With the country experiencing a Depression like never before, men from around the country made their way to the harsh Nevada desert in 1931 to find work on the Boulder Canyon Project. They lived openly in the desert, or under makeshift shelters that consisted of canvas, stray pieces of ply board or cardboard---basically whatever they could find. Small shanty towns populated by the homeless, “Hoovervilles,” lined the highway from the Black Canyon worksite to Las Vegas, some forty miles away.
The men did not all come alone; some brought their families. Although the exact numbers are unknown, some estimates run as high as forty thousand people: unemployed and homeless living in an unforgiving climate. Temperatures often reached one hundred-twenty degrees by early in the morning and did not come down until late in the night. Nearer the worksite, temperatures were even higher, and inside the diversion tunnels of the project, for those that were lucky enough to get a job, temperatures were often up to one hundred-forty degrees.
But the unrelenting heat was just one of the hazards of living in the desert for the men, women and children of the Hoovervilles like Ragtown. Food was scarce, water sources were often contaminated, and of course, they had the native 'residents' to worry about: Black Widow spiders. Rattlesnakes. Centipedes. Red Ants. Scorpions.
On July 26, 1931, four women in Ragtown died of 'the fever', which was most likely dysentery-related, compliments of the Colorado River, where they drank, bathed, laundered and well, you know the rest. But it was water, and the river was, most likely, what kept most of them alive. But nothing comes without a cost, and although the river was a life source, it was also a danger, and once in a while, bad wins out over good.
While the men who worked on the project faced many challenges, I feel it is also important to remember the struggles that the women and children faced. Therefore, my upcoming novel, Ragtown, begins on July 26, 1931. A day when four women died in the desert Hooverville called Ragtown. Four women who were just trying to survive.