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1950s drought
Austin Lake in the 1950s. (Courtesy
of LCRA Corporate Archives)

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Here Texans talk about struggling with the crippling mid-century lack of rainfall, in the segment that aired on KWBU-FM:

1950s Drought
(03:31 )

Living Stories Spot #57: 1950s Drought
Original Airdate: December 6 (2011)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

The worst drought in Texas in recent memory belongs to the 1950s. The seemingly never-ending dry spell started in '49. By the time it came to an end in 1956, all of Texas's 254 counties, save 10, had been declared federal disaster areas.

Jess Lunsford, the founding administrator of South Texas Children's Home, describes how the dire conditions threatened the new campus near Beeville:

"We hauled out thirty tremendous oak trees out of that campus that died because of that drought. Well, I found an old rancher friend, Wiley Green, in San Angelo. And he had fought a water problem all his life out in that semi-arid country. And someone had told me about Wiley Green, and I went out and told him what we were up against. I spent the night there at his invitation. And the next morning I got ready to leave; he said, "I have a little check here for you." And he said, "You go back to that campus, and you get a good well dug and a good submersible pump or whatever kind of pump you think you need, and you start irrigating those trees." And it was [a] check for ten thousand dollars. And at that time that was the largest check I'd ever seen, and I remember how—how big it looked, you know. And I thought I was a pretty brave man, but I cried. It meant just that much to me because I knew this campus had the natural beauty, but it wouldn't have if you took those trees out."

Interviewer: "That's right."

"And they were dying. But it saved those trees. And the only reason they have a beautiful campus today is because Wiley Green gave me ten thousand dollar[s]."

Interviewer: "And the idea."

"Yeah."

Alva Stem, former director of Waco Parks and Recreation, recalls the attempts to maintain Lover's Leap during the drought:

"There wasn't any water out there from anywhere until we ran a two-inch water line from North Nineteenth and Park Lake Drive out to Lover's Leap. But by the time that two-inch water line got to Lover's Leap, there wasn't much of a trickle coming out of it because it lost all of its pressure during the distance that it had to come. And I think that since that time it has been remedied, but we weren't able to water that. And we had beautiful plum trees up there in Lover's Leap, and every year the white native plums would bloom there on Lover's Leap, going around the circle at Lover's Leap. They produced fruit, and the people would go out there and pick it. And I think you had to use about twice as much sugar as you had plum pulp in order to make some jelly or jam out of it because it was—it was so tart. They were the wild plums, but they were beautiful blossoms. And it got so dry so long that we never could keep them watered, and they all died."

Welcome rains began to fall throughout Texas in the spring of 1956, ending a seven-year drought that had devastated agriculture, parks, lakes, and reservoirs.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM Waco, NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.


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