Personal letters from 1930s offer clues into relative’s untimely death

Newspaper clippingMy paternal grandmother, Mary D. (Lewis) Claywell, lost two brothers — one when he was 10 and another when he was 24. Growing up, I often heard how my grandmother woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare telling her 24-year-old Bennie was dead. Her fear was later confirmed when the family learned her brother had died in a logging accident while he was employed in a Civilian Conservation Camp in Idaho.

A few years before her death, my aunt Anna Lee (Mary’s oldest daughter), gave me several items related to Bennie including two personal letters. One letter, written about six months before he died, was addressed to a cousin, the other, written just a week before he died, was addressed to his mother. Both letters offer some insight into his life, but they also include information about the company he was assigned to and where he was living.

I have transcribed the letters to the best of my ability.

Letter to Mom

The envelope is addressed to Mrs. G.H. Lewis and is postmarked May 13 in Pritchard, Idaho. The postmark on the back of the letter is May 17, Forest Cottage, Ky. The letter was written on May 10, 1935. Bennie died on May 17.

CCC Co 587 F151
Pine Flat
Prichard, Idaho
May 10, 1935

Dear ones at home:

Florence Surratt

Ben’s mother, Florence

Here I am agin. Writing is all the Pass time I have so I’ll let you all here from me. How may this find you all. Well is my wishes as for me fine and dandy.

Yet its a snowing like everything here, its the first snow I have seen falling since last winter as a year ago so it seem like old Ky kindly but my thing — May and 5 ft of snow on the ground. Seems funny doesn’t it. But I am liking fine so far. What is everybody doing? Planting corn? Mother how is your garden looking? Don’t work to hard git old Edna and someone to help or to do your work, don’t you git out there and work like you use to.

Say mother send me ten dollars I want to git me some heavy close (sic) for it is real cold here. I want to git me a leather jacket and a pair of pants and a pair of slippers. With that 10 and the other 5 I’ll know I can git them if you all don’t need it. Mother do you ever hear from Martin? How are they gitting along? Send me his address

Well I guess I had better close and go to work

Mother don’t worry ans[wer] soon and all the news.

One that loves you all,


Two things about the letter, Martin is his older brother — and the money. Under the rules of the CCC program, Ben earned $30 per month. He received $5 and the other $25 was sent home — which is why he is requesting $10 that he will add to his $5 to buy winter clothing. Also, there was a severe winter storm in Idaho at the time he is writing this letter.

Letter to Gladstone Surratt

Six months earlier Ben wrote a three-page letter to his cousin Gladstone Surratt, who is about 20 years old at the time. In the 1920 Census, Gladstone is listed in the same household as Ben.

CCC Co 587
Morina Lake
Pine Valley Calif
Dec. 19 1934

Dear Gladstone: —

Gladstone Surratt

Gladstone Surratt

Will ans[wer] your letter I rec a few days ago was glad to here from you, how may these few lines find you, as for me just fine and dandy. Well they say you all have a big snow back there it makes me shiver to think about it, I have never saw any snow here yet. We can see a mountain covered in snow from the look out. Its about 90 miles from here, it sure looks pretty and the fall moutains are covered too but we have to look through field glasses to see them.

Well how is things rocking along back there. Are you going to git married this Xmas? Boy leave that off if you have got it on your mind.

Say Kid wait till I come home and we will have a real time. Don’t git disgusted and say you had rather be away from home for there is no place like home.

Say tell old Hue to kiss my foot and to be careful and not let Jim Jill (?) knock him in the head again.

Well I guess this is all this time. Think of me at Xmas and have a good time for me. Be careful and don’t drink for you can’t have a good time drinking.

Ans real soon and a long letter.

One that loves you,


Categories: Appalachia, Cumberland Plateau, Family History, Genealogy | Tags: ,

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