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The Happy Camper: 1938

November 1938. "Migrant cotton picker's child who lives in a tent in the government camp instead of along the highway or in a ditch bank. Shafter Camp, California." Medium format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange. View full size.

November 1938. "Migrant cotton picker's child who lives in a tent in the government camp instead of along the highway or in a ditch bank. Shafter Camp, California." Medium format nitrate negative by Dorothea Lange. View full size.


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That Face!

Such a contrast to the other photos of the other children on this site. Looks like a happy little goofball. I think he is older than he looks here though. His front teeth are missing.


This was one of the most popular Depression Era songs, and many popular dance bands and radio orchestras in the United States, England and Europe all recorded it in 1933 and later. One of the best recordings, by Henry Hall and his BBC Dance Orchestra, was released in England soon after the cartoon was shown there in 1933.

Disney T-Shirts

Roy Disney cut the first licensing deal for his company in the early 1930s. It allowed Mickey to be put on a school tablet. Buddy Ebsen wears a Mickey Mouse T-shirt in an MGM musical about 1936. He later said Walt remembered that scene and hired Ebsen for "Davy Crockett" partly because of the T-shirt. So this kid in a 3 Little Pigs shirt (probably a hand-me-down by this time) may have been typical of his era. Disney was still making sequels to the "3 Little Pigs" film in the late '30s, so the shirt might've been only a year or 2 old when this boy got to wear it.

How proudly downtrodden

It's interesting how we all have the impulse to interpret the personalities and feelings of people in photographs. Of course, that the public would do this was essential to the thinking behind the Farm Security Administration project that these photos come from. On the other hand, there's a significant group of photographers today who believe that the only thing a portrait can truthfully show is what the person looks like. What we see in portraits is what we want, or hope, to see.

That there... the very definition of "cutie patootie."

"The Big Bad Wolf" indeed

If only one photo could be used to demonstrate youthful resilience, defiance and courage in the face of the Great Depression, this would have to be it.

I think he did OK, too...

In fact, I bet he did Just Fine. I love this pic!

USDA camp at Shafter

Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Shafter camp in April 1940:

"I saw two government camps, one at Shafter and one at Visalia. For migratory workers, these camps indicate possible standards for decent existence. There is a nursery school for the youngsters, there are playing grounds for the elders, there are clinincs and, in Shafter, a cooperative store. Above all, they are run by the people themselves so that democracy may be seen in action."

If you've ever seen "The Grapes of Wrath" you know what the difference was between living in a USDA migrant camp and living along the road or in a ranch camp.

Who's Afraid?

I've read how Disney's Three Little Pigs cartoon from 1933 set a spirit of resolve for people enduring the depression. With "the wolf" at the door, folks asked, "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?"

This little guy doesn't look like he has much, but he has that shirt and the spirit of resistance the pigs represent to keep the wolf away from the door.

Three Little Pigs

Disney's "Three Little Pigs" dates from 1932/33, so this boy's shirt could be a hand-me-down in 1938. Check Wiki for info on the history of the story and recent British attempts to change the story and characters in order to not offend certain groups.

I think that it's due to a "socialist" camp

that this kid could have at least a moment of smiling. The government-run camps for migrants were paradise compared to living (as the caption states) in a ditch on at the roadside. The camps were spartan, but had clean water, latrines, protection from miscreants, and (I think) mess halls.

I'm sure that they provoked a lot of complaints about the "welfare state."

Good Bet

He's probably still among us. He's my age and the picture shows he wasn't going to disappear so fast. I hope I'm right and would love to see him make an appearance on Shorpy, so we can all see and appreciate him once again.

One Thing's For Sure

He's all boy!


The more I look at Shorpy and read up on the 20th century the more I realize stuff I thought began with my generation is actually some twenty to sixty years older. This kid's shirt is a style I would've thought only emerged after WW2.

Smiling reminder

If that isn't a reminder of how resilient childern can be, what is?

Tyke to Tycoon

I bet he grew up to be a successful and wealthy businessman.


Look at that mug. No doom and gloom here. Despite appearances I think this kid did all right for himself.


He has a gleam in his eye and the demeanor of a 'Dennis the Menace'! If there's a Wilson family in Shafter Camp, we could be onto somethin'! Great looking kid!

My Heart is Breaking...

These depression-era photos are really taking us into the cruel, harsh reality of the hardships of poor families in those days...this sweet child has wrinkles and very old eyes, despite the smile for the camera...and he STILL might be with us today at age 75. In our current high-tech, super-gadgeted society, when even the "poor" have their basic needs met (in most cases), and places to get some help, it seems inhumane that children, especially, endured extreme deprivation in every area of life. Does anyone still wonder why our wasteful way of living with all things "disposable" does not please the older generation and makes them question the decadence in which we live. I thought I was an "under-privileged" kid growing up, but compared to these babies, I had everything. Very sad to comprehend their suffering.

Smiling kid

That picture could have been taken yesterday!

The boy looks exactly like thousands of other kids, covered in mud after a days fun at camp. It's a shame his reality probably was a little different than todays kids.


The kid's Three Little Pigs shirt is interesting -- I had no idea that shirt printings such as this one were available in the 1930s. The wikipedia article on T-shirts only mentions that T-shirt printing was done as early as the 1950s, which is more the date that I would have thought.

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