Camera Rolls: 312:12-14
Sound Rolls: 312:06-07
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Ira Green , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 28, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
How did people do business with the Royal Bank? What kinds of things were you lending them money for? How'd they come in? [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
Most of our customers, they dealt with us personally and we would, if we had to have extra money, we would have to go to the Royal Bank to get it, or the Federal Reserve Bank. And, but they didn't deal with them personally, our customers did not. We'd done that ourselves. And that was where they, they looked to us for their financial guidances, their financial needs, and all of that. However, in the years back, in the early days, they realized that the banks were limited to the amount of money they had, because deposits were very small compared to now that we have inflation. Why, they, they seemed very small. But they—
So when did, when did come in to get money? What did they come in to get money for?
Most of our rural people, they wanted to make a crop with it, and they would come in after the first of January. We, we didn't start making loans for agricultural things until after January the first. We would make those, and we would make most of the, most of them come due in the autumn or fall of the year, which was usually October the first. And some of them, of course, would have to ride over maybe 30 days or such matter. But then that was, when we loaned our money to them was right after the first of the year, as they came in, of course. Naturally, they couldn't all get in one day, but then we would, usually the month of January was our big month of loaning money.
And so was there a lot of borrowing and expansion of agriculture going on in the 1920s? Were people trying to buy new land and build stuff up? Or...?
Well, it was, things, things were fairly well in 19—in the '20s, because they had just gone through the Depression time of right after World War I, which prices were quite high for farm products, cotton, which is one of our big money crops, and broomcorn was one then, and things like that. And cotton was got up as high as 45 cents a pound, which, if a bale of cotton weighs 500 pounds, you can figure that out, it's $225 for a bale of cotton. And they, in 1920, then the market started dropping five cents per day. You could not sell your cotton, because nobody would buy it, because they couldn't sell it quick enough to break even on it. And it went on down to six cents a pound, which, of course, you can figure that out, that's $30 a bale. When you're planning on getting $225 for a bale of cotton and you only get 30, it's hard to pay your debts with it. Or—
So now did the same kind of thing happen again, can you, can you kind of tell me a similar story about what would happen between 1929, after the market crash, I mean, I guess your prices started tumbling around here about 1930, '31?
Well, with us, you know, in other words, a fella comes in and he's going to pay for his crops with his crops, and he doesn't get as much as he thought he would, well, "Next year's going to be better, you know," that's, if you're going to be a farmer, you've got to look for better times next year, you know. And you make good crops around the stove and all that, but then sometimes it doesn't work that way, but anyway, that's—like when the crash comes in '29, and the stock markets, and then the commodity markets started going down, too, well, the part of, the big part of our crop was in '29 before that crash came, which was on the latter part of October, if I recall correctly. And then in '30, it was bad, but you'd been through that before, and you knew it would be all right next year. When it come '31, they were worse. It hadn't gotten better. And so the crash was with us then.
What, what kinds of things happened to the farms? What kind of prices were they looking at in those years? Do you remember some, some, some of the ways that cotton prices fell? Or...?
Well, at—cotton went down, of course, every day, you might say. And it got as low as four cents a pound, which, that's only $20 a bale. And if you make a crop like a small farmer might make of, say, 10 bales of cotton, and figured out $20 a bale, that's $200, your total income for the year. So that didn't, didn't leave anything good.
What kind of, so, what was it like around here trying to, you, you used some phrases before about there wasn't anything to get, make money with, what was it like? What was the economy of Marlow like when these prices fell?
Well, it, it wasn't as bad as maybe I painted to you there. But then one of things that we had here was that we, most of our rural people, they had chickens, which they could have eggs and they could have chickens to eat. They had cows, so they had milk to drink. And things like that. But the price of it was down, but of course the price of everything was down back then. And they, also they had crops that they, they made some crops. It didn't go for very far, and, but that was one of the things that we, we did was just to, the crops and the cattle, you know, milk, and we, had, had, in other words, we had what you called cream stations, then, you know, in other words, you milked cows, separated the milk and got cream, and you brought it into town. And you, and of course, prices had gone down, but you could still buy a little coffee and sugar and so forth. But most of our people didn't have to buy very much, because they had gardens, they had orchards, and they raised so much of their food, and the ladies all canned things for winter use. Not only was produce, things of that nature, canned, but even some of them would kill hogs, and of course you didn't have to can that, but then you'd make sausage and this that and the other, and it provided meat for the family for the next year, you see.
So if a farmer comes, came up with this four cent pound of cotton, what might he come to the bank and ask you for help about? What was he going up against?
Well, for the most part, they would come in and say, "Well, I've got to pay the landlord a fourth of the rent on this. I don't have 15. Could I get by paying $5 on the note?" Well, we was expecting him to pay the whole note off, see, and, and that was about the way it'd run. And, of course, then the next year, why he'd come in to borrow more money. "Well, you still owe this much, and..." "We just don't have much money, and we're doing the best we can, you know, and here I don't know how we're going to get by." And we'd tell him, and he'd tell his neighbor, and the neighbor'd come over and look over there and say, "Save $50 for me, because I've got to have it, make a crop on it." And so that happened quite often, really.
Now, did you ever have to go out and foreclose on someone?
Well, of course you always have that, you know.
Could you repeat my question, so that, or just talk about how, "Well, I had to foreclose," or "Sometimes we had to foreclose—"
When you had to foreclose one, of course, we usually waited until the person you might say had given up on it, and one of the things that happened to us, of course, is that somebody would just walk off from the crop. We, we called it "the Als got him," but people walked off the crop. Well, you had to go out and gather up as much as you can in the way of livestock and what have you, and liquidate it the best you can. But that wasn't good. But some of them, you'd have to go and out say, "Well, you're just, you're just too deep. There's just no way we can let you have more money to make a crop with." And he say, "Well I just, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll just have to get on the soup line" or something or other, and therefore you have to take charge of the property, you know, whether it's cattle or farm implements or whatever it was.
Is it a horrible feeling?
Oh, yes, and you still have that feeling even in these good times, you know, when everything is, is good. Why, you still have to go out and repossess usually an automobile, you know. And they always got some reason why they can't pay for the automobile, "But if you just give me a little more time," well, you've already given them more time and more time, and so it's always an unpleasant feeling. And so it's, it's not any better than what it was then, as far as the feeling of, you know, in other words, you might say taking somebody's property away from them to try to satisfy the debt, you know. Of course, I would say that in most cases you, you have a loss in it, you, you keep going with them, because they're friends and neighbors, and you do the best that you can, and you go till you've got a loss in before you really do that.
Oklahoma was kind of famous for all these bank robberies that happened in the '20s and on into the '30s. Do you remember as a banker that, the kind of crime wave of bank robberies?
Yes. It was, most of them were small robberies. By that, I mean it was small banks. And, of course, it was kind of a disgrace to get robbed by anybody except Pretty Boy Floyd or John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde, or some of those people, you know, that was—but most of the robbing was done by other people. And it seemed that, for various reasons, maybe some of them'd get together, like talking, and they didn't have any money and didn't have any jobs, and,"Well, I think I'm going to rob a bank, and you want to go with us?" And they'd get the crew together and here they'd come.
So did your bank ever get robbed?
Yes, we got robbed.
Can you tell me that, about what happened? What was it like?
That was in November, the seventh, of 1932. And the whole set up on the robbery of our bank was there was a person who had lived here, and familiar with Marlow. And they were all together at the oilfield down in Longview, Texas, and got to talking, and decided they'd a rob a bank, and he said, "Well, I know one where we can rob it in Marlow, Oklahoma." And, of course, all this we found out later, of course. And anyway, they come up here and he stayed out in the country because people would know him. They drove up to the side of the bank, and one of them stayed with the car out there to protect it, and three of them come in the bank. Well, it was always, during those times there had been so many bank robberies around, that it was quite often that the customer'd come in and jokingly say, "This is a hold-up." And so I happened to have my back to the counter at the moment, and this fella called, "This is a hold-up," and I said, "Oh yeah?," turned around, and sure enough the gun was right in my face. So that made it the robbery, and they, of course, took what money was in the tills, and they made us open the safe, and let them have that money. And then, of course, they locked us in the vault, and went out, and in the mean time their, the alarms had gone of, because we had burglar alarms in there. And they, one of the places where the alarm was going off, well, they saw he was fixing to shoot at this fella that stayed with the car out there, and so they shot at him, and he shot back at their tires, then as they, we were inside the vault, and we could hear them shooting out there. We had no idea what was happening, of course, because...and heard one bullet that shot back through the window. I don't know why they did that, but they did. They shot one back in through the window, and we could hear it ricochet around the brick walls. And then some fella says, "If you tell me the combination, I'll let you out of the vault." We told him, says, "Go get somebody that we know," because we, he was just a fella trying to be helpful, really. But we didn't know. We were safe in the vault. We wasn't about to unlock [laughs] and therefore about that time, one of the boys that was gone to dinner at that time come back in, and he unlocked the vault and let us out. We were in there with two of us employees and three customers.
That's quite a story. That's quite a story.
Who, when something like that, who had the authority to chase after the robbers? Did the local police? Did you? Did...?
Well, of course, the local police, and they had the right to, and the sheriff, you know, had a right to. And, of course, I guess, anybody who wanted to get into it, I didn't, I didn't want to get into it. I'd already had my dose of it. So they, then after they leave out, then you of course begin to wonder who they were and they—at that time, instead of the FBI, it was the Burns Detective Agency that worked out these things for national banks. And so they come to us, say, "We've got some people that we want you to look at to see if they are the ones that robbed your bank," and we'd go look, and "No, that's not them," and we'd go, "No, that's not them." And so finally they, this detective called us one night to come up to Oklahoma City. He says, "We've got them." So we go up to Oklahoma City, and he asked us to look at them, and we said, "No, that's not them, not them." He said, "Well, we caught them with the money," he said. "Well, it's not them. That's not the ones that robbed us." And so we walked outside. He says, "That was what we were doing, was building the case, because these people I was showing you in there, they robbed one in Childress, Texas last week, and we caught them. And we got some of the money." And of course he showed us the money. "Didn't that money come from your place?" He says, "We wanted to get that information." [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] Says, "Scared to death?," he say. "Well, I'm [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] " [laughs]. And so, but he says, "We know who robbed your bank." And he says, "They are scattered," and he said they scattered from Longview, Texas. And he says, "The next time I call you, and I won't call you anymore, 'til I have one of them. Well,I'll call you probably from Louisiana." Well, he called in about two weeks. He says, "We've got one of them down here." he says, "I'd like for you to come down and identify him. But we can't get him, because he, we caught him robbing a bank down here in Louisiana." He was already robbing another one. And of course they—
He was just all over the map.
Yeah. And so, again, we went and looked, and yeah it was him, and he says, "The next time I'll call you it'll be from probably Dallas, Texas." And it wasn't long till he called, and sure enough it was one of them there. And so on down, and they got all of them. However, the one is, Marlow boy is, that really, I guess, the proper word for it, as we used it back, fingered us. [laughs] Anyway, he picked us out for them to job. Why, of course we couldn't identify him, because he was out in the country, and...
I'm going to change now back to Pretty Boy Floyd and these kind of mythic outlaws. How'd you—you were a banker. How did you feel about a character like that becoming kind of a Robin Hood?
He wasn't no Robin Hood to me. [laughs] I'll put it that way. They were bank robbers, and that's the way I felt about them, because, you know, it's,
it's nice to be a Robin Hood, I'm sure, but if you come and take my bread when I need it to eat and go give it to somebody else, you're not a Robin Hood to me
** , in other words. So that's the way I felt about bank robbers. And, of course, that was only one of the, that we dealt with outside of these fellas. And, of course, we brought three of them back to Stevens county and convicted them and sent them to the penitentiary in Oklahoma.
Did you ever have a feeling, being a banker, that when times got tough during the Depression the people were getting angry at the banks instead of—did you ever feel that? Would you ever feel that?
Oh, there's, there's always a little of it, you know, in other words, if a fella owes you more than he can pay, and he comes in and he's just got to have a little more money, and, well, you just couldn't. And some of them'd say, "Well, the banker, he's, he's eating all right, but he don't know how I feel," you know, and, well, it made you feel bad, because you loved the people, they were your customers and you wanted to do everything you could for them, but we wasn't too rich ourselves, so we couldn't just keep putting out the money and, and, that we knew they couldn't pay back.
We're going to stop for just a second.
So, what'd the Bankers' Association do?
Well, of course, it was a cooperative effort by the banks by using some of the money that we paid as dues to offer rewards for the arrest and conviction of people who had robbed banks. And—
Did you also hire people to try to trace down these—
Personally, no, we didn't. Our, our bank did not. Now, as I say, the Burns Detective Agency was hired by the Oklahoma Bankers Association to do the tracing down, and, as I told you, the detective, when he'd come out and told us where he's at. In other words, he was hired by the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
And so would they have wanted posters and stuff for wanted criminals? And would private citizens get rewards for catching someone? Or...?
Not that I know of. I know there was the last one of the ones that was in our deal, he was over here at the town of Okemah, which is east of Oklahoma City, and we couldn't get him because he was protected by local officers and so forth. But finally he got out of there—
—and, and we caught him and brought him in. But we just went over there and to identify him, and the detective went with, and said, "Well, we'll just take him home to Oklahoma City from here, and I won't have to make another trip."
What, what was the, can you just tell me, what was the goal of a rural bank, a small bank like your bank here in Marlow during, during this period?
Well, we felt then, as we have always felt, that this is our home and we want to make it the best that we possibly can. And even though during the Depression days, when it was so hard to do all that you would like to do or wanted to do, we still tried to do that, to help the people make crops. One of the things I thought about a lot of times was Mr. McKinney, who was the controlling officer at that time, come to me as a kid and says, "There's no banks in Stevens county that is making car loans, and I think we're going to have to make car loans in order to make any money. And I'm going to make you the car loan man. But don't come to me, because I'm never going to loan people money to spend their money and not try to loan it to them to make some money to help feed the family." And he says, "And that's going to be your..." And that's how I become a loan person, which was back in the very early '30s.
So when, when someone was, was running up against nothing and couldn't pay back their mortgage, not being able to pay back their debts, how, how did you try to work with someone? What did it feel as...?
Well, it's, we always tried to say, "Well, come in. Let's see if we can't work something out." And if we could say, "Well, I believe if you put in something else in the way of crop, or if you'll not sell your calves so quick and let them get a little bigger," or all those things, you tried to counsel with them. And, of course, naturally we didn't have all the answers either, of course, but then a lot of times you could help them understand that they needed to do something or other that would make them more money, and they'd have more left over to pay their debts with and whatever they needed to do. And so we, we done that back then, and this comes later, of course, but after the, we always encouraged people to, they raised 10 acres of cotton, well, "You need to put in 20." But they come along, and the government told them they had to go out and tell people to plow out their cotton. And I know that Mr. McKinney, the one that I mentioned, he and I went out to a rural school and talked about it, and coming back in, he says, "I'm not coming back anymore." I said, "What's a matter?" He said, "I encourage people to put in more crop, to try to do better, and to go out and tell them to plow it up," he said, "I can't do it."
Can you just tell me again the story about how prices kind of came down? Just in that early 1930s years. Tell me what a cotton farm or someone growing, growing corn or raising hogs, what kind of price fall they, they faced, and what that might mean for them at the end of the year.
Yes, well during the '20s, while mostly the price of cotton was 20 cents a pound, that was standard, which is $100 a bale. And then all at once it began to drop, and it kept going down in '30, '31, and even on beyond that some. And it went from 20 cents a pound down to as low as four cents a pound. And to get a perspective of it, 20 cents a pound is $100 a bale, four cents a pound is $20 a bale. So you can see if you're planning on paying something with a $100 bill, and you only get $20, it just doesn't go very far. Broomcorn, it was selling for about $300 a ton, which was a fair price for it. It got down to $40 per ton. And you had to hire people to cut broomcorn, and they had been paying 25 to 30 cents an hour for that kind of work.
One crop was cut for seven and a half cents per hour. I've cashed many a check for a fella that worked 10 hours cutting broomcorn got a check for 75 cents.
** The next year it got better. He got 10 cents an hour [laughs]. So it wasn't too much better but it, it was some better.
Now, a farmer came to you, then, at the end of the year, hadn't made his crops, hadn't sold his crops for what he wanted. What, what, what was he up against with you, and his...?
Depends, depends on the person altogether nearly, because if you had a person, I recall a couple of brothers come to me, and each one of them hold a balance at the end of the year. They says, "We can sell out everything we've got and pay you, won't have anything left. But if you say so we'll go pay you, we'll sell out and pay you." I says, "Let's go and let's make one more crop." Well, they done pretty good that year, and they worked out, and they worked, and they were on the same farms until they were ready to retire. They're of course both gone now. But that, you, you tried to work out. People—we went on the theory if he's a hard worker, he knows what he's doing, and he's honest, stay with him.
That's great. That's great. Do you recall during the Hoover administration if any of the Hoover programs were helping the farmers and the banks here, here in Marlow? They had the Federal Farm Board and they had the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. I didn't know if those things trickled down to you here and helped...?
Not enough that we noticed it during the Hoover administration. Most of it, in fact, all of it I would say around here come down to us through the New Deal of the Roosevelt administration.
Do you recall the elections of the, the campaigning during the elections of 1932? Do you remember when Hoover and Roosevelt, do you have any election stories? Do you remember how—
I don't have any really stories to tell about it other than the fact that a lot of people would say, "I've had all the Hoover I can stand, and anything'd beat that!" So that's about the best stories that I have on it.
That's what you remember, people saying things like that. OK, well that's great. I think I'm going to cut.