Dutton family photo, Jane: bottom-center
Dutton family photo, Jane: bottom-center (Photo: Katrina Nelson)

By Andrea Compagnoni Wright, Valley Ag Voice

In fond memory of Mary “Jane” Dutton Maxwell (Photo: Katrina Nelson)

Jane, the youngest of nine children, was born June 30, 1930, in a farming community in Crescent, Oklahoma. Parents Agnes and Stephen Dutton raised the family on the cotton farm.

Growing up on a small farm, there was always food from the garden alongside the farmhouse. They raised pigs and beef, milked cows, and collected eggs from the chickens. Jane grew up a country girl and she learned about life and its cycles by working the seasons. The seeds were planted, and the family relied on faith to see the crops grow.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl destroyed the land for the farmers in the southern Great Plains. The drought-stricken farmland simply could no longer grow crops. The over-ploughed topsoil in conjunction with the intense heat waves led to a completely unfavorable environment for farming. These massive dust storms with winds blowing day and night ended any hope of farming. The once green grasslands of wheat and cotton now resembled a desert. This, along with already experiencing economic problems, led many families to head West.

In 1937, the Dutton Family was a part of this migration to California, settling in the state’s agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley. The hope was to start a new life, where farming jobs were plentiful. Along Route 66, they worked in the orchards and fields picking fruits and vegetables. At the time, picking cotton earned them twenty-five cents an hour.

While traveling in a “homemade covered wagon,” which was really just a pickup truck with a tarp over the few things they had, they were a part of what became known as the “Okie” migration. They settled in farm labor campsites, living in tents. In the late 1930s, due to many people developing health problems in these camps, the Federal Resettlement and Farm Security Administration (FSA) established the Federal Farm Labor Camps with running water, medical facilities, and schools. Some of these areas became communities and towns, like Barstow, Arvin and Weedpatch, California.

Being part of the Dust Bowl migration, Jane’s father, Stephen, with his courage, toughness, and faith was one of the lucky ones and was hired as a farm laborer on the Greenfield Ranch, where he was provided a little house. The campgrounds were well kept and provided better living conditions.

The Dust Bowl taught farmers all a lesson about taking care of the soil. With better farming techniques, farmers now use proper soil and agricultural land management practices. Farmers, with the aid of federal government programs, now use covered crops, crop rotation, beneficial insects, and soil microbes. The federal programs supported the American farmer and increased prosperity and a better life for the farmers and ranchers.

Jane Dutton was married to William (Bill) Maxwell for 68 years. They were strong Christians and they lived by faith. Bill, was also part of the Dust Bowl migration, growing up in Arvin, California. During their retirement years, Jane and Bill traveled throughout the United States and physically constructed Southern Baptist churches through the Southern Baptist Missions Board. They also traveled to Russia and Mexico to construct and repair churches. They lived a Christian life and followed the Bible’s road map right into heaven. Jesus states in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew. 16-18).

Jane’s faith, family, and farming were just a way of life. Jane and Bill passed along their life lessons and their values were ingrained for the next generation. Jane and Bill had five children, who all married. With this big family, Jane and Bill were blessed with 14 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

 In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus taught: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew 5:3-10).

Bill passed away on November 23, 2017, and Jane on November 2, 2021.

Family Information provided by daughter, Katrina Nelson.

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