During the Great Depression, crime came in many forms. People across the country read newspaper stories about gangsters. Thousands of people didn’t have a job and needed money and food. Labor strikes by miners and autoworkers sometimes turned violent.
Most of rural America saw minor problems, like stealing watermelons, overturning outhouses, and illegal fishing techniques.
If a farmer grew good watermelons, everyone knew about it. Sometimes the tasty treat was just too hard for young people to resist on a hot summer day. Mildred Opitz remembers kids tipping over outhouses and stealing watermelons.
And then there were the problems with illegal fishing. Normally, rods and reels, boats and bobbers are the necessary technologies needed for fishing. But in the 30s, a few folks – like some of Herman Goertzen’s relatives – fished with their bare hands, even though it was illegal. It was called ‘stump fishing.’
And Birdie Farr says York’s sheriff seemed more interested in helping people than arresting them. Her husband, John, was only 13 years old when his mother died. Relatives didn’t think John’s father could raise four young children alone. John’s father was afraid that relatives would take his children away. So, late one night he moved the family from Grand Island to York – 20 miles down the road. Even at 2:00 a.m., Sheriff Louie Ekart, a white man, took care of the black family, and found a place for them to live in York.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.