Monthly Archives: July 2009

Dust Bowl Memories in Oklahoma

An article came out in the newspaper recently which mentioned that film maker Ken Burns is asking for resources on a new project about the dust bowl. This made me think of the stories that my grandfather, Lewis Swart, told me when I was growing up.

His stories were part of the reason I became a historian.

My granddad was born on November 2, 1921 near Rocky, Washita County, Oklahoma. He was raised on the family farm southeast of town. His parents were Herman and Bessie Kleiner Swart.

He said that when a dust storm would come up from the west that the chickens would think it was nighttime (even in the middle of the afternoon), and they would head to the hen house to roost.

He also said that they would find cattle out in the fields that were dead. They would cut them open and find the lungs were full of mud. The cattle had suffocated from the dirt and dust.

His mother would hang wet sheets over the windows to keep the dust out of the house.  The entire family slept with wet washcloths over their faces to keep from inhaling the small dust particles.

I grew up learning to put dishes upside down in the cupboards. Could this be a habit stemming from the dust bowl days?

Lewis L. Swart

Lewis L. Swart

The photo above was taken for his high school senior photograph. He graduated in 1939, and was the first son in his family to do so. He had two older sisters and two older brothers.

Grandpa worked for a time after high school graduation with a local Electric Co-Op. He helped dig holes for utility poles along Oklahoma roads and highways. This was during the time after FDR started the Rural Electrification Association in hopes to bring electricity to rural parts of the country, including Western Oklahoma. I think alot of people don’t realize that farm families in Oklahoma lived without electricity until the late 1930s and some didn’t have this luxury until after the war.

My grandmother, born in 1929, said that her father would go get the battery out of the Model T to power their radio for a little bit on Saturday nights.

He volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy in September 1942, and served as a machinest aboard the USS Belknap, which was part of the Pacific Fleet. A kamikaze hit the ship one morning in January 1945, and my granddad sustained shrapnel wounds from the impact. He was later awarded the Purple Heart.

His five brothers also served during WWII. Luckily, all six men came back to Oklahoma after the war.

Back home in Oklahoma, he worked as a farm hand for his sister’s brother, Ammon Owen, and later for his Aunt Emily and her husband, T.A. Cotton, who lived out in California. I suspect they had moved to California during the depression. [Edit: 6/2/10 – The Cottons moved to California around 1943.]

My grandparents went on their first date in August 1946, but didn’t marry until August of 1957.

I’m not certain what years grandpa worked out in California [Edit: 6/2/10 – He worked in Ca. in 1946 & came back in the fall of 1947.], but once back in Oklahoma he worked as a carpenter and touted, “I built half of the houses in Burns Flat.” There’s a photo of him (I’ll have to look for it) on scaffolding, helping to build a grain elevator in Rocky in 1946.

I know he worked for several months in Goodwell, Oklahoma in 1951 (or 1953?) to help build the dairy barns at the Panhandle A&M College (now Panhandle State).

He was hired on as a carpenter at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, and my grandparents moved from Rocky to Fletcher in 1968. Their house would follow in 1972!

He retired from the Post in 1989 and has been enjoying retirement for the two decades. He’s still a hard worker, and stubborn just like all other Swart men I know.

He still has the habit of keeping scraps of string, wire, bicycle inner tubes, old license plates, scraps of wood, pails of old nails and screws, etc. He says, “You never know when you’re going to need that.” I think this is from his younger days as a child living during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. He’s still as frugal as ever, and to this day, my grandparents haven’t bought anything on credit. (They’ve also saved every check they’ve ever written during their married lives.) In their eyes, if you can’t pay for something outright, you don’t really need it. Or if you do, you save up until you get it. They don’t spend money they don’t have. (Which might be a good lesson for Americans to learn AND practice. We wouldn’t be in this economic mess if people lived like my grandparents and others in their generation.)

My granddad is still telling his stories at the age of 87. He has this rare ability to remember what the weather was like for any given day. Sometimes he’ll hear on the weather report that a record was set on this day back in 1936, and he’ll tell me what he was doing that day. He might’ve been out on a wheat harvesting crew or whatnot, and he’ll say when it finally rained and how much it rained. It’s fascinating. I hope that I am blessed with memory like he is.

He broke his leg over a month ago, but seems to be coming along alright. Although he wasn’t too happy when his doctor told him not to put any weight on the foot for six weeks.

Thank God for grandpas.

Here I am listening to another of my granddads fantastic tales. Hes a great story-teller.

Here I am listening to another of my granddad's fantastic tales. He's a great story-teller.


Posted by on July 25, 2009 in Genealogy


Last Will and Testament of William L. Baker

[My great-great-great grandfather.]

I, William L. Baker, of Rocky, in Washita County, State of Oklahoma, being of sound mind and memory and in possession of all my faculties do hereby make, publish, and declare the following to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking and cancelling all other or former wills by me at any time made.

First: I direct the payment of all my just debts and funeral expenses.

Second: I will that my son William F. Baker [ my great-great grandfather ] shall have all my interest in and to the lease of the N.E. Quarter of Section Sixteen Township Eight North, Range Seventeen West, I.M. [Indian Meridian]

Third: I will that the remainder of my property of whatever it may consist including my interest on lease of S.E. Quarter of Section Sixteen Township Eight North, Range Seventeen West, I.M. be sold and that my just debts be paid out of the proceeds of sale of said property, and that the remainder of the proceeds of sale of said property be divided evenly among the following heirs: Nancy R. A. Baker, my wife, Mollie I Scott, daughter who now resides at Ft. Cobb, Okla, Fanny M. Robinson, daughter of Rocky, Okla, Sally Miller, who now resides at Chickasha, Okla, Charley W. Baker, son of Rocky, Okla, Laura C. Lewis, daughter, Rocky Okla, Lenora Baker, daughter.

Fourth: I hereby nominate, designate, and appoint William E. Clanahan Executor of this my last will and testament.

In witness wherof I, William L. Baker, have to this my last will and testament, hereunto set my hand this 18th day of December 1913.

William L. Baker [signature]

W. E. Clanahan [signature]

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Posted by on July 25, 2009 in Genealogy


Emma Josephine Joli Dove

Some months ago, I learned the name of my great-great-great-great grandmother.

E. J. Joli.

She married John Godfred Dove in Fannin County, Texas in 1874.

John Godfred Dove and Children

I contacted a cousin on who had more information on this family, including the above photograph.

He also shared information about E. J. Joli and his search for her enrollment to the Cherokee Tribe! I’d not yet heard any rumor of Native American ancestry on this branch of our family.

When I spoke to my great-aunt Mary about this, she said she was not surprised. She always thought that photographs of her grandmother, Emma Josephine Belyeu Vantine, showed facial features that might have been indicative of Indian ancestry.

Emma Josephine Belyeu Vantine.

Emma Josephine Belyeu Vantine.

It also turns out that my great-great grandmother, Emma J. Vantine, was named for her grandmother, Emma Josephine Joli!

Once I learned of the possibility of Native blood on this branch of the family tree, I began looking through indexes of the various rolls. The distant cousin who had researched this before, came to a brick wall after learning that she had applied for membership in the Cherokee Nation and that she had applied under the name Elizabeth J. Jolloy. Even though she would have been married to J. G. Dove by this time.

I found the application number and contacted researched at the National Archives in Ft. Worth. I’ve received word that Emma’s application is 67 pages long!

From looking at other applications from 1896, I know it should include copies of documents proving her lineage as well as transcriptions of interviews with the applicant and other affidavits.

I’ve also learned that the majority of the 1896 applications were thrown out with little or no review due to rampant dishonesty. The applicants were to re-apply starting in 1898.

Emma died in 1897 at the age of 43. She was never listed on the Final Dawes Rolls for this reason.

But! If her parents were still living in 1898 and applied to be on the rolls, there is a good chance that I may apply for my membership in the tribe.

I also found a cousin that had a photograph of Emma. It is now framed and on display in my home along with other family portraits.

Emma Josephine Joli Dove

Emma Josephine Joli Dove

The application should arrive next week in the mail, and I will look for the names of Emma’s parents to determine if they are indeed listed on the rolls.

I’m so excited!!!

EDIT: July 25, 2009.

I received the information from the NARA. The Elizabeth J. Jolloy that applied for tribal membership in 1896 was not our Emma. So I’m still at a brick wall with this line of research. It was so sad to discover that this wasn’t her application. Not to mention the $40 it took to get the copies mailed to my house. Oh well. Not every venture is always a success.

I contacted cousins who are also working on this branch of the family tree, and they plan to track down an old family Bible that had a slew of papers tucked inside. They always assumed it was the Dawes Application that never got filed in 1898 since she died in 1897. I’m hoping they can find if the Bible still exists.

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Posted by on July 11, 2009 in Genealogy