This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on Friday, May 26, 1995.


By Michael R. Hayslip

One of the cards from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal fell in Mesquite’s pile.

In the hot summer of 1933 a number of young single American men had joined what was then the U. S. Reforestation Army, a part of the Civilian Conservation Corps., which was conceived during FDR’s first 100 days in office.

The stated purpose of the CCC was to promote economic recovery from the Depression by improving U. S. farm production through soil conservation measures. At the height of the program’s activity, some 500,000 Americans were employed under its banner.

Local enrollees, or “Tree Army Boys,” bent upon combating soil erosion by planting trees, trained in military fashion at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, then scattered by companies across the country. Compensation included room, board and base pay of $30 per month to explore opportunities for social interaction of various types.

By 1935 Mesquite itself had been designated a CCC work camp site. An eight-acre tract was selected on the farm of Hicks Jobson, who furnished it rent-free for two years. The City of Mesquite provided roads and water for the camp, which was built 1/4 mile east of town to house 250 men from Mesquite and beyond.

When camp staff, primarily military personnel, faced a shortage of off-camp housing, the Texas Mesquiter urged local residents to cooperate and to charge reasonable rates; otherwise, the newcomers might fall into open Garland hands. One officer, W. H. “Bill” Coyle of Rowlett, Comandant from 1935 to 1937, lived close enough to commute.

Two of the enrollees, Lyndell Davis and Robert Lawson, recall coming down to Mesquite from the town of Blue Ridge in order to find “three squares”, clothes, bunks, jobs and a way off the farm. A year short of his high school diploma, Lawson was allowed to finish his course work while attached to the camp. Fatigued from the strain, which was worsened by a stint as night watchman, he sometimes catnapped behind the stove of Davis, the chief cook, who kept a lookout for supervisors.

Besides constructive work and educational opportunity, the camp offered planned leisure events in its canteen. There, enrollees could socialize and swap information, such as who had amassed special credits to raise their pay as high as $45 per month. In camp they were uniformed in khaki with black tie, rather than the blue fatigues supplied for field labor.

Both Davis and Lawson, who have stayed on in town, agree that aside from its national purpose, the CCC camp provided a wholesome environment for those who could easily have followed other pursuits.

Within the camp’s six years of operation in Mesquite, its men completed soil conservation projects _ primarily terracing and fencing _ on an estimated 40,000 acres in Dallas, Kaufman and Rockwall counties. These Blackland Prairie spaces, shorn of native trees and grasses in order to host field crops, were vulnerable to wind and rain, and they had suffered a steady decline in productivity over the preceding half century.

When the camp closed in early 1941, the remaining 144 enlistees were transferred to Carlsbad, New Mexico. The soils the Mesquite CCC men left behind were raising more and better crops for their efforts.

Photo not available

Photo Caption: The men of Mesquite’s CCC Company 850 stand at attention in 1936 for evening retreat. In the background are barracks and an infirmary, which supervised a two-week quarantine for “spotted fever” and a one-week quarantine for a meningitis scare.