The agricultural refugees from the Great Depression made their long journey west along several highways in Texas and Oklahoma. The
most prominent one was old Route 66, although other streets were used, such as Routes 70, 80, and 82.
Many have the mistaken notion that those who drove west to California to become migrant workers were escaping the ravages of the
Dust Bowl - the period of severe drought that encompassed the southern plains in the 1930s and 1940s - but actually, more refugees
came from the sharecropping South. In the 1920s, the bollweevil ruined several cotton harvests. Coupled with increasing farm
mechanization and mortgages/ lease agreements being recalled by landowners due to the economic downturn, people in Arkansas took
US 67 to find their fortunes in southern Texas or southern California.
Whole books have been written about this fabled highway. By passed now by Interstates 44 and 40, Route 66 began in Chicago, then
crossed Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, until it ended in California. While Route 66 is now a nostalgic
remnant of the 1950's car vacation, it fascinates travelers all over the world with old motels, drive-in theaters, and downtowns that recall
by-gone America. Oklahoma occupies the greatest portion from the Missouri border by Joplin all the way to tiny Texola by the Texas
border. Many miles of the old road are still drivable, especially from Vanita to Catoosa, Tulsa to Oklahoma City, and from Oklahoma City to
El Reno. In contrast, Texas has the shortest part of the route. Not much of it is drivable, save through the downtowns of the cities along
Running parallel to the Red River in southern Oklahoma, Highway 70 enters Oklahoma at DeQueen, AK, and leaves the state south of
Frederick. It continues on through the Texas panhandle, where it eventually goes to Clovis, New Mexico. The landscape on US 70 mirrors
that of the Red River Valley: thick forests in the east giving way to grand prairies in the west. US 70 approximates the route of entry for the
Trail of Tears for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.
This highway is slowly being gobbled up by Interstate 20, so soon it will become another relic of the automobile age. Therefore, it's
definitely worth a look. US 80 threads its say through the heart of North Texas, starting at the Louisiana border. It is a strong road up until
Dallas, where it becomes Fort Worth Avenue. In Fort Worth, US 80 merges with Interstate 20, which dips southwest to end up in El Paso
(migrants took a more northerly route once in Fort Worth). US 80 makes for a great road trip as it passes through the most authentic parts
of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Highway 82 parallels the Red River through North Texas, almost a twin to US 70. Entering Texas at Texarkana, migrants veered onto US 287
at Wichita Falls when heading west, where they would eventually meet up with Route 66 in Amarillo. This highway also briefly parallels the
National Road, and the towns it bisects reflect early Texas settler history.
Road trips are the best way to understand American history, as most of it has been shaped by the road. Driving down old roads is my
favorite type of research!
|Handmade marker on Route 82 by Jack Loftin- "Buffalo Road East-West Hide and Bone Hauling from 1870-1890"
The Great Depression is one the most researched period in American history, so books proliferate. However, as very few books have been
written on what happened regionally during this period, some vital information is missing. While the following list of books and websites
represents the material I used for research, it's in no way comprehensive!
Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s by Donald Worster (Oxford University Press, 1979)
An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939)
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970)
|Steinbeck's "mother road," AKA Route 66, has several truss bridges. This one is west of Oklahoma City.
|Following the "Dust Bowl" Routes
|Around Durant, you can find older alignments of US 70 (just follow Broadway east out of town). This truss bridge hails from 1910.
|US 67 - the Bankhead Highway - was the road many sharecroppers from Arkansas took to flee the economic depression.
|Interested in more photos/ information about Truss Bridges? Then cross on over to this article!
|US 70 was also known as the "Lee Highway" (named in honor of Robert E. Lee.) Stephen Dock of the Greer County Museum in Mangum,
Oklahoma sent this picture of the highway survey marker for the US 70 bridge across the Red River by Davidson, OK. The bridge was built in
1938 after US 70 was extended further west from Randlett, OK. There was already a free bridge at Davidson, but it connected OK 14 and TX 28.
Those two highway designations were changed to accommodate the extension of US 70.
|This portion of a 1935 map from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation shows the route the Joads, Steinbeck's allegorical Depression
family from the "Grapes of Wrath," may have taken from Sallisaw, their home town, to meet up with the "Mother Road" of Route 66.