The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #581   Message #565061
Posted By: Joe Offer
04-Oct-01 - 02:19 PM
Thread Name: Origins:Deportees-seeking original Woody recording
Subject: RE: Deportees
Good thinking, Wolfgang. You're almost as good as Sandy Paton at goading me to honest research. I read somewhere that Woody wrote the song in 1948 after reading an article in the New York Times - now, I wish I could remember where I read that. If the story is true, Woody must have had an additional source of information - maybe he fabricated a little information himself (or maybe the article I read was more complete in another edition of the newspaper). The Times article said only that the crash was about twenty miles west of Coalinga. On my map, I'd say Los Gatos Canyon is ten to fifteen miles west-northwest of Coalinga, in the Coastal Range of mountains that separates the Central Valley of California from the Pacific.

I'm working on checking the Fresno and Sacramento Bee newspapers for more information. Coalinga has never had much of a newspaper. Fresno, the county seat, is about 70 miles east of Coalinga. Fresno is miserable, and Coalinga is worse. Both places have blistering heat in the summer and depressing fog and overcast during the winter - but spring and fall are tolerable. I visited Coalinga once during an infestation of crickets - cars were skidding on streets all over town, sliding on cricket carcasses. One winter night, I drove home forom Coalinga to Fresno in fog so thick I couldn't see the road. Just north of Coalinga is an oilfield - all the rocking pump arms are decorated to look like animals. A big annual event in Coalinga is the Horned Toad festival (although the animal is now called a horned lizard).

I last visited Coalinga in 1999, when I spent a day doing interviews at the police department. I'll say this about Coalinga - the cops were young, innocent, and delightful. They thought it was pretty cool to be interviewed by a federal agent.

In his book Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, Pete Seeger says Woody made up "Reuben James," "Deportees," and "Isaac Woodward" from seeing short items in some paper. The Sing Out! Reprints (pink book) says the following:
A few years ago the newspapers reported the crash in Mexico of a plane which was flying home a large group of Mexican "wetback" workers who had entered the United States illegally - induced by promises of good-paying jobs from unscrupulous agents of the large fruit orchards in California. Woody Guthrie immediately wrote the following song. The tune by Marty Hoffman has been slightly adapted by Pete Seeger.
I'd question the accuracy of this. I think Woody was more correct in saying "some" of the deportees were illegal, because there was a program at the time that allowed farmworkers to enter the U.S. legally to do seasonal work.

OK, so back to work on more research.

-Joe Offer-