Shantytown, Dallas County, Texas

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(Updated March 23, 2003)




     A summer school for about 43 children of "Shantytown," residence of a group of unemployed near the Young street postoffice, will [be] started Monday by a young woman teacher from the Dallas schools, who has decided to give her vacation period to this work. About 30 of the children were not in school last winter.
     No shelter, as yet, has been obtained for the "schoolhouse," but, the hope was expressed that somebody would come forward and donate use of a large tent for the purpose.

- June 3, 1932, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 8, col. 1.
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     Equipment to operate the "Shacktown school" in the community of unemployed, has been offered [by Mi]ss Una Kilpatrick, John Henry Brown school teacher, who had expressed a desire to open a free school for the more than forty children in the "village" near the [fo]ot of Young street.
     Tents will be given by T. R. __nes of the Oklahoma Contracting corporation, and the pupils will build their own benches out of old lumber donated. Blackboards and [oth]er schoolroom equipment have been offered by kindly disposed individuals and firms.

- June 4, 1932, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 7, col. 1.
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     All of the remaining West Dallas camp ground squatters were in mourning Saturday and called it their "hard luck day."
     First, they were issued final court orders, filed by Walter Graner, owner of the property, to get off of the land. Sheriff Smoot Schmid said the "nesters" have ten days in which to move.
     Second, Dr. Horace E. Duncan, county health officer, closed the camp ground's tonsorial palace, known as Red's Barber Shoppe, because of alleged insanitary conditions.
     Red, the owner, was also down in the dumps. Last week, he hocked his car for $16 to purchase a hunting hound from a kennel in Kentucky. He was going to move with the car. The dog arrived this week, and to his dismay, Red found out the hound wouldn't hunt. Now, he hasn't the car, hunting hound or the $16.
     The camp ground's "hard luck day" did not bother the children of the squatters -- they just went right on about their business shooting craps in the middle of the grounds' main street.
     The squatters under Dallas' five viaducts are also having their troubles. Sheriff Schmid said Saturday that many of the families had already moved, but several groups could not move until they received their relief checks from the federal government.

- July 10, 1938, Dallas Daily Times Herald,
Sec. II, p. 1, col. 6-7; continued on p. 3, col. 2.
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     Shantytown, alias Hoover Heights, alias "The Camp," came into existence in November, 1931, when a number of families, living in the neighboring bottoms of the Trinity River, were forced to move out because of fall rains and high waters. Located at the periphery of the central business district of Dallas, Texas, on a five-acre tract donated by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the community was set off by a busy street, a car line, a railroad and a viaduct.
     Word soon spread that the ground, previously occupied by two lone pioneer shanties--one, some three years old-- could be used free of charge, if permits were obtained from the city of Dallas.
     By May, 1932, Shantytown boasted a population of 59 families, totaling 199 persons. The average family included 3.3 individuals. Although this figure is small, single families with seven, nine, and eleven children, respectively, were noted. With three exceptions, all of the Shantytownites were natives of [the] United States. Of 68 residents of the community answering questions, 44 claimed a prior existence in Texas--30 of these having migrated directly into Shantytown from addresses and streets elsewhere in Dallas. The remaining 24 settlers came from 13 widely scattered states.
     Although ages ranged upward to 60, the typical adult Shantytownite was relatively young, males averaging 45.5 years, and females, 30.8. Educational qualifications were low -- 9.1 years of formal schooling for the men and 5.4 years for the women. In the entire group, there were only one university, and two high school graduates. Children in school were retarded about one year, average ages for this group being 9.1 and 8 years, respectively, while average grades were only 2.1 and 1.2.
     Shantytown men were virtually unemployed -- at least, they were unemployed, if the average weekly earning of $3.35 per male adult is taken as a criterion of economic condition. Only eight of the 42 men, however, were willing to admit that they had not been engaged in any type of remunerative effort at all during residence in Shantytown. On the other hand, 12 men, who had previously been identified with definite trades, had been unable to find employment in their own occupations. Of those who were employed, 11 were engaged in city-made work, constructing sewers one day each week for a grocery equivalent of $2.40. Other occupations, followed during the period of residence in Shantytown, were brick-laying, carpentering, cooking, engineering, harness-making, painting, paper-hauling, peddling, sign-painting and truck-driving. One man was hired by the city of Dallas to act as overseer of the "campground" (Shantytown's name for itself) and to maintain order in the community. He received the same pay as other city-employed Shantytownites and had the privilege of wearing a badge and carrying a "billy."
     Housing, in general, was of the worst sort -- tents, rusty tin, discarded boxes, cardboard -- and in some instances, trucks and old-model touring cars -- constituted the basic building material. One householder prided himself on the possession of a garage. The typical Shantytown dwelling contained one room, in which the entire family, irrespective of size, slept, ate, bathed and lived. Few houses exhibited any kind of interior decoration. Several women, however, embellished their homes with self-made paper flowers; others hung colored calendars and cheap pictures on their walls. Only one musical instrument--a portable victrola--was found. With few exceptions, the houses were filthy. There were dirty clothes, dirty dishes and ever-present trash.
     Aside from family and church, Shantytown had no institutions of its own. There were no organized schools, no commercial establishments, and no formal recreational facilities.
     The one church on the ground was founded and directed by a wandering "Pentecost" preacher, who came from Oklahoma for this specific purpose and succeeded in attracting about 25 regular attendants. Although three of these churchgoers were members of the Pentecostal denomination, most of the remaining ones confessed that they went to the "meetings" because of "lack of much else to do." Of Shantytown's 199 residents, only 34 (17 percent), mostly women, professed membership in any church -- 22 Baptists, four Methodists, two Presbyterians, one Catholic, one United Brethren, one Seventh Day Adventist, and the three Pentecostal members already mentioned. Of these 34 members, 26 actually participated, at least to some extent, in their respective services, though distance, lack of clothes, and child care, hampered regular attendance.
     Like the churches, the schools played a comparatively small part in the lives of the Shantytownites. Children attended irregularly, and remained at home on the slightest provocation.
     Social activities of the Shantytownites were limited to visiting with friends who chanced to be living on the campground, and to the free picture shows in a nearby play park. A few of the younger women and girls said they liked parties, but did not go to any. On movie evenings, a group of about 25 went to the pictures together. A few parents attended because children needed chaperonage, but on the whole, residents spent their time visiting in the community. Small children cavorted at home, amusing themselves with broken toys, old bicycle parts and "mud-pies." Older boys played "cowboy and Indian" and "robber and police." The children, especially the younger ones, did not mingle much with those of families not related to their own, but confined their play to brothers and sisters on their own premises.
     One of Shantytown's outstanding characteristics was the prevalent of kinship; in many cases individuals moved in and later sent for other members of their respective families. Thus, the settlement became the home of several groups of relatives.
     Many of the camp's residents stated that they knew all of their fellow campers casually, and "quite a few," intimately. Since a majority of the inhabitants obtained their locations at the time of the initial invasion, such acquaintanceship is, perhaps, to have been expected. It is important to note, however, that the most intimate friends of the Shantytownites tended to live in other parts of Dallas. Many of the residents objected to living in the camp shacks and to rubbing elbows with other campers, but explained that they were forced to do so because they could not afford to pay rent elsewhere. Others enjoyed being close to their families and friends. Most of the campers were hospitable and willing to help the interviewers. None of the families had plans for the future, and all expected to remain in Shantytown indefinitely. All realized that the length of residence depended on the railroad company's need for the land.
     In spite of common social and economic background, persistent concern of each family -- and often, each individual -- for its own welfare, prevented Shantytown from being a community in any thorough-going sense. Consensus, when operative, was reached through discussion of private opinions. No individual possessed a special status in the group. To its inhabitants, Shantytown was viewed as merely another shift in residence and another place to stop. "These people," wrote one of the study committee, who early visited the grounds, "will continue to live the Shantytown way, largely ignorant of the world outside their makeshift dwellings. Most of them have always lived on this same plane, and they do not care to change. They will remain an indifferent group as long as Shantytown exists."

Source: Studies in Sociology, Volume IV, Winter 1939 - Summer, 1940,
Numbers 1-2, published by the Department of Sociology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.
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