Voices from the Dust Bowl

Lost and Found Sound: The Recordings of Toddand Sonkin

Frank and Myra Pipkins speak into a microphone, as a crowd looks on

hide captionFrank and Myra Pipkins speak into a microphone.

The Library of Congress
Charles Todd recording on his bulky Presto machine.

hide captionCharles Todd recording on his bulky "Presto" machine.

The Library of Congress

In 1940, Charles Todd was hired by the Library of Congress to travel around California and record the lives, stories and music of Dust Bowl refugees. Todd made the trip with Robert Sonkin, and they traveled around the state’s central valley — the flat, agricultural land John Steinback wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath. Lugging a 50-pound recording machine, the two men created an oral history of refugees from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas who had left their draught and depression-ravaged homelands to look for jobs in the west.


The thousands of refugee farmers who showed up in California in the late 1930s outnumbered the jobs that were available. Many ended up living in migratory labor camps created for them by the Farm Security Administration.

Narrated by Charles Todd and Produced by Barrett Golding. Edited by Jeff Rogers. Lost and Found Sound executive producers are The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson) and Jay Allison.

There, despite great poverty and displacement, they created vibrant communities. They told stories, sang love ballads, debated amongst themselves and held square dances. The sounds of their new lives were captured by Todd and Sonkin using a "Presto" recorder that imprinted sound on aluminum discs.

In this piece from Lost and Found Sound, Charles Todd talks about the places he visited and the people he recorded.

Below are the names of the Dust Bowl refugees heard in this story.

The King Family: Cotton Eyed Joe

Charlie Spurlock: "Red dust storm ..."

Floyd Jones: harmonica, She Ain't That Kind

Flora Robertson: "Black cloud ..."

Tom Higginbotham: "Chickens starve ..."

Huber, Ruth and Judd Lois: Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

Roy Turner: "… left OK walkin..."

J. W. Becker: "… didn't have money..."

Sherman Loop: "… house trailer ... "

Mr. and Mrs. Stankewitz: Charming Betsy

Roy Turner: Oklahoma Farewell

Norman Nelson — guitar: Wildwood Flower

Wayne "Gene" Dinwiddie: "… stopped in NM ..."

Tom Higginbotham: "… living conditions in AR ..."

Wayne "Gene" Dinwiddie: "… come on over in CA ..."

Jack Bryant – with guitar: Sunny Cal

Ruby Rains- with guitar: Associated Farmers Have a Farm

Augustus Martinez: "... in those ranches ..."

Mary and Betty Campbell: Government Camp Song

Tom Higginbotham: "… government camps ...”

J. W. Becker: "… it's pitiful ..."

Sherman Loop: stage announcer

The King Family: Girl I Left Behind

Shafter FSA Camp: square dance with Jew's harp, guitar, and caller

Fred Ross — poem, Luther Quinton — fiddle, and Floyd Jones — guitar: Cotton Fever

Donald Leach: imitations

Mary Sullivan: Barbara Ellen

Ruth Elliot: Old Apple Tree in the Orchard

Joy Pike and Russ Pike — guitar: Dandoo

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