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Publisher and Contributing Writer

Featured Photograph: 73-year-old David Sweatt, a carpenter from Brownsville, Texas, with daughter walking at his side, is shown pulling their wagon loaded with his wife and other children in 1938. The family is pictured in downtown Opelousas when their trip was interpreted while Mrs. Sweatt gave birth to a baby daughter. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)

Although most of us today were not alive during what was called the Great Depression, stories of people and the hard times they had to endure, were told to us by our parents and grandparents.

We learned it was hard to find a job during those depression years; and if you were lucky enough to find one, chances are it did not pay much.  Such was the case with David Sweatt of Brownsville, Texas.

Unable to get employment that paid enough to support his family in Brownsville, David learned he could get a job in Baton Rouge. Not having the necessary funds to travel any other way, Sweatt loaded his wife and four children, along with the family belongings, into a wagon and began the 700-mile trip from Texas to Louisiana. He pulled the wagon with the entire load by himself.

After traveling for eight weeks, averaging only a few miles per day, the Sweatt family pulled into Opelousas late Friday afternoon on April 29, 1938. When they arrived in the business district of the city, his pregnant wife and three children were riding in the wagon pulled by David, with his 13-year-old daughter walking at his side. They were exhausted and needed a place to stay for the night. Arthur Darby agreed to let the family stay in his garage building on Academy Street.

During the night, Mrs. Sweatt went into labor, and a new addition to their family arrived at 3:00a.m. on Saturday April 30th. The baby girl, born in the garage, was named Geneva Pearl Sweatt.

When Sheriff “Cat” Doucet learned about the Sweatt family and the birth of the baby, he contacted F. V. Boyd, the director of the St. Landry Parish Health Unit for help. Dr. Boyd sent two nurses, and Mrs. Sweatt was moved to St. Rita’s Infirmary on South Main Street.

Mrs. David Sweatt is pictures with her newborn infant at St. Rita’s Infirmary in Opelousas. She gave birth to the baby girl, named Geneva Pearl, on the early morning hours of April 30, 1938, in a garage in Opelousas, and was later moved to the infirmary. Unfortunately the infant did not survive. The family was traveling by wagon, pulled by David Sweatt, from Brownsville, Texas to Baton Rouge where Sweatt was promised a job. Their trip was interrupted when Mrs. Sweatt went into labor in Opelousas. Pictured with Mrs Sweatt are nurses Annie Davis and Mary Alice Tatman. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)

During an interview with the Opelousas Herald Newspaper, Mrs. Sweatt said it was nice to be in Opelousas, and in the hospital. “But this is the first time I have had this kind of assistance, and I’ve had six children before this one,” she told the Herald. She said two of her seven children died in infancy.

Mrs Sweatt, who was 38 years old, told the newspaper her husband, age 73, was not present at the garage when the baby was born. “He’d gone to town to get me an army cot that I would be more comfortable,” Mrs. Sweatt said. She also told the reporter the family at one time lived in South Arkansas but moved to Texas so her husband could work. “We had to leave Brownsville because my husband was making only 50 cents a day working in the gardens there.” She said her husband was promised a job at a furniture store in Baton Rouge.

She also told the paper she did all the cooking for the family on the long journey. “We just stop a few minutes before mealtime, no matter where we are, while on the road,” she said.

News about the Sweatt family quickly spread through Opelousas. Several civic organizations and clubs came to the rescue and provided the mother and baby with necessities, including new items for the baby, and food and clothing for the rest of the family. When she received the gifts, with tears streaming down her face, Mrs. Sweatt said, “Bless their hearts.”

According to additiona newspaper reports the following week, little Geneva Pearl did not survive, but died of a blood clot on the brain on Saturday, April 30th at St. Rita’s Infirmary. She is buried in Myrtle Grove Cemetery in Opelousas.

Although some newspaper reports stated the Sweatt family would probable stay in Opelousas, there is no record showing they remained in Opelousas very long.

St. Rita’s Infirmary on South Main Street in Opelousas where Mrs. David Sweatt stayed following the birth of her baby girl.