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106-year-old talks about arriving in Oklahoma in a covered wagon

Leora Henderson’s pioneer family grew cotton in Greer County and survived the Dust Bowl.
By Sarah Lobban, For The Oklahoman Published: May 14, 2014

Leora Henderson and her family rolled in from Texas in a covered wagon in 1912, just five years after Oklahoma made the leap from territory to state. She was 4 years old and shared the wagon with three brothers and a sister. They journeyed for a week before reaching the town of Granite in Greer County.

Henderson spent most of her childhood near Granite in a three-room house in the middle of the plains they shared with her grandparents. The nearest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away, and the closest town was nearly 8 miles farther.

Recalling the past

As a child, she never minded the solitary lifestyle. She loved roaming the land owned by her family, but some areas were off limits — their farm was near the Red River and there was quicksand along the banks.

“At night, we’d all sit around what we called the center table in our house,” said Henderson, who turned 106 on May 4. “Sometimes our dad would tell us stories, or we’d take turns reading aloud to each other. Our whole family loved books. We spent many evenings like that.”

There was always plenty of work to do. The family cleared and plowed the previously unused land to grow cotton, and together they worked in the fields planting, weeding and harvesting.

When it came time to sell the cotton crop, Henderson’s father would load it into a wagon and take it to the gin. In return for their help, he gave each of the children an allowance out of the profits.

Henderson usually put her share of the money toward new clothes for school. Five days a week she and other children went to the Lake Creek consolidated school about 6 miles north of Granite.

In the early years, they rode in the same wagon used to haul cotton, with seats placed in it like a school bus. Later, her father bought a truck and the students rode in seats placed in the bed.

War and hard times

Henderson was 9 when the United States entered World War I and one of her uncles left to fight. She remembers some of the effects at home, such as rationing.

“We couldn’t buy wheat bread for a while,” she said. “We made our own cornbread, but many other things were short. We couldn’t get sugar. They didn’t even have it in stores. That was what really bothered us.”

Scarcely 10 years after the war ended, the Dust Bowl began. The family struggled to keep the farm going. They had to replant the cotton two or three times when dust, wind, and drought killed the vulnerable seedlings. Many people went west, but they stayed, trying to weather the storms.

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