Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on December 10, 2020
In 1933, Onis Smith was just a couple of years out of high school and newly married. He and his young bride rented a small farm near Olvey and hoped to make a living.
An inventory of the young couple’s worldly goods consisted of a small cook stove, a table, two chairs, one bed and a change of clothing. Smith also had two cows which he had “worked out” before he got married.
Smith borrowed a team of horses and some tools from relatives and set about putting out a crop. That first summer, the 20 acres produced a fair crop. The ongoing Great Depression didn’t make things any easier to make a living.
In 1934, though, a deadly drought ruined the crops of thousands of American farmers, including Smith’s. Like so many others, he was forced to rely on some of the programs introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Smith was forced to apply for a $17 in drought relief from the Federal Emergency Relief Association (FERA). He repaid the loan by working road construction.
An executive order on May 1, 1935, created the Resettlement Administration (RA).
According to livingnewdeal.org, the RA engaged in a variety of activities during its brief two-year existence. One was financial aid, with emergency loans and grants for farm families in dire straits and debt reduction for others. Another group of RA programs dealt with conservation work: planting trees on 87,000 acres; creating 1,900 miles of firebreaks; improving 261 miles of streams; educating farmers in best practices for land-use; and purchasing 9 million acres of land, “unsuitable for crop cultivation,” for “forestry, grazing, wildlife conservation, and recreation.” A third type of activity was aimed at building physical and social infrastructure in the countryside: over 500 vehicle, horse, and pedestrian bridges; 65 blacksmith shops; 1,800 miles of telephone lines, and enhanced medical and dental services.
In 1935, Smith applied for a rehabilitation loan and was advanced $28. Through the Smiths hard work, assistance was soon not needed. In a story that appeared in the Harrison Daily Times on December 4, 1935, Smith explained that he was selling cream and eggs and could get along without aid.
“No, young Farmer Smith will not need a loan from the Resettlement Administration next year, thank you,” the Daily Times story reported.
With assistance from the RA, Smith’s harvest in 1935 included 90 bushels of corn, 20 bushels of wheat, 43 bushels of oats, 50 shocks of sorghum cane, one load of cowpea hay, 13 bushels of potatoes and 5 bushels of sweet potatoes.
Violet Smith was busy that year, also, the Daily Times reporting that she had canned 300 quarts of fruit and vegetables.
The Smith’s livestock consisted of “three good cows, three heifers, a horse, two hogs, 25 hens, 40 young chickens, two turkeys, seven ducks and three bee hives.”
“They couldn’t make it on their own,” the Daily Times said, “but with the aid of the Resettlement Administration, they are pulling through and expect to be independent next year.”