My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home,
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.
“Five Feet High and Rising” Johnny Cash
The countless tales of overcoming adversity is one reason I love American history. From the Revolutionary War to the Great Recession there are so many stories that illustrate the resilience of our spirit. And while I love a good book, I find the best way to get a full sense of these narratives is by visiting the sites where the events occurred. I recently got a lesson on the courage of the American farmer when I visited the historic Dyess Colony in the Arkansas Delta region.
The Dyess Colony was created out of east Arkansas swampland in 1934 through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The idea was to relocate 500 farmers from barren land to an area where they could start again. It was the largest agricultural resettlement community in the country. About 500 families took part in the program and each family was given 20 acres, a house, tools and livestock. In addition to the homes there was a town center with a cannery, movie theater and hospital. Being chosen for the Dyess Colony was like winning the lottery for the families, many of whom had never lived in a house with exterior paint before coming to Dyess.
This was a helping hand, not a hand out. The families were responsible for clearing the land and paying the government back – around $2,000. Paying off the debt took a few years, but it gave them the opportunity to own their property rather than farm as tenants.
In 1937 a flood wiped out the farmers’ crops and many families left, but those who stayed learned that “good things come from adversity.”
The population of Dyess began to decline after World War II when better jobs than picking cotton became available. The colony might have been overcome by kudzu were it not for the efforts of Arkansas State University. The university has embarked on a project to restore the town center buildings and the home of its most famous resident – Johnny Cash.
Today you can visit Dyess to learn the farmers’ stories of survival and overcoming incredible odds. These folks made something out of nothing. You can literally touch soil that is part of our American heritage. The experience is a real testament to the human spirit.
Good to Know:
The Cash family arrived in Dyess in 1935. It’s said that Mrs. Cash sat on the floor and cried when she discovered her new house had painted walls. Today you can see the Cash home exactly as it was when Johnny Cash lived there including his mother’s piano. Visiting Dyess gives you context to understand the man. The hardships and successes he experienced helped form his music. If you are a fan or just love American history, it’s a must see.
Dyess Colony Visiting Hours and Location.
Tours begin at 9 a.m. with last tours of the day at 3 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays
Admission (includes the administration building and the Cash family home):
$10 general admission
$8 senior rate
$8 group rate (groups of 10 or more- comp tour operator and bus driver)
$5 student rate (children 5-18 or with a university ID)
$5 field trip rate (comp all bus drivers and 1 chaperone per 10 students)
Free-children under 5 and ASU students