Malheur County

Posted by Ellen

"Boys from Dead Ox Flat waiting for the school bus in the morning. Malheur County, Oregon."

Dorothea Lange took this picture in October 1939 for the Resettlement Administration. During the mid-1930s, the desert country of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho attracted thousands of Dust Bowl refugees seeking construction work on the Owhyee dam and irrigation project; as the project came on line between 1935 and 1939, thousands more refugees sought agricultural work on the newly irrigated cropland.

The name on the mailbox behind the boys is revealed in another of Lange's photos of the same scene: H.E. Hudgins. According to the 1940 census, Herbert and Jessie Hudgins lived thereabouts--but with only two children, an eleven-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. Herbert Hudgins worked as a ditch rider, assigned to travel the length of the new canals and laterals, cleaning out debris and opening and closing the check boards that control the flow of water to different growers' acreage.

The boys look to be wearing new clothes and fresh haircuts, perhaps because the photo was taken on the first day of a new school year. The picture is dated from the month of October, but this was a time and place where school would not begin until after the year's harvest was in.