Heading West – 1933
By Gary E. McKee
“One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out.”
These are lines extracted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning American novel The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. This realist novel illustrated the story of the 1930s migration of Americans displaced from their homes by drought and the financial crisis in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of unfortunate, destitute families headed westward to the fields of California, by any means of cheap transportation, to find work and dignity.
One day, I came across a postcard with an image of Schulenburg, complete with a one-cent stamp and postmarked Feb. 15, 1933, Schulenburg, Texas. It was addressed to a Mrs. E.M. Hill, 310 E. 25th St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Most of the postcards in my collection that were actually mailed contain normally generic information, such as “I am fine, how are you,” and rarely mention the places the cards were sent from. This particular card, however, captures the plight of many characters in The Grapes of Wrath.
It reads: “Left Densy Sat-at-2 P.M. Spent-last-night here Broke down (again) last eve about-15 mi. for here in a norther. A man shoved us several mi to a gas sta & I came on with him so I could sleep in bed. The old lady driving us to Ca [California] has no money- & Э [etcetera]. Four passengers - one is man, weight 265 lbs. A girl, 130. We are so crowded cant change our mind in the car. 1st- nite spent in T [tourist] camp in Ala 2nd in c[camp] Houma La., Next in Beaumont Texas then here. [signed] Mrs. Walker”
The photo on the card is taken from the intersection of U.S. 90 and Lyons Avenue facing south. The Von Minden Hotel is on the right without a marquee or fire escape. The wide curbed street, which was the main north-south route, as the present underpass wasn’t built until the following year, has a dozen 1920s vintage cars parked indiscriminately, and a single power pole on the block.
Mrs. Walker noted under the photo: “120 miles to San Antonio."
The addressee, Mrs. Hill, lived in a five-story apartment building, built in 1931, which still exists.
I am grateful to Mrs. Walker for leaving behind a scrap of life and I hope she found salvation in the fields of California.Read more