John and Eva Becker Schroeder: The Great Depression 1922-1934

The stock market crash that heralded the Great Depression was still years away. But when John and Eva Schroeder left Montana in 1922 and returned to South Dakota, they were already facing difficult times. The droughts and crop failures on their Montana homestead left them with few possessions. They were starting over.

They returned to their childhood home of Marion, South Dakota. For several years John worked in town, first at a blacksmith shop and then at a creamery. They also had a business on the side selling chicken feed and sunflower seeds. They managed to save up some money and rent a farm nearby, but had to move after a year when the landlord rented the farm to a relative. Now they had another daughter, Lillian (in 1924). 



Their search for another rental farm took them to Sully County, 200 miles west. They now had a few cows and horses, a pig and some chickens. This community had no Sunday School or church so they started one with another family and soon several other families joined them too.

They decided poultry would be a good investment. They raised some broilers, dressed them and sold them successfully so they built up a larger flock. The next year they raised 500 chicks till they were almost ready to lay, then roup (a poultry disease) killed almost all of them before they found out how to stop it.


The drought had followed them. Every year seemed drier than the last. But they wanted this farm to be successful so they just worked harder. Sometimes it seemed there was more work than was possible to do. Fortunately, Ed could help some in the field and the older girls could help with the younger children, including another son, Loyd, born in 1926.

Wanda, Eva, John, Emma, Ed - back row; Lillian, Olivia, Loyd - front row
Wanda, Emma, Ed - back row; Loyd, Olivia, Lillian - front row
 Sometimes, at the end of a weary day, Eva would feel a pang of regret when she realized that she had not held her babies all day. But it couldn't be helped, the family was fighting for survival. Many years later memories of these years still brought a shadow of pain on Eva's face. Times were hard; they had so little. Only their faith in God kept them going.

There continued to be disappointments. The market pigs died before they could be sold. Though the cattle herd increased, it became more and more difficult to feed them because of the drought. One year the corn was so short, it didn't make ears, so they turned the cattle in for pasture. Once again, the problem of feed for the winter caused a crisis. They would have to do something else. A ray of sunshine in the otherwise gloomy year of 1930 was the birth of their son, Leroy, a remarkable child. He was their seventh and last child.

Now they moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and John's resourcefulness took them in new directions. They made a candy bar called a "Moon Pie" made of chocolate-covered popcorn. It sold well, but they didn't have the capital to make it successful. He also made a novelty called a mocking harp made of rubber bands and thin wood, each of which made a different sound when blown. They got big orders which they couldn't fill. He also got a job at a packing house. Co-workers told him, "You'll be working here the rest of your life," but John dreamed of returning to farming and disagreed. However,  the Depression was raging and he was laid off anyway. 


All around other families faced similar problems. The drought plodded on. There were horrible dust storms. Banks foreclosed on farms and mortgaged cattle were sold for almost nothing. There was a soup kitchen in town providing food for the jobless and finally the Schroeders had to get in line, too. 

Somehow, John got to talking to a man from the Great Northern Railroad Agency. "Why don't you move to northern Minnesota? You can live cheaper there and raise good gardens," he told them. He showed them some beautiful vegetables raised there. After some investigation, they decided to move. The bank required a down payment for a farm in a good location. Where would that come from? The Schroeders had just one option. They cashed in John's life insurance policy for $200 and the bank said they would take it.


To commemorate the move, John decided to pick a Bible verse as sort of a theme. His choice is remarkable considering what the family had endured and shows the wonderful optimism of his Christian faith. 

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. 

To read more of John and Eva's story: 
(Click on the titles.)
Part 1: The Early Years 
Part 2: Homesteading in Montana 
This is Part 3
Part 4: The Minnesota Years 
Part 5: Growing Old 

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