The Dirty Thirties

When the stock market crashed in October of 1929, cattle were selling for $102 a head, the best price in nine years. By 1934, the price had dropped to $37 a head, and, even at that price, large surpluses were developing all over British Columbia as the economic downturn caused a decrease in demand. Unfortunately, land taxes were increasing all over the province, and many of the smaller ranchers had to sell out since they could not make a profit at the low prices. Some of the big ranches, like the Douglas Lake Ranch, were able to buy up land in their area as smaller ranches sold, but before long, even the large ranches were feeling the crunch and had to cut costs wherever possible.

A photograph of the interior of the store at the Chilco Ranch, 1950. Click to enlarge,
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Interior of the store at Chilco Ranch. Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Ranchers did everything they could to survive, but, as the depression gripped the entire world, demand for beef continued to drop. The situation became worse when both the United States and Great Britain established import tariffs to protect their own cattlemen, and the winters of 1936 and 1938 proved to be very severe. Not surprisingly, cattle rustling on a small scale became a problem for the first time in years.

In 1929, the British Columbia Beef Cattle Growers Association brought all the smaller associations under one umbrella to give a unified voice to the cattle industry. They lobbied to have grazing fees on Crown land reduced, and the government dropped the cost from 8.5 cents per head per acre to 4 cents. This helped producers somewhat, but in 1936, as the government struggled to keep social programs for the people, the price was raised to 5 cents per head per acre. Ranchers in British Columbia, always strong and independent of government intervention, agreed to the establishment of the British Columbia Beef Marketing Board. By the late 1930s, those ranchers who had held on were gratified to see the price of beef go up. When the clouds of World War II appeared, the demand for beef grew and ranchers could see improvement after the “Dirty Thirties.”

Media Files

V1999:10/001.04 – A trip through the range lands of British Columbia – 1930? “Cowboys on Duty”
Old black and white silent movie of cowboys in the Nicola Valley herding cattle.

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Buffalo Head Spur

This brass spur with a silver overlaid buffalo head is typical of the 1930s. The hook that sticks upward on the shank is a “chap hook” to keep a cowboy’s chaps or pants from slipping down and catching on the rowel. The leather strap fitted over a cowboy boot instep and a chain was attached to the two holes below to go under the foot ahead of the heel.

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