Thursday, February 14, 2013

FHWC: The mysterious disapperance of Joe Parmer

Joe Parmer (left)
In the 1930s, the Great Depression was further compounded by over-farming and a decade-long drought that impacted a significant portion of the United States. "Black blizzards" of dust blew from the dead wheat fields in west Kansas, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and the eastern borders of New Mexico and Colorado, darkening the skies throughout the plains.

After the death of their parents in 1928 and 1929, Granddaddy's twin brother Joe was boarding at the home of Hugh C. Morman on April 5, 1930 when the U.S. census was taken there. The rented farm was located near Joe's older brother Nathan's farm, as well as Grandma's parents, George and Rebecca Nowell's farm.

Joe and Hugh were both working as farmers, and were close to the same age, Joe being 28, Hugh 29. They probably went to school together. Hugh had recently started a family, and had a 3 year old daughter at the time. Joe remained single.

The drought and falling prices of crops drove many American farmers into migratory work. They traveled from farm to farm seeking seasonal labor, and received nominal pay for their efforts.

Sometime during the 1930s, Granddaddy's twin brother went west with the migratory farm workers, bound for Arizona. Rumors of large harvests ready for picking often spread along the highways of Texas during the Great Depression, but the rumors were at times fraught with errors.

It wasn't unusual for migrant workers to chase down these rumors only to find there has nothing to harvest. Or too many laborers had arrived ahead of them, and there were no more jobs left.

Joe Parmer was never heard from again. After failing to return home, his family and friends began to suspect the worse. There were many hazards in the life of a migrant farmer. Deplorable living conditions in the labor camps or lack of shelter on the road could lead to fatal illnesses. Labor strikes would sometimes culminate in violence.

There is no way of knowing whether or not Joe reached his destination. If he died on the road or in a labor camp, no one identified him as Joe Parmer of Henderson County, Texas. Else one of his brothers would surely have been contacted for burial arrangements, and there would be no mystery.

While we may never know what exactly happened to Uncle Joe, Grandma maintained this theory on the disappearance of her brother-in-law: "He probably got drunk and fell in a well."

That's so Grandma.


Donald Worster, "DUST BOWL," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed February 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

"US Census, 1930," images, Henderson County TXGenWeb " : accessed 14 Feb 2013" Joe M. Parmer, boarder in the household of Hugh C. Mormon, Precinct 5, Henderson, Texas, citing ED 107-19, page 3B, dwelling 58, family 57, NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2355.

Email conversation with Gary Wright about Joe's disappearance.

Email conversations with Gina, Nancy and Donna about Grandma.

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