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Isaacs, Elizabeth

About | Abstract


Rural life in Clayton, N.M. during Dust Bowl era.

Interviewee Elizabeth Isaacs, female, born in 1925
Date Range 1925-1945
Date & Location March 27, 2010, Herzstein Memorial Library, Clayton, N.M.
Project Rural Lifeways
Region Southeast New Mexico
Number of Tapes 1
Transcribed April 22, 2010
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Tape 1, Side A

Isaacs' father came west from Missouri in 1910. Her mother came in 1917. They married in 1921 and lived in Clayton, N.M., until their death. Her father was a doctor and had tuberculosis. He was told that he might live longer if he moved to a drier climate. He settled in Texline, Tex., but after a few years of improvements to his health, he decided to move to Clayton, N.M., because it was a county seat. He got his license to practice in New Mexico. He was a physician, dental practitioner, and a surgeon. He opened a small private hospital but there were not enough people in the area to support it, so he gave it to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Isaacs' mother originally came to the Clayton area because she had a friend living there, and to teach school. The flu epidemic of 1918 hit, and the school was closed. She had already had the flu before it hit the area so she was able to help care for flu victims. She decided that she wanted to become a nurse, so she went to St. Luke's Hospital in Denver and got her nurse's license before returning to Clayton.

Isaacs says that although they were not involved in agriculture, they did have land in the country and had horses and cows. People often paid her father with livestock or food because they did not have the money to pay for medical help. Her father had bought the land on tax titles, which was the best way to get land in the 1930s. He made a deal with the cattle rancher who had the adjoining land to look after his livestock. In return her father paid for half the feed, and they split the income.

Isaacs points out several landmarks in the photos she is shown of the black dust cloud. She was going to school in Amarillo, Tex., when one storm hit [Apparently there had been a conflict with the Clinton School Superintendant and several families had moved their children to schools elsewhere.] She recalls that it was Sunday evening. She could not even see the light bulb in the ceiling. Although it did not last long, she says that it was very frightening. The funniest story she ever heard about this was that the Baptist church was having a service when the dust cloud hit. The preacher started reading "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and started to pass the collection plate. They collected over $200, and this was in the 1930s! That night and many other nights, her mother would put the children to bed with a wet washcloth on their faces to make it easier to breath with all the dust. They often took a washcloth when they walked to school, too. She recalls three "Black Duster" in total, but most people remember that Sunday night the most. Isaacs says that it got so dark and so quick that it was really scary. She describes it as "like in a fog. There was no wind. It just rolled in and then the dust came, and then came the wind. It was just this black that obscured everything. After a while you got used to the dust storms that were always rolling in, but not the real black ones."

She discusses typical meals, chores and leisure activities. She recalls when they got radio and television. Her parents belonged to several associations or clubs.

She recalls that many "Okies" came through the area on their way to California to look for work. She says that when World War II started and the "Okies" left California to return to Oklahoma ,she saw the same old junky cars that she had seen heading west except that this time they were loaded with refrigerators and stoves. Hobos travelling by rail would often come to the house and ask for food. Her mother would not feed them unless they did some work in exchange. When she noticed that no one had come for a long time her mother went out by the back gate and found some signs marked on the fence. She figured that the markings warned other hobos that they would have to work to get food at this place.