Minden Press-Herald

Sep 30th

Courage through Tragedies in 1933

As the Minden area begins the month of July on the verge of drought, I was reminded of a topic I have written on many times, the series of disasters that befell Minden during the year 1933.

The resilience that Minden showed in bouncing back from the troubled times of 1933 was one of the most significant factors in my choosing the phrase "perseverance and pride" as a subtitle for my history of Minden.

Many residents are familiar with the oft-mentioned triple tragedies.

The tragic fire in downtown Minden in February 1933, remembered as when the "north part burned down."

April 1933's failure of the Bank of Minden when it was said that the "middle went broke."

Then the killer tornado that struck on May 1, 1933, creating the last part of the phrase used locally to describe those events of 1933, "the south part blew away."

Yet later that year, our community faced yet another crisis, which had a very significant impact on the local economy, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Let's look for a while at the torrential rainstorm of July 1933.

In its edition of Friday, July 14, the Minden Herald informed its readers that construction had been completed on the new Minden Cotton Gin, replacing the prior facility that had been destroyed by the tornado.

It was assured that the gin would be ready for operation by the time the year's first bale of cotton was produced.

The Signal-Tribune of Tuesday, July 18, 1933, reported on some of the good news locally.

C. J. Parker, spokesman for the Building Committee of the St. Ann's Catholic Church, which had been destroyed by the tornado, announced that construction was beginning on the new brick church to replace the former frame structure.

He also announced that the church would now be known as the St. Paul's Catholic Church.

Another story in the paper reported on the reopening of the Scout Theater, which had been destroyed in the February fire.

Owner Rollin Williams had equipped the new movie house with a state-of-the-art sound system and air conditioning.

The promise of a respite from the summer heat along with the featured film, "She Done Him Wrong" starring Mae West had brought capacity crowds to the Scout.

With the new construction underway and a feeling that Minden had survived the worst challenges she could face, local residents were a little more optimistic, despite the continued economic troubles in our community, state and nation.

That positive outlook was shaken, however, by the weather developments that began on Sunday, July 23.

Light rain had fallen on Saturday, July 22, but the rains began in earnest on Sunday morning and continued, unabated through Monday night.

By the time the Signal-Tribune went to press on Tuesday morning, the total rainfall had reached more than 11 inches, and no letup was in sight.

The paper reported that this was the largest rainfall ever recorded in Minden and the town was showing the effects of the storm.

Many buildings in Minden were being flooded by the rains and these businesses were now standing in water, which was said to be seeping through the walls of nearly every structure in town.

The Webster Parish courthouse, which had already been in a state of disrepair before being damaged by the May tornado, had been hit the hardest.

The leaky roof did little to hold back the downpours. About one inch of water was standing in the 2nd floor courtroom and all the furniture and fixtures in the room were said to be beyond repair.

Every office in the building had suffered water damage and had been emptied with their contents moved to safe locations.

Furniture had been moved into the halls and records had all been moved to the vaults, although many records had already been water-soaked before the damage could be stopped.

The paper reported that "Dirty Six", as the section of town near the L&A Depot along Mile Branch was known, was flooded as the branch had left its banks and swollen to a width of nearly 400 ft.

The warehouses along the railroad track, many of which had been severely damaged in the tornado, were all flooded as were the warehouses, oil mill and offices of the Minden Cotton Oil and Ice, Co.

The Highway Cafe near the branch was surrounded by water and would soon flood.

Outside town, Dorcheat Bayou had filled and left its banks. The water level had reached the bottom of the Highway 80 bridge and the L&A Railroad bridge across the bayou.

The Signal-Tribune reported that if the water rose just a little more, the Hollywood Inn, owned by Fred Hemler, would soon be flooded (today that structure is known as Bayou Inn.)

Near the bayou the farms of W. C. McKinney and O. P. Avinger were completely flooded with only the top of the corn stalks rising above the flood waters.

In Minden, the many gravel streets in town were washing out and the Cotton Valley Road from Dixie Inn to Cotton Valley was washed out so badly that traffic could not pass.

On the Homer Road, just east of Minden, the water was running over the pavement for a stretch about a quarter mile in Cooley Bottom.

In addition the gravel road from Minden to Sibley was reported to be washed out in several places, although it had not been closed.

In a hopeful note, the paper noted that the weather office in Shreveport had reported that skies were expected to clear during the day Tuesday and the rains would be coming to an end.

However, the editor noted that at the press time of 12 noon, the rain had lightened but it was still falling and there were no indications of the promised blue skies.

By the time the Minden Herald hit the streets on Friday, the fallacy of the weatherman's prognostication had been proven.

The rains had continued through the day Tuesday and on into Wednesday night, before they finally ended.

The additional rains only worsened the bad situations already present on Tuesday. By the time the rains ended on Wednesday more than 18 inches of rain had fallen in the area in a period of 72 hours.

Dorcheat Bayou continued to rise, flooding the Hollywood Inn and adding to the destruction at the farms along the stream while flooding Highway 80 to a depth of two inches near the Bayou, although the highway and railroad bridges did escape washout.

In town the residents of "Dirty Six" had been evacuated from their homes, and the newspaper was taking up a collection to help feed them until their homes were once again livable.

At the courthouse, the water level in the courtroom reached three inches and there was talk that the already damaged building might have to be destroyed.

Estimates of damages in the town were fixed at nearly $100,000. Less damage than the fire and much less than the tornado, but unbelievable coming on the heels of those other two calamities. (Adjusted for inflation, $100,000 from 1933 is roughly $1.2 million today.)

In a humorous note, the Herald reported the Dave Mosely of Minden Drug had been heard to pray before the storm, "Lord, I wish it would rain so hard that it would make Noah's flood look like a morning dew."

The paper reported that after the storm Mosely had amended his prayer to say, "Lord, can't you take a joke."

As bad as the damage had been in the city, the rural community was hit even harder.

According to Henry H. Mims, the parish farm agent, more than $500,000 in crops had been destroyed in the rains.

More than one quarter of the cotton crop and one half of the corn crop had been lost. Monetary damages from the cotton lost alone reached about $225,000, based on 1932 prices.

The topic of cotton prices was tied to an unfortunate convergence of the storm with a new government program.

July 1933 marked the beginning of the Roosevelt Administration's Wallace Acreage Plan to pay farmers to plow under cotton in an attempt to artificially inflate prices.

The week before the storm hit, 1,742 farmer in Webster Parish had pledged to plow under 14,566 acres of cotton. The goal set by Secretary of Agriculture Wallace was to reduce production by 25 to 50%.

Accordingly, the local farmers had been assigned quotas in that range. In exchange for their actions, the government was paying them a portion of the lost revenue.

Payments for Webster Parish were expected to total a little over $143,000, or an average of about $80 per farmer. This plan had gained acceptance with the local residents before the storm, but now things had changed.

With 25% of the cotton crop lost, if the farmer complied with the plow under agreements they would be eliminating another 25 to 50% of their crop, leaving on a small portion of their harvest available for sale.

Local official appealed to Washington for a special dispensation allowing the local quotas to be adjusted.

However, on August 7, Mims received notice from Washington that it would be impossible to make local adjustments, despite the local tragedy, as the calculations nationally would have to all be adjusted if changes were made in the large area where the rains had damaged crops, which included large sections of North Louisiana, East Texas and Southern Arkansas.

While the Wallace plan is remembered as a success in the history books, it did not prove to be a help here in Webster Parish.

Eventually, 1,213 farmers would meet the required quotas and they received total payments of a little over $121,00, or about $100 per farmer.

Even though the checks exceeded the original estimate per capita, the loss of revenue from crops destroyed by the rains made 1933 a tough year for local farmers.

Other evidence of the impact felt in the rural communities was reflected in the columns of the papers correspondents from the small settlements of Webster Parish.

In those days weekly reports were filed with the paper by residents who lived in the outlying areas of the parish.

Glimpses of the storm's effect came in during the weeks after the storm.

Leton reporter Claud Lee informed the Herald that the highway near Leton was under water, while the correspondents from both Heflin and Pine Grove reported a rash of illness in their areas.

These cases of fever were caused by wells becoming inundated by surface waters and becoming contaminated.

McIntyre correspondent Horace Baten informed his readers that he had no "home news" to report as he had been on the "wrong side of the Bayou" in Minden when the storm hit and hadn't been able to go home for nearly a week. (As a side note I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Baten before his death a few years ago, he was a fascinating man who had many interesting tales of life in Minden during the "time between the wars.")

As you can see, this was yet another devastating event in local history, but again the most significant point is that our area residents pulled together and overcame these situations that could have easily turned Minden into a ghost town.

In conclusion, I will borrow the comments from one of the most unique characters in Minden's history, David Thomas.

Mr. Thomas the local lawyer, journalist, poet, architect, and theologian, among his many titles had the chance to report to area residents about the situation in Minden.

He appeared on KWKH radio in Shreveport on Wednesday, September 13, 1933, and delivered the following speech:

"Bank failures, a cyclone killing between 30 and 40 citizens and destroying 327 homes, a fire which wiped out a business block, and a rain deluge of 18 inches causing much property damage -- any one of such disasters would destroy the morale of any community. Too much, you say, for any city to survive.

"But there is a city which has survived. Not only survived but has emerged a stronger community, more closely knit together that ever, I refer to Minden, a city of 6,000 inhabitants, a city of courage.

"On May 1, a cyclone of terrible intensity struck Minden, killing people and destroying 100 homes and business houses. On February 26, a fire swept an entire business block, wiping out seven stores.

"On September 1, almost every visible sign of the damage wrought by the cyclone and fire had disappeared. New homes and new business establishments had replaced the old. And Minden continues to go forward.

"What makes it go? Courage -- courage born of a God-fearing, God-loving religious people. Courage inspired by an ever-abiding faith in their home community. Courage built up over a century of culture combined with good hard common sense. Courage typified by the American pioneer spirit of the founders of Minden.

"This then is the outstanding characteristic of Minden. This is why I call Minden the city of courage."

May we today have the courage to live up to the label given my Mr. Thomas nearly 80 years ago as we as a community face the challenges of today, knowing that if Minden was able to survive the epidemic of tragedy that our town faced in 1933, we can achieve any goals we set.

John Agan is a local historian, an instructor at Bossier Parish Community College and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.






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