Oklahoma City woman remembers life in Dust Bowl migrant camps
Oklahoma City resident Beatrice Warren was a nurse in California during the Dust Bowl era.
Videoview all videos
Photoview all 7 photos
“The kids got the schooling and the men were in the field and the wife did what she had to do,” she said. “They lived a pretty normal life, all told.”
That doesn't mean they weren't painfully aware of their situations. She remembers seeing one mother scolding her young son over something.
“She took a hold of him and shook him and said, ‘Even though we live like pigs doesn't mean you can act like one.'”
Some of the campers were unhappy, she said. They slept on mattresses on the floors of their tents. Most relied on government assistance to buy food for their families.
“We used to be able to tell how many were in the family by how many mattresses were on the car,” she said.
Workers lived transient lives. They would start with the harvest in her part of California and work their way north through Washington.
The Depression and the camps gave way to war. Migrants found better-paying work in the shipyards, which were increasing production for World War II and losing their regular employees to the military.
“I know what they went through. I saw a lot of them in tears,” Warren said. “But when they moved up to the shipyards it just turned their whole lives around.”
After the Depression
Warren went briefly to Mexico to vaccinate agricultural workers before they returned to the United States to take over the work in the California fields.
Her nursing career took her to northern California. She raised her son, Al Warren, as a single mother, and moved to Oklahoma at the age of 92 because that's where he ended up.
After she retired from nursing she started writing novels, having already written articles for magazines and newspapers, primarily the San Jose Mercury News. Most of her novels are romances framed around a nurse protagonist.
Her experiences in the camps never made it into her books, but she said she will never forget those times. It did help fuel her love of reading, she said, because she spent a lot of time waiting on doctors and learned to carry a book wherever she went.
News Photo Galleriesview all
- 21543Oklahoma tornadoes: The 'Big Dog,' the little boy and the hug that triumphs over tragedy
- 10852Oklahoma tornadoes: Woman meets the military officer who shared the clothes off his back
- 8707Oklahoma tornadoes: Thunder reverses the role, takes a turn at cheering on the community
- 8666Finding Addyson – One family's struggle in the Moore tornado
- 8648Hobby Lobby argues case before federal judges
- 7837Blake Shelton's "Healing the Heartland" televised tornado benefit set for Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena
- 7718Story behind the photo: Family members describe desperate search for one another after EF5 twister