From 1949 until 1957, severely deficient rainfall plunged Texas into a devastating water shortage. Wells and reservoir dried up, crops withered, and thirsty cattle bawled in the scorching heat. The number of farms and ranches shrank from 345,000 to 247,000 and the rural population declined to just one fourth of the state population as people were forced into towns. Ranchers and farmers, faced with the dual threat of water scarcity and increasing price of animal feed, saw their combined income drop by one fifth. The cost of low-grade beef cattle fell from 15 cents to five cents per pound and crop yields were cut in half. By the time the drought subsided in 1957, 244 of the 254 counties in Texas were declared federal drought disaster areas. Economic losses from that time were estimated at almost 30 billion in 2021 dollars.
Governor Allan Shivers proclaimed Sunday, July 5, 1953, to be a statewide day of prayer for rain. He stated, “as much relief as can be given by human means has been granted by agencies of the state and federal governments.” He went on to ask ministers of all faiths and their congregations to participate in this day of prayer. The Rev. Sam Capers of Christ Episcopal Church in San Antonio stated, “Praying for rain mainly makes us realize that we are dependent on God to see us through.” The Rev. Claud Bonam of the Huisache Baptist Church in San Antonio made an impassioned condemnation of the state, stating, “Texas doesn’t deserve rain…When we repealed the 18th Amendment, we indicated we wanted our booze, our wine, our song, so God is withholding his rain.”
On January 13, 1957, President Eisenhower and Agriculture Secretary Ezra Tate Benson visited San Angelo, where Eisenhower made a speech telling the people that his administration would do whatever they could to alleviate the hardship of the drought. Shortly after the visit, rain finally came. Downpours lasted from February until the end of the summer, often accompanied by tornadoes and hail. Every major river in Texas flooded, and bridges and houses were swept away. In the end, 22 people were dead and thousands were forced from their homes, and yet this devastation paled in comparison to the damage from the drought itself.
West Texas was hit the hardest by the drought, while Brenham and other areas in southeast Texas received sporadic rainfall which kept them going, though to a much smaller scale than before. The Jaeger ranch felt the effects of the disaster too. The decade started out well enough, with Grandpa rebuilding his store in 1950, opening a dairy barn in 1952, and raising a flock of turkeys that numbered in the thousands. But by 1955, the family was feeling the effects of plummeting crop, dairy, and meat prices. Grandpa resorted to moving to Houston to find work. While the family remained in Brenham, Grandpa worked various manual labor jobs and sent money back home.
Texas pulled through this stormy period and so did the Jaegers. By the end of the decade, the dairy was reopened, and Grandpa was able to commute back and forth between Brenham and Houston more often. The drought did, however, initiate the family’s eventual move to the cities. Henry and Lillie bought their house on Meadowgrove Drive in Houston in the 1960s. Today nearly all of the Jaegers live in or around the Houston Metro Area.
“Little Hope for Rain Seen After Day of Prayer in Texas.” El Paso Herald Post [El Paso, Texas], 6 July 1953, p. 19.
“Shivers Asks for Rain Seen After Day of Prayer in Texas.” Abilene Reporter News [Abilene, Texas], 2 July 1953, p. 1.