Friday, May 22, 2009

Shepard Family Update, May 22, 2009

The dispossessed were drawn west
from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico
...families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out.
Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry
...two hundred thousand.
They streamed over the mountains,
hungry and restless - restless as ants,
scurrying to find work to do
- to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut
- anything, any burden to bear, for food."

John Steinbeck
(Grapes of Wrath, 1939)

Hello Shepard Family and Friends,

Greetings to all of you from beautiful Southern California where it feels like summertime and the living is easy. Our son Nathan has just returned -- yet again! -- safe and sound from Cambodia where he was with his fiance Chenda, continuing their (seemingly) never ending adventure to get her a Visa to come to the U.S.

This coming Tuesday is the birthday of Brandyn Boyd, teenage son of Darren and Vicki Boyd of Lakeside, California. Brandyn is the 17th Ggrandchild of Will and Bura Shepard. Pictured at left is Brandyn with his two sisters, Kori and Courtney. Dad Darren tells me that "Brandyn is doing good. He is about finished with his freshman year of high school. Baseball is about over and spring football starts next week." Happy Birthday, Brandyn!

This coming Thursday is the birthday of Rex Russell of Red Rock, Nevada, who is the first born grandchild of Will and Bura Shepard, and the son of Pauline and Bill Russell. Thursday is also the birthday of Rex's daughter-in-law Ruth Styer Russell. She has been a member of our family since she and Eric married in 1993. They live next to Rex in Red Rock. Happy Birthday to both Rex and Ruth!

Rex was born in Two Buttes, Colorado. He, his aunt Thelma, and his infant sister Beverly were young children who made the move to California from Southeast Colorado in 1940 with the others of the Shepard clan. The second picture I am including is a delightful picture of 7 year old Rex and his 4 year old sister Beverly, taken just 3 years after the family had moved to San Diego. Neither these two, nor the three above, look "dispossessed" by any stretch of the imagination! (see quote above.)

When Rex was born, one of our nation's worst natural disasters was taking place in and around Oklahoma and Southeast Colorado -- the severe drought of the 1930s. During a time when 1 in 3 Americans lived on farms -- including most of our ancestors -- the drought was one of the worst in history, and it had a significant impact on our people.

Becky Davis, youngest daughter of my great aunt Milded Davis, shared with me some memories her mother recounted recently regarding a catastrophic dust storm resulting from the drought. The events of this story -- as told by Becky but originating with Mildred -- were experienced by Mildred herself when she was in her early 20s.

In 1934 the "Dust Bowl", as it was called, was underway. My aunt Myra (Davis) and her husband William Kilpatrick and their 3 children decided to leave Two Buttes, Colorado, where the family lived, and go to Chowchilla (in the Central Valley of California), because William had relatives there. My dad Jesse Davis had asthma, and since the blowing dust made his condition worse, he and my mom Mildred went from Oklahoma to Colorado to go with the Kilpatricks to California.

They built a 'house' on the back of a truck. In that 'house', William, Myra, their 3 children, Mom, Dad and their daughter Jessie, plus Grandmother Callie Davis, and an 18 year old neighbor of William's, ate and slept and rode to California. When they arrived, they set the house in the yard of their relatives in Chowchilla, while Dad and William used the truck to do hauling to make some money.
The following May, mom was heavy with their second child. So Dad bought a car and they returned to Oklahoma. One week later Oklahoma was hit with the worst of the dust storms, on what came to be known as 'Black Sunday'. Mom and Dad (Mildred and Jesse) had gone home with aunt Esther and her husband Perry after church that day at the South Flat Church of Christ. When the storm hit, they all took shelter in the basement. Esther thought the world was coming to an end and started crying, which made all the children cry. The world did not end, of course. Instead, just a few weeks later, my sister Charlotte was born.

This next image is from an old family photo. On the back is written: "April, 1935, Two Buttes, Colorado." It shows the ominous look of an approaching dust storm.

The Dust Bowl prompted the largest migration in the history of the United States. Several hundred thousand people fled the economic disaster it created and moved to California, the (supposed) land of opportunity at the time. It prompted the writing of John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. The migration was such that for several months in the mid 1930s, the Los Angeles police department sent officers to the state border to turn away Oklahoma migrants. For a period of time the situation was not unlike the Mexico-U.S. border problem today!

Will and Bura Shepard were among the many Oklahoma families ("Okies") who became Californians. But as Mildred's story reminds us, they were not the first to move to the west coast, even among our own relatives. Were it not for the economic conditions created by the Dust Bowl, the Shepards' might never have moved to San Diego in 1940. And many of us who are now native Californians, might be living in Oklahoma or Colorado or Texas. Interestingly, a number of our family, after 50+ years, have migrated BACK to Oklahoma and Texas, in some instances for the very same reasons that some of our people left there in the first place: in search of a better life.

Speaking of going back to Oklahoma... are you making your plans for our family reunion July 18 in Newcastle, Oklahoma? We hope many of you will be able to join us!

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