Pioneers of Today
The role of the federal government in the daily lives of Americans grew to an unprecedented level during FDR's administration. The "alphabet soup" of programs aimed at stabilizing the economy and bringing a sense of confidence and well being back into the lives of Depression stricken Americans is overwhelming. Among the most successful of these programs were the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) both directed by the Department of Agriculture. The former provided jobs and training to unemployed young men through work experience on national conservation projects; the latter provided education through demonstration sites around the country teaching farmers how to save and manage the nation's eroding soils. The following article from a Department of Agriculture newsletter describes the marriage of the two programs on the Kansas plains.

POST OFFICE OAK and Council Oak, two great trees standing only a few rods apart in what is now Council Grove, Kans., have witnessed a strange pageant-more than a century of American development. Indian arrows have whistled through their boughs, speeding to the hearts of early settlers. The first school for white children in what is now Kansas, was located within a stone's throw of the trees. A city was built around them. Babies crying for food because of drought have been cooled in the shadows of the mighty oaks. Flood waters from the Neosho have marked these great trees with dirt rings. Today the well-preserved old oaks whistle tunes of many cadences - some stirring, some mournful - but in the evenings they grow still, listening to the earnest 'conversations of passing C. C. C. boys who talk of erosion control and moisture conservation-new topics for the ancient trees.

Under Post Office and Council Oaks has passed many times Herschel M. Klotz, 24-year-old farm youth from Chase County. But after March 31, the oaks will hear his voice no more. Then Klotz will go back to the farm whence he came. He will go back with new knowledge of soil conservation and a determination to put into use many of the erosion-control practices he has learned in the 2 years of camp life.

That things happen and open fast in C. C. C. camps is shown by a statement from Klotz. "It was Saturday when I reached camp and Monday at noon the assistant camp engineer came' to the bar- racks and asked if any of us knew how to do survey work. No one did. I spoke up and asked if he would teach me and let me take a place on the survey crew. That's how I happened to get on the crew so soon."

Drought with its subsequent low yields made it necessary for Klotz to enter a C. C. C. camp, but he says in all sincerity that his main reason for enrolling was to learn how to control erosion.

"Before coming to the camp," the youthful conservationist says, "I spent many days hauling rock to gullies and piling them so the centers of the checks would be highest. Now I know that the center of a gully check should always be lowest. Before I came to the camp I thought a terrace should be built and an outlet provided later. Now I know the outlet must come first."

For an hour Klotz enumerated things he has learned about soil conservation as an enrollee in the Council Grove Soil Conservation Service C. C. C. camp. He told of attending educational classes where erosion, control practices were taught, of reading books and Bulletins on soil conservation and of bumping into problems in the field that taught him much. Klotz, like thousands of other boys, is proud of his knowledge - knowledge that was not available in the younger days of the Post Office Oak and the Council Oak.

PIONEERS indeed are the C. C. C. enrollees who are fighting erosion in the Great Plains States. Trails blazed by them will be followed for generations. The work, while valuable to the farmers on whose land it 'is done, will be even more so to the farmers' children and their children's children. In Oklahoma alone, 2,000,000 acres, once cultivated, now lie bare and abandoned-so riddled by gullies that the Indians who once claimed the land as a happy hunting ground would now find it useful only as a burying ground. The work the C. C. C. boys are doing in demonstrating effective methods of erosion control promises to save additional millions of acres of land from the same fate.

North from the Santa Fe Trail to the northern boundary of Nebraska and south to the Oklahoma' Texas line enrollees of the 44 C. C. C. camps under the supervision of the Soil Conservation Service are engaged in putting on demonstrations of erosion control practices in limited areas, just as is being done on project areas. The work is the same that is being done on projects; the results are in every way comparable to those on demonstration erosion control projects; and the number of persons who visit the C. C. C. demonstrations in Region 7 is far greater than those who visit project areas. In 1937 more than 50,000 farmers left their work to see farm pond dams riprapped by C. C. C. boys; to observe the effects of contour pasture furrows and ridges the boys had helped build; to discuss the advantages of terraces, contour rows, and strip cropping for which C. C. C. boys had surveyed lines; to examine gully checks made by the enrollees - in short to see complete programs of erosion control made possible by the unflagging efforts of boys who are learning to conserve America by conserving soil and moisture.

In the Pawnee City, Nebr., camp, a camp with an outstanding educational and work program, the fore- men use cooperative agreements as textbooks in teaching soil conservation to the enrollees who are working on the farms. This ensures the boys practical as well as scientific training in solving problems of soil and water conservation on farms.

The two old oaks hear conversations and learn that most of the new enrollees are from farms to which, in the beginning, they hope never to return. But the boys are sent to eroding farms where they work day after day and gradually grasp the significance of the methods. Stretching barbed wire around the gullied areas they find more than mere employment for which they are paid $30 per month with food, clothes, and shelter. They learn that their work means cooperation with Nature. They are helping to make of the abused land a haven for wildlife and a source of income for future generations. They see good reasons for doing other types of work too, and were the oaks articulate they would say that soon after the boys enter camp they are talking about methods that can be applied on their own farms; and that when enrollment periods expire thousands, like Klotz actually go home to use and teach others to use soil- and moisture-conservation practices in their own communities.

Appreciation of the value of erosion control work among enrollees is well demonstrated by the course of action pursued by Otis U. Rich, a member of the Ottawa, Kans., veterans' camp. In November 1936 Rich spent his bonus for a farm-an 80-acre farm located on the Soil Conservation Service demonstration erosion-control project in Franklin County, Kans. Immediately he contacted the Soil Conservation Service technical men and asked that a 5-year program of erosion control be worked out for the farm. A program was promptly outlined and Rich started using soil and moisture saving practices. In 1937 every row on the Rich farm was on the contour; a good crop rotation was started; pasture land protected from fire and overgrazing; and a farm pond was built, with a 235-acre watershed protected by grass and terraces.

"Working in a camp engaged in erosion control made me realize the value of the work," Rich says. "Before I entered the camp I knew something should be done to control erosion on farms, but I did not know just what. Now I realize that contour farming, the use of soil-holding crops, terraces where needed, and gully control by means of diversion ditches are all steps that help hold soil."

Civilian Conservation Corps workers of Region 7 are contributing to soil conservation in three major ways:

(1) They are doing work on individual farms that will reduce soil losses on those farms;
(2) They are demonstrating erosion control practices so that others may see the value of conserving soil and moisture;
(3) They are learning fundamentals of erosion control and taking the knowledge back to their own communities and to places far remote from any demonstrational area.

That these pioneers of soil saving are in demand is indicated by repeated requests received by camp superintendents to recommend boys for farm work. Here is a specific example chosen from hundreds that might be cited: A farmer near Madison, Nebr., asked the superintendent of the Madison Soil Conservation Service C. C. C. camp to send to him a boy who could establish soil-conservation work on his farm. Harold Carlson was recommended. He went to the farm at a salary of $65 a month. That was about a year ago. Now Carlson is married and in addition to the $65 per month his house, fuel, milk, and meat are furnished- proof enough that the soil-conservation work Carlson is doing on the farm has the approval of the farm owner.

In Blackwell, Okla., an owner of many farms insists that her tenants and farm hands be C. C. C. boys who have been in camp one or more enrollment periods. The boys know how to take care of her farms and they become long-time lessees, she points out. In other camp areas, there is the same demand for C. C. C. boys on farms.

Also there is a field for the better trained boys in agricultural leadership. Paul Pittman of Garfield County, Okla., is an example. When he left camp he learned that the Garfield County agricultural agent was swamped with requests for lines for contour farming and for terraces. Having served as a member of a survey crew in camp, Pittman knew he could do the work the farmers wanted done. He went out to see some of them. They said they would be glad to pay him the same salary, for half-time work, that he had received while in camp for full-time work. This sent Pittman on his way to agricultural leadership and marked another contribution on the part of the C. C. C. to soil conservation.

White and black, old and young, enrollees of C. C. C. camps in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska are making definite contributions to soil conservation as they pioneer in the field of erosion control. They come to camps from scattered areas, learn erosion-control practices, and take their knowledge to their home communities. Records of the birthplaces of veteran enrollees of the Ottawa, Kans., camp show that the men came from 22 States and three foreign countries. In other camps similar records are found.

The assistance which C. C. C. enrollees have given farmers of Region 7 in building many miles of terraces, riprapping dams of farm ponds, and in doing many other important soil conservation jobs constitutes only a small part of their contribution. The greatest work of all, results of which will outlive both the Council and Post Office Oaks, is that of learning and teaching erosion control practices

To Start You Thinking

1) Identify specific erosion control practices that the CCC workers were taught in the Kansas camps.

2) What was the strategy of the Department of Agriculture's educational program involving the CCC workers and who was its ultimate target?

3) Whose point of view is represented in this article? What other points of view would you want to consider in evaluating the work of the CCC and SCS? Explain.


from Ivy M. Howard, "Pioneers of Today," in Soil Conservation, March, 1938, Vol III, No 9 (Washington: Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agriculture) pp 244-246.

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas