The Great Depression hit Idaho hard. From 1929 to 1932, the income of the average Idahoan dropped nearly fifty percent. Photographer Dorothea Lange visited Gem County’s Squaw Creek Valley, Ola, Idaho in October and November 1939 and took many pictures of the residents. These photographs reveal Idaho’s social history during the Depression and early war years.
As Lange visited with the residents of Ola, she reported that, “in 1935 after years of overgrazing, lessened rainfall, and low farm prices, most of these families were on relief.”
Small town needed a profit center
The residents of this small town needed a profit center to survive when farming declined; they were too isolated to take jobs elsewhere. The cooperatives from the New Deal programs set up by the Federal Government assisted the town. Their valley was bordered on the east by a forest that could develop an unlimited supply of Yellow Pine and Douglas Fir.”
In the fall of 1935, 36 men made application to the Farm Security Administration for a loan of $1500; this to be used for the purchase of equipment to help establish a small sawmill. Lange visited the town in October 1939 and one of the nine men working at the sawmill stated, “Now take this year ‐‐ with the drought. If we hadn’t a had the sawmill to drop back on to I don’t know what we’d a done.”
Charlie Carlock, aged thirty-six, the spokesman for the group who form the co-operative. He is a descendant of the early Squaw Creek Valley settlers
Ola twice borrowed money from the FSA – the first time to construct the plant the second to bank some working capital. The sawmill saved the town of Ola.
Men working in mill. Ola self-help sawmill co-op. Gem County, Idaho. Man in rear center in black hat is FSA (Farm Security Administration) county supervisor.
Five Idaho farmers, members of Ola self-help sawmill co-op, in the woods standing against a load of logs ready to go down to their mill about three miles away
Member of the Ola self-help sawmill co-op working in the woods, rolling log to truck with peavey, a hooked and spiked stick used as a lever
Bringing in load of logs late in the afternoon from the woods to the mill over road three miles long which members built with pick and shovel
Member of Ola self help sawmill co-op lives in what was once the “Jacknife Saloon.” This type building is characteristic of early Idaho. The stagecoach used to stop here to change horses and for the refreshment of travelers. This was discontinued in 1914. Gem County, Idaho
Farmer saloon and stagecoach tavern which is the temporary home of a member of the Ola self help sawmill co-op
Upper end of Squaw Creek Valley near the mill, showing part of the timber resources. Ola self-help sawmill co-op.
Road going up Squaw Creek Valley, leaving Ola. Fence was built in 1890. Ola self-help sawmill co-op. Gem County, Idaho
A new house for descendant of old Idaho family, now a member of Ola self-help sawmill co-op. Gem County, Idaho. Lumber was supplied by the mill. His board lumber charges were about sixty-six dollars, windows and doors an additional thirty-five dollars. Note lumber pile in yard
Looking down on Ola self-help co-op mill showing the upper end of Squaw Creek Valley, the creek lined with trees, the new dry shed near the mill, homes of co-op members and cultivated surrounding fields
Home of Claude Kanady, president of the Ola self-help sawmill co-op. First part of this house was built a year ago. He added to it with lumber from the sawmill. Gem County, Idaho
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