The official start date of The Great Depression became known as Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929.
The Depression was a worldwide economic downturn and had begun in some countries a year before. On that day, billions of dollars were lost when the stock market crashed. That had huge impact on agriculture producers also, because too much purchasing power evaporated overnight.
To check prices, I found a National Agricultural Statistics Service chart put together by the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1928, calves here averaged bringing $11.80 per hundred pounds, but by 1931 that had dropped to $8.10, dropping farther to $4.95 in 1933. Other livestock and crop prices fell similarly.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as our president in 1933, and he soon proposed, and Congress enacted, a sweeping program to bring recovery to business and agriculture. As part of his New Deal, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was passed. Farmers were offered subsidies in exchange for limiting their production of certain crops.
That wasn’t all. In the next few years, 2 million head of Texas cattle were bought by our government and slaughtered, with the thought being that the market had been glutted. That same law required that the meat from the killed animals NOT be sold for food, simply buried. There was more to the program, as hogs and crops were involved too. However, I’m writing about cattle here.
I’m switching now, needing to explain a different vein. George D. “Mutt” Rasco was born in Madison County in 1928. His grandfather, Sam L. Rasco (1875-1964), owned about 2,000 acres in the Navasota River bottom, and Mutt grew up on that ranch. He attended Bundick Grade School followed by North Zulch school until after 11th grade. Then he transferred to Madisonville to play basketball his final year. After graduating from MHS in 1947, he moved away and began a pipeline career. Ultimately, he worked in 38 states and in Canada. Now he is retired and lives in Tomball.
Mutt composed a treasure containing his family’s history, which he accompanied with many fascinating photos. He generously put a copy in Madison County Museum. I doubt if this is the only time I’ll use his stories, and I swear, I do have his permission. I’ve heard stories similar to his below before, from family members, but I never wrote them down. When I saw his words about it, I knew I’d have to share.
“In 1938, the government sent a man named Joe Lagravier to our house and he said the government was going to buy some cattle and would pay $5.00 for a cow and $2.50 for a calf. My father and my grandfather put some cows and calves in the pool (of neighbors’ cattle in the area). In about 2 weeks they came down the road driving some cows and put our cows in with the herd. They drove them over to Highway 21 where a big hole had been dug in the bank of the road. They put up a fence, put the cows in the pen, and a man named Crane Bailey took a rifle and started shooting them. Sam (a brother, named for the grandfather) and I were sitting on the fence when the cows started to make some kind of a bellowing sound that made me sick to my stomach. I ran down in the woods and had a good cry and Sam went with me. After the shooting, we went back to see what had happened. The cows were all dead, and the government inspector said that we could have the hides but we could NOT have any of the meat. Crane Bailey and some other man skinned the cows and they just left the carcasses for the buzzards to eat.”
The slaughter of so many animals achieved the desired effect. Prices gradually rose, and by 1940 calves were averaging $8.70 per hundredweight. The USDA chart showed 1940 as the last year that prices was less than $10 per hundredweight. Thank God.
Contrary to what some radicals think, most cattle raisers care deeply for their animals. I grew up with a ranching family like Mutt Rasco. I cannot imagine the horror that instilled in his 9-year-old heart. To make the waste of that meat more tragic, in those days millions of American children suffered from diseases related to malnutrition.
Do you have a memory to share too? Please call the museum, leave contact information, and we’ll make plans to get together.
Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds welcomes your visits. Memorials or donations may be mailed to the Museum at P.O. Box 60, Madisonville, TX 77864. The telephone number is (936) 348-5230.