A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community
brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.
The Great Depression was a decade long period of economic downturn that started with the Stock Market Crash on October 29, 1929. Herbert Hoover’s hands-off economic policies deepened the economic downslide. At the worst of the Depression, unemployment stood at 25% of the workforce, and there was little or no economic safety net. Many banks failed because of the stock market plunge, which caused depositors to withdraw their savings which led to more bank failures and runs on banks. Many people lost all their savings. A major drought coincided with the Great Depression which led to the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains. In 1933 many hungry unemployed men took to the rails. There were an estimated 200.000 homeless men wandering from town to town. Property values in Fremont county decreased by 1.2 million dollars from 1932 to 1933.
In 1933 the Wyoming doctors canceled their annual convention in Yellowstone because so few payments were being made for their services. One doctor reported he saw 5 cents for every dollar he put on his ledger. Soup kitchens fed the newly poor. Flour sacks from Lander Mill were sold in sacks of pretty prints so they could be repurposed into new clothing.
In November of 1932, Franklin D Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover and won the Presidential election in a landslide carrying all but two states. Wyoming voted for FDR and voted heavily Democratic in that election. FDR was inaugurated on March 4th, 1933. Millions listened in on their radios and heard FDR declare, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The country was economically beaten down and ready for new leadership and new economic policies. FDR immediately declared a bank holiday for four days. All the banks in the country closed for business while bank examiners looked at their books. The banks in Lander closed on Monday and all three in Lander reopened that Friday including the First National Bank of Lander, Eugene Amoretti’s original bank, and The Stockgrowers bank. The FDIC now guaranteed the deposits of the banks. Hoarding money was made illegal. Three days later the country listened in to FDR’s first fireside chat. He told Americans it was safer to keep their money in the bank than in their mattresses.
During the first 100 days of FDR’s administration, unprecedented legislation was passed to institute the New Deal. FDR created programs to provide jobs and work opportunities for the unemployed putting workers on the government payroll. Some of his programs that continue today are unemployment insurance, Security and Exchange Commission, to regulate markets, Social Security, and the FDIC.
During the Depression government work programs such as WPA, CCC, and PWA provided Work projects to keep men employed. Men were hired off the relief rolls and put to work building roads, schools, irrigation systems, and community projects. The Loop Road from Sinks Canyon to South Pass was one of the projects. The Loop road opened in 1939 with the help of workers from PWA and the CCC. In Lander, the building of South Side School was completed with a grant of $118,000 from the federal government. South Side replaced a school building that had included part of the original 1880s school building which had been condemned. The part of that school building dating from the 1880s still stands. South Side School was replaced by Gannet Peak elementary in 2011, but some of the Art Deco architectural details from the older school were preserved.
Other community projects included building the airport in Lander, the golf course, and community center, flood control projects, the rodeo grounds, and improvements on Lander Municipal Park and pool. The road to Dickenson Park and Jakey’s Fish hatchery was also a WPA project.
Fremont County did not experience the Dust Bowl of the Great Plains, but the drought that brought on the dust bowl also left Wyoming’s rangeland in poor condition. The federal government paid sheepmen $2 per head for culled animals. Wool pelts were gathered and sent to Casper to be sewn into winter coats. The dry conditions also encouraged grasshopper plagues that started in the Rockies and spread across the Great Plains in the 1930s.
The government programs were much appreciated. A quote from a Lander citizen in the newspaper, “ All in all things are picking up for Lander residents, both in a business and a social way, and what a godsend this work and the money will mean to residents of Lander and Fremont County. The President of these United States of ours and our Senators and Representative are all wise men and are to be thanked for their ability to recognize the need on this Our Country in the West.”
He’d like to be good,
And he’d like to be friends,
And he’s like to amount ter somethin’,
Why, he’d like fer to be
Just like you or like me—
But he aint got the gumption or somthin’
He aint got a cent,
An’ he aint got no friend.
An’ he aint got no prospects neither.
You can read in his eye:
“what’s the use fer to try,
An’ I don’t give a gosh darn either!
He ain’t a tough nut,
An’ he aint a bad egg.
Though they say he’s a Down and Outer
There’s no pep in his heart;
All he needs is a start
An’s a push, ‘cause he’s just a fool doubter.
A start an’ a push
An’ a smile. Maybe too,
A word in his ear fer to help him.
One night in the park
Near a tree in the dark
He was sittin’ there with his dog Jim.
He talked kinda low;
Kinda slow; then he’d stop
Then he’d lay his hand on Jim’s head,
An’ that naughty ol’ cur
With ther fleas in his ear
Kept a taking’ in all what he said:
“I’d like to be good,
An’ I’d like to have friends,
An’ I’d like to amount ter somethin’
Jim! I don’t want to be
Just like you er like me—
But I aint got the gumption er somethin’”
– J.F. Anstette
Next up for the Fremont County Museums
July 11th, 9 am at the Riverton Museum, “Midvale Irrigation Trek”
Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series
July 18th, 9 am at the Riverton Museum “Bates Battlefield Trek”
Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series
Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.