Remnants of the CCC |

Remnants of the CCC

The federal government surely does some odd things. No, I’m not talking about the present day, rather back during the Great Depression.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, known to the world as FDR, established a number of federal programs to help Americans who were literally starving because there were no jobs, hence no income for food or anything else. The program of which I am most familiar is the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was a mainstay for many thousand young men and World War I veterans. During the nine years of its existence, 1933-1942, hundreds of camps were created nationwide. Within those camps, usually formed of about 200 men each, the CCC “boys” were fed, housed, had health care, education classes and learned various skills on the job. I knew one man who worked on the steps at Harney Peak and went on to become a stone mason for his life’s work. Being in the Cs taught work ethic if it wasn’t already established. The men learned to get along in close quarters and to work in cooperation with others. They were paid $30 per month, $25 of which went home to support their families. Movies cost a nickel illustrating that the $5 they got to keep went a long way and it was theirs to spend.

As work projects or locations were changed, camps closed.

A woman who had been a little girl at the time told us this story and supplied evidence. She and her family lived high in the Black Hills of South Dakota where a cabin was their home. A CCC camp was nearby and her dad visited with the men from time to time. In due time the camp was closed and destruction was ordered. The CCC men used shovels to dig deep holes in which the detritus was placed. The china tableware had to be buried along with everything else, including blankets. But first it was ordered that the blankets be cut into several pieces — so they wouldn’t be good for anything — then buried. After it was all done and most of the CCCs had left the camp, one of the men went and told her father what they had been made to do. Right when people were so in need of everything, these items were ruined for use.

“The program of which I am most familiar is the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was a mainstay for many thousand young men and World War I veterans.”

Never underestimate the ingenuity of rural South Dakotans. Once all of the workers had left the camp, the neighbor men took their shovels and moved the dirt piles. One by one squares of wool that had been blankets were pulled from the rubble. They were given to the ladies of the community who washed them and sewed them back together, creating oddly colored and mismatched squares into “new” blankets.

After the CCC Museum of South Dakota opened inside the Hill City Visitor Center, the former little girl contacted me with the story and the offer of one of the blankets. It is on display, along with the explanation, at the museum. She kept three others in the cabin where family continues to enjoy them. ❖