Approximately 40 Altus 7th and 8th grade reading students were able to relive the Dust Bowl days with a field trip to the nation’s first shelter belt in Lake Creek last week with their teacher and Granite native Listina (Martin) Prickett. Prickett hosted the students with the help of her father, Jerry Martin (farmer and retired teacher and principal at Granite schools), and aunts and uncles J.L. and Billie Parr and Danny and Norma Martin.
The shelter belt is located on Parr and Curtis family land north of the Lake Creek Baptist Church. Several beautiful markers represent the history of when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created conservation programs to help save the farmlands of the Plains during what proved to be the largest man-made disaster in our nation’s history. Prickett’s students have been studying the Dust Bowl for the past six weeks, reading two novels on the subject and watching several documentaries. While at the site, the students were able to plant a pine tree to help carry on conservation awareness and the protecting of our national resources.
J.L. Parr talked to the students about the Dust Bowl days and growing up in the 30s in Lake Creek. Born in September 1925, Parr was 10 years old when the dust storms became the worst (the event spanned a 10-year period).
“I still remember whenever it came 4 o’clock in the afternoon, as high as you could see it was solid black – it put the sun out,” Parr recalled. “By 5 o’clock it was dark.”
April 14, 1935 was the biggest dust storm the Plains had seen. Within a short time, the dust made its way to Washington D.C. FDR had to do something. The Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps were created.
“When the new president – Roosevelt – came in, he created the WPA and the CCC,” said Parr. “They came in and the government paid all these guys so much a day to plant the trees. The more feet they (trees) grew, the less wind and storms we had. These trees and the grass have saved the land.”
Prickett’s grandfather, Marvin Martin, worked with the WPA and helped plant the shelter belt in Lake Creek and also helped to build Lake Lugert. The goal of the WPA was to employ as many people possible during this time of the Great Depression, helping to build projects hoping to provide long-term benefits to the local communities – including Lake Creek and Granite.
The CCC was also known as FDR’s “Tree Army.” The group was made up of men ages 18-25 whose purpose was to battle the erosion and destruction the Dust Bowl created and help to save the natural resources.
But, these were not the only “New Deal” projects created by FDR. Parr explained to the students there was much more.
“The kids in school here in Lake Creek were very poor,” Parr recalled. “Our mother saved all our chicken feed sacks and made me and my brothers clothes, but hardly anyone wore shoes to school. All of us went bare-footed. FDR created programs to provide clothing for all of the school children and a lot of the women in the rural communities. That’s how desperate things were here. It wasn’t an easy life and I hope you never see something like that in your lifetime.”
Parr’s wife, Billie, also shared her memories of the time with TGN – she was 5 years old in 1935.
“You could set a clock by it (the dust storms) – it was like a wall and when that wall hit, it was bad,” said Billie. “I thought the world was coming to an end. I went to Sunday School and they taught us about when the world would end and that’s what I thought was happening.”
While in Lake Creek, the students were helped by Jerry and Danny Martin and J.L while planting the pine tree after students read what they had learned about the events. They then walked back to the Lake Creek church where they enjoyed a meal of “beans and biscuits.” Before leaving, Jerry Martin explained a display of the evolution of tractors outside the church, where tractors owned by Martin, his grandson, Brandon Folsom (Prickett’s son) and son, Mark Martin (Prickett’s brother) adorned the church parking lot.
Martin also gave a history of Lake Creek and Lake Creek school, which he graduated from in 1957. This was the last class to graduate from the school before it was closed and students were consolidated to Granite. Martin said there had been over 300 students in Lake Creek and when the school closed there were 134 students attending. There were six students graduating in Martin’s class.
Prickett was accompanied on the trip by Altus Junior High Assistant Principal Carolyn Haught, their bus driver, Bill, and one mother, Kris. Women with the Lake Creek Baptist Church also helped with lunch. The field trip ended with a brief view of the Lake Creek monument near the church and viewing the site of the old Lake Creek school gym.
The field trip and planting of the tree were made possible through the hard work of Prickett, who received a grant to provide the books, video and educational materials needed to complete the class project. Atwoods of Altus helped to provide the tree and planting supplies for the students.