractor, and we had one hand to drive at night and one in the daytime. So, I cooked supper for one in the morning and breakfast for the other in the evening, and switched and swapped around like that.

A neighbor had a place just further on west than ours, and they had a man cook, and we could get all their good hands because they liked my cooking better than they did his. Too, we paid $1.25 a day where they paid a $1.00 a day. I kept all their wages on the calendar. You know how those Cardui calendars had big squares on them. Well, I'd mark a cross for all day and just half of that mark for a half a day. Finally I told Dick, "Let's pay those boys $35 a month, so I won't have to keep up with all the hours they work." Dick said that was fine with him, anything I wanted to do. I could really get all of that neighbor's hands then. Anyway, all those calendars were up in the top of my cabinet for years. I wrote how much it rained and things like that. Somebody threw those away when we moved to town.

We had a little house out in the back, and I fixed it into a bunkhouse. It was so cute. There were four bunks on one wall with a closet in between. That's as long as the building was. I papered the walls with denim blue wallpaper that had white cattle brands all over it and I made my bedspreads out of blue denim with red bandanas sewed catty-cornered down the middle to hide the seam. On the chairs, I took two red bandanas and tied them together on each corner of the pillow so I could take them off and wash them.

My Aunt Bill had a drug store here in Tulia. The drug store was the only place in town that carried magazines. They didn't have them in the grocery stores like they do now. Used to, when the magazines got old, they would just tear the backs off of them and leave them at the store. They just didn't want to trouble with shipping them back. My aunt would give them to me. The hired hands loved the old western ones that had stories in them and they were always glad to get them. That was good entertainment for them.

When the war came along, all the boys were in the service and we couldn't get help. We worked high school kids, and those were the worst years of my life. Well, I just worried about them all the time. I was so afraid they were going to get hurt. They didn't have any sense about tractors and things. Once, my third cousin and one of his friends worked for us. They were running tractors with those go-devils that have those long knives on them, thirty-six to forty inches long, and they slope back to cut the roots off the weeds. A John Deere tractor has two little wheels up front and you straddle the furrows. One day one of the boys was standing up in the seat reaching over holding the steering wheel to guide that tractor. Dick said, "I prayed till I got to him and then I just cussed him out like a man."

I always took them something to eat and drink. Dick said, "Don't pet them so."

I said, "Dick, I don't want them to go to sleep. You know, kids get sleepy at that age. They're still growing. Besides, I think I can get more work out of them with an extra sandwich than you can with an extra dollar."

And, I could - but I always worried about them.

Louise George
History by George
- May 15, 2006
Louise George is author of two books, No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas, and Some of My Heroes Are Ladies, Women, Ages 85 to 101, Tell About Life in the Texas Panhandle. Louise can be reached at (806) 935-5286, by mail at Box 252, Dumas, Texas, or by e-mail at lgeorge@NTS-online.net.

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