Here at the SDSHS Press not only do we like a good love story, we pretty much enjoy any good bit of history!
One of our recent books, Beyond Mount Rushmore: Other Black Hills Faces, has a ton of good Black Hills stories in it. Just to give you a teaser, and maybe to see what you all think, here is a taste of Claire Patterson’s account of being in the CCC.
“I was born in Custer County, South Dakota, in a small town called Folsom on 6 March 1923. When I was very young, my parents moved from Folsom to the southeastern part of South Dakota, to a small town called Mission Hill. When I turned seventeen in 1940, I talked my parents into letting me join the CCC for three months, although I stayed in the organization longer. My folks had to sign the CCC enrollment papers. I went by train to Sioux Falls, and from there, I took another train to Rapid City. At Rapid City, I boarded a narrow-gauge railroad line running west. This narrow-gauge line no longer exists, as with many others once operating in the Black Hills. This railroad was referred to as the Crouch Line. It was very crooked and weaved around hills and obstacles. It went through an area now called Johnson Siding. I eventually ended up in a small town called Mystic. CCC trucks were waiting for me and the rest of the one hundred CCC recruits on the train. Most of us were from eastern South Dakota. We all enlisted at about the same time. We were driven to a CCC side camp called Black Fox, supported by the larger Camp Roubaix.
At Black Fox, we lived in tents with wooden floors. The tents were canvas stretched over a wooden frame. They were quite comfortable, especially with the raised wooden floors, and able to hold eight men. These tents were home for us in the camp into the middle of October 1940. We arrived in the side camp in March 1940, near the end of the month. It was supported and run by the United States Army from Fort Meade, where our officers and camp doctors came from. For the first few days in camp, it was as if we were in army basic training. We were given army physicals, shots, clothing, and other supplies.
On the first work day in camp, I chopped wood. Within one week, we were taught how to fight forest fires, especially which tools to use on the various types and sizes of fires that might break out in the Black Hills. This amounted to seven to ten days of training, during which we built a fire line around our camp area, three to four feet wide. This line was more of a trail than what today is called a firebreak. Later, we were driven in trucks into the Black Hills to cut firewood, using two-man crosscut saws and double-edged axes (for trimming the branches off downed trees). We received considerable instruction on how to safely swing a double-edged ax, which weighed from three to four pounds. When we carried this ax to and from our work sites, the edges were covered with a rubber protector.”
Did you or a family member serve in the CCC? Do you have a story about the CCC you might wish to share? Feel free to comment below.