In the tenth year of the Great Depression, Gus and Elizabeth Toble would assure sweet potatoes and turkey were on your Thanksgiving Day table. You would have cause to give thanks.
As for Gus and Elizabeth, on Thanksgiving Day in 1938, they had reason to be sad, and reasons to be happy. Elizabeth started the Depression already two years a widow, and Gus was widowed in the second year of the Depression. After meeting at a dance in Govert, South Dakota, they married in 1935, during the sixth year of the Depression, and lived near Cash, about 15 miles from Bison, South Dakota.
Back to Thanksgiving dinner ... this from the Govert Advance: "Mrs. Gus Toble of near Cash, nearly always has one of the very best gardens in this section of the country, and this year is no exception. However, she has added another item this season in attempting to grow sweet potatoes. Mrs. Toble told us last week when in Bison, that the plants had begun to “run” or vine. The plants were sent to her by a sister who lives in the Ozarks of Missouri. They were in excellent condition upon their arrival, which is remarkable considering the great distance and the time required to send them. Mrs. Toble believes that the sweet potato plants may develop fast enough to mature if the grasshoppers and cool weather do not get them. Mr. and Mrs. Toble have a flock of nearly 300 turkeys that are helping to keep the grasshoppers from doing too much damage around their fine garden."
Like Gus and Elizabeth, Govert farmers and ranchers raised turkeys, too. Not everyone can fix a complete image in their minds of large flocks of domesticated turkeys on the prairie. Perhaps thinking of the turkeys as a "herd" will help. Then again, the idea of herding 300 turkeys ... or any number of turkeys ... might instill serious uncertainty in the toughest of cowboys. Segments of The Turkey Business just might help fix that image.
With the menu taken care of, how do you otherwise feel gathering with friends and family around the table on Thanksgiving Day in 1938? This was the year Action Comics #1 was published, introducing America to Superman. This was also the year of Wrong Way Corrigan, the nylon toothbrush and, in 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the March of Dimes Polio Fund.
You may not have paid much attention when, in 1938, Adolf Hitler reorganized the German military complex to consolidate his authority. Day-to-day life on the prairie was a struggle, and maybe you didn't have the luxury of time to become unsettled by the mobilization of Czechoslovakia in response to German threats. After all, Europe is so far away, and those Europeans are always fighting about something, like that Spanish Civil War flap beginning in 1936.
Or, maybe, this unceasing military maneuvering in Europe has been unsettling, making you hope that distance counts. Two months ago, in September 1938, the radio broadcast of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" may have made you feel more vulnerable. How did you react, only two weeks ago, after 9 November, when Germans Nazis looted and burned Jewish businesses? Kristallnacht was shocking and, you hope, still far away. But the distances are becoming less protective. Are you wondering what will happen during the year to come, leading up to Thanksgiving 1939?
As everywhere else in America in 1938, the farmers and ranchers in the area of Govert, South Dakota, were living and working through the Great Depression. They never had much before and still found a way to get by even after nine years of economic downturn. Rooted in the middle of the prairie, Goverites may have had reason to be comforted by distance. They could still look to the far horizon and see nothing but their own shadow.
Everyone has something to be thankful for, whether that be a homestead shack or a modest frame house on the prairie, partial protection against the prairie winds, or whether that be a modern home with the luxuries of plumbing and electricity. Even in times of great hardship, men and women still met, fell in love, and they still raised children. Gus and Elizabeth did. They also raised sweet potatoes and turkeys. On this day of thanksgiving, look with eyes of gratitude upon what you have, in whatever circumstances you may find yourself.
Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate
[Based on an entry in the Govert Advance Thursday, 7 July 1938, reprinting an article originally published in the Bison Courier; with gratitude to the U.S. National Archives for allowing Internet access to holdings in their video archives.]