One time it never did rain
It's only the punch line of a joke, right? The old-timers are standing around discussing droughts and one of them says, "I remember one time when it never did rain."
Virtually no rain at all fell for 15 months, from mid-May, 1924, to mid-September, 1925.
It was so serious that cotton, a drought resistant crop if ever there was one, shriveled up and died.
Rockdale also participated in the legendary drought of the 1950s, one that many area residents still remember.
It was memorable. Rockdale rainfall in 1954 was just 16.84 inches and the 1956 total was 17.85. But those two years were split by a 31.52-inch precipitation total in 1955, pretty close to Rockdale's annual average.
What made the 1924-25 drought unique is that there was no relief at all. Rockdale's official weather records were in their early years so the totals reported may not have been exactly on the money but they certainly reflect the weather's severity.
Those records show no rainfa ll—zero, zip, nada, goose eggs—between May, 1924 and September, 1925.
A quick perusal of The Rockdale Reporter for those months shows there were actually some scattered reports of rain coming in to Publisher John Esten Cooke.
A Rockdale resident even reported a .47-inch rainfall one summer afternoon but it apparently never made it to the official gauge or stat sheet.
The drought began just 2-1/2 years after Rockdale's wettest weekend ever, the Sept. 8-9, 1921 flood that killed 63 people and turned Central Milam County into a lake.
Rockdale had seen dry summers before and 1924 was certainly one of those. Farmers did the best they could, then set back and waited for the usual fall rains.
Those didn't show up either. By spring 1925, as the rainless period approached one year the drought was a crisis headed for total disaster. From community columns in the 1925 Reporter:
New Salem—"Cotton is dying in hard land and cannot possibly last much longer."
Eagle—"We are still looking for a good rain before it becomes too late."
Sand Grove—"All of the corn is going to die if it doesn't rain soon."
Salty—"(Instead of rain) we get high winds and sand storms. Farmers are still working with hopeful hearts."
By June, Cooke was looking for stories of people coping with the drought and found several.
Henry Brodnax was termed by Cooke "a farmer by occupation and an optimist by nature."
"We'll make a bumper cotton crop yet if it rains," Brodnax said, adding he believed "it was even drier than this in 1917."
Cooke went to a farm seven miles south of Rockdale where H. J. Eaken was applying commercial fertilizer in an attempt to keep his crop alive. Cooke returned a month late to find Eaken's fertilized cotton hanging on and his unfertilized cotton dead or dying.
And San Gabriel farmer Frank Worley saved his cotton in a unique way, rigging up a homemade irrigation system from the San Gabriel River. "I'm making a bale to an acre," he said late in the summer of 1925."
'Until another crop' But most farmers lost their crops. On Aug. 6, 1925, Cooke ran a notice entitled "To Our Rural Readers" in which he followed a time-honored tradition of merchants whose customers live by the rhythm of the seasons.
"On account of the drought t he farming popu lat ion of Milam County is now, and will be until the next crop is made, in the worst financial condition for many years," he wrote.
"We w ill carr y over (not charge) our rural subscribers until another crop has been made," Cooke offered.
He was realistic. "After a drought of over 14 months it's going to take a lot of rain to do any good," he added.
Believe it or not, that's exactly what happened.
Friday morning, Sept. 11, a few drops fell in Rockdale, then more, then much more. It rained two to three days. By Sunday evening virtually all of Milam County had received between two and three inches.
The rains came too late to save the blackland cotton crop but farmers noted the rains replenished stock tanks, filled creeks and were thought to have saved the sandy land cotton.
The Reporter that week carried instructions on how to plant winter oats, especially in the ruined cotton fields.
Life went on. By the next week the lead story was about the 1926 Fords arr iv ing at Gaither Motor Co. The week after it was about the Rockdale Tigers edging Thorndale 17-13.
It rained more than 19 inches the final four months of 1925.
The "one time it never did rain" was over.