52 Ancestors 52 Weeks


#15 Arlis Eldo Wright was my great uncle. He was the fourth child born to Everett Emerson Wright and his wife Minnie Bell Mills Wright. He was born on the 10th of April 1899 in Farmland Indiana. That was 115 years ago! My grandmother Martha Marie Wright Tennant was his younger sister.

Arlis moved to California sometime between 1935 and 1940. The 1940 census reports that he was a farm laborer in Porterville, California, married with nine children. He owned his own home, which was worth $350. He had been out of work for 15 weeks. It must have been a hard life. He only had an eighth grade education. The 1940 census says that the whole family was living in Vancatia, Oklahoma in 1935. I think that was an error of the census taker, compounded by the transcriber. If you blow up the page you can see that the census taker wrote Vaneatia, Oklahoma in Craig county. The Wright family was all from Vinita, Oklahoma in Craig county, having moved there in 1906. There is no town of Vaneatia or Vancatia in Craig county.

I can only speculate on what would cause Arlis to uproot his family of nine children and move to California. We know that the Depression was in full swing in 1935. Oklahoma had been in a drought for several years and the Dust Bowl, while not as severe in Craig county, was wreaking havoc with agriculture all over the state. Agriculture income fell 64% in the 1930s. In addition, the East Texas oil field opened in 1930, which created a petroleum glut and caused rapidly falling oil prices and extensive layoffs, so there were high numbers of unemployed men in the area. This was prior to the New Deal, so there was no social service agencies or local unemployment relief. I can only guess that Arlis, as so many others had done, had gone west to seek better opportunity for his family. He was only one of 440,000 “Okies” to go west during this time. He would have hopped on Route 66 and driven all the way. I can only imagine what that car must have looked like loaded with all those kids and their belongings. If you’ve seen the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” you can get a picture of what it must have been like.

DustbowlMigration DustBowlMigration2

Arlis died in 24 Jun 1970, age 71, in Arroyo Grande, California very near to where his sister, my grandmother Martha lived. I only met him once that I know of. He was a small man who appeared even smaller because he was standing beside his huge Harley Davidson motorcycle. I’ll bet that young man who hauled his family 1700 miles across country for a better life never could have dreamed he would one day be living a comfortable life, able to buy an expensive motorcycle just for fun.

Arlis Eldo Wright Tombstone


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2 Responses to 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks

  1. Alex says:

    Great post. It certainly helps to understand what was going on in the areas your family was from and went to, in order to get a sense of the potential reasons behind moving like that.

  2. renebaron says:

    Yes. I’ve wondered how our family might have been impacted by the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and here, all along, I actually knew my Uncle who moved to escape it. Too bad I didn’t get to ask him questions. Maybe I can find his kids.

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