public records may cause you to recall people whose names you had
not heard since your childhood. At times they may be people you never
saw but only heard parents, other family members, or neighbors mention.
In checking the 1930 U. S. census report for Precinct 2 in Hopkins
County, Texas-the county where I grew up-I came across a list
of the ten members of the Elmer Huddleston family, parents and eight
children, the youngest of whom was less than a year old when the census
taker visited the Huddleston farm home in April, 1930.
As soon as I read the name Huddleston, I recalled the ruins
of a farm house located less than a mile from our house. When I was
seven years old, I rode to the site with my father in a wagon pulled
by our spotted mare and our brown mule. My father had to stop the
team twice in order to open flimsy gates made of strands of barb wire
and slender bois d'arc poles. We travelled down a narrow lane with
sandy ruts on either side of an extended isle of jimson weeds and
indigenous grass. We passed groves of blackjack and hickory trees.
When we reached an open space, my father pointed to the weathered
planks that once were a part of a house where the Huddleston family
lived in 1930. It could not have been more than five or six years
since the Huddleston family lived on the site, but the evidence that
anyone had lived there was scant. I recall that Robert Frost wrote
more than one poem about abandoned farms in New England, though his
poems usually referred to shells of houses rather than to scrap piles
of decaying boards.
"The bank foreclosed and Elmer Huddleston had to move his family off
the farm. I don't know where they landed," my father said.
Because of a reference to a member of the Huddleston family a neighbor
made in 1945, seven or eight years later, I learned that one Huddleston
was living in California. I assumed until recently that the Huddlestons
went to California when they left the farm near our house. Many others
forced off their farms in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas went to California.
In 1937 my father's sister, her husband, and their three sons put
their few possessions in a trailer behind their vintage Studebaker
and went West to look for employment. John Steinbeck immortalized
the thousands of famililes who made the trek to California in his
novel The Grapes of Wrath.
I discovered recently, however, in the 1940 census roll for Hopkins
County that seven of the Huddleston children and Lucy Huddleston,
the mother, were living in a community fifteen miles from the farm
where they had to leave in 1930. The father was not listed in the
1940 roll, and, though I could find no death certificate for Elmer,
I assume he died at some time in the '30s. Dixie, the twenty-year-old
daughter, was living a few miles from the other members of her family
in the Rua Arthur household where she was working as a domestic.
Five years after the 1940 census was taken, a neighbor, Lillian Griggs,
who had just returned from California where she and her husband had
worked for a time in WWII-related
industry referred to Vernon Huddleston, the oldest Huddleston child.
My parents remembered Vernon, though he was still a teenager his family
One muggy Sunday afternoon in July, as my parents and I sat on the
Griggses' porch, Lillian remarked that the weekend before she and
her husband left California in order to return to their farm in Texas,
they were visiting relatives in Madera. One of the relatives remarked
that the previous weekend Vernon Huddleston had been arrested in Firebaugh,
a town nearby. Apparently the charge was either vagrancy or public
drunkenness. I wonder how many other Okies were arrested by California
authorities during the Great Depression and faced similar charges.
A relative of the Griggses went to the Firebaugh jail and posted bond
Though I was mistaken for a time about the particular year the Huddleston
family migrated to California, I learned in 1945 that at least one
Huddleston was in California. Decades later when I perused the yearbooks
published for Kingsburg, California, High School in 1946, I saw photos
of Drue and Aubrey, two of Elmer Huddleston's sons. Drue played on
the school's baseball team. The Huddlestons and other migrants must
have been impressed by the diversity reflected in the California high
school's yearbook. Filipinos, Japanese-Americans, African Americans,
and Mexican-Americans were numerous in the classes pictured. The Huddlestons
would never have encountered these particular ethnic groups in the
Northeast Texas schools they attended before they went West.
Had I not lived long enough to become a Web user I would probably
never have recalled visiting the site of the farm the Huddlestons
were forced to leave during the Great Depression. Nor would I have
become curious about a family only remotely connected to my childhood.
September 4, 2016 Guest Column
More Columns by Robert G. Cowser
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