Sunset Camp as it is known today was originally Arvin
Federal Government Camp or Weedpatch Camp.
There are many small towns up and down our valley which look like Lamont, and have similar histories. Though established agricultural interests earlier, all owe their first real influx of settlers to the Dust Bowl migration during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Hordes of people who had been "blown, dusted and tractored out of the plains states, came to California to find work and build new lives. This pattern of settlement resulted in small town populations which were predominantly "Okie" and remained that way through the 1940's and 1950's.
Then the shift toward Hispanic immigration began, and the demographics changed. Today, these small towns up and down the valley are home to largely Hispanic majorities.
There were also farm security administration camps in a number of these towns, Marysville, Gridley, Shafter, Firebaugh, etc., as well as in Lamont.
But in spite of all these similarities, Lamont and the "Weedpatch Camp" holds a unique place in history, not because of demographics or economics, but because of the highly unlikely and never to be repeated fact of three men reaching beyond themselves to the absolute peak of their humanity at our camp, during one five year period.
Tom Collins not only originated the tenant run, democratic self government within the camps, but he recorded it in camp reports that are absolute treasures to history and sociology researchers (and, at least one instance, to novelists).
John Steinbeck wrote what some critics still call the best American novel ever researched at our camp, and focusing the attention of the world on the plight of the migrants. He was awarded both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prizes for his effort.
Then, in 1939, Leo B. Hart conceived and developed the "Arvin Federal Emergency School," better known as the "Weedpatch School" in those days. Built primarily with donations of both labor and materials, a great deal of it from the children of the camp and their parents. This was a unique achievement in educational history, never to be repeated, anywhere.
Thus the "Weedpatch Camp," and the area around it, became the focus of the greatest internal migration ever known in this country. Not unlike Plymouth Rock or Williamsburg, it deserves to be preserved and honored as: a symbol of man's search for a better life, as it remains to this day.
From the Arvin Tiller/ Lamont Reporter
supplement October 8, 1997:
The Dust Bowl, Oklahoma, California, Arvin Federal Emergency School, Leo B. Hart, John Steinbeck, Children of the Dust Bowl book and much more all became a part my everyday life. When I began collecting information for the Dust Bowl Journal I really did not know where to go, nor even where to begin to get an idea of where I was traveling in the next couple of months.
What I confronted was a part of history. History in our front yards, history which has gained state, national and international recognition. History which l have fallen in love with.
Yes, our area does have a past....one steeped with many interesting facets. From these environs have come and gone many people who have gained prominence in their chosen fields of endeavor.
One cannot forget 'The Steinbeck Years' when tempers flared and people actually battled for a cause. The novel Grapes of Wrath brought the Central Valley of California and especially Lamont and Arvin to the fore-front.
One has to respect past happen-ings in order to properly plan and
As you look thorough the Journal, you will be given a real view of what transpired. It should serve to actually recharge your mental batteries with regard to the potential of this section of our state and nation.
Our area is a fascinating community... it does have a history... the area has been, in the not too recent past, maligned by those who chronicle events.
Just as the days of 'the Oklahoma invasion' made the rest of America aware of this area, there are people and elements today who, through their respective efforts, are letting the rest of the world know we exist.
Even country western music has and still is bringing good repute to Lamont and its environs. Stars like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Jimmy Thomason and Bill Woods.
And the photographer Dorthea Lange and her husband, economist Paul Taylor, interpreted matters as they drove through Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas in the summer of 1938. It seemed as if part of the American heartland was dying. With camera and pen they recorded the scene. His narrative details the awesome ravages of drought and the destructive ways of man. Lange's photographs say even more. Grim faced with worry, yet, armed with some inner strength, her men and women of the plains stand at the edge of despair. Driven from their homes by forces beyond their is see control, their only option - California.
Oklahoma State Governor Frank W. Keating will play a visit October 24 to the school 'Okie' children built. Keating will place a two-by-two foot bronze plaque in honor of Leo B. Hart.
In May of 1940, Hart leased a 10-acre site of land from the federal government for $10 dollars. Hart declared that a school existed in this field - Arvin Federal Emergency School, or how it came to be known later, as Weedpatch School. It began with no grass, sidewalks, playground equipment, toilets, running water, books or teachers and evolved into what is now Sunset School.
Blessing counting is a noble expression of sincerity that comes to people who have taken part in things... to use the current expression, become involved. Citizens who have gone before were not afraid to be involved in causes and desires and dreams. Because of this we have a history to record and a future to live.
My sincere thank you!
Arvin Tiller/Lamont Reporter: P.O. Box 548, Lamont, CA 93241, (805) 845-3704