Robert Hedge Coke remembers the screech of dust particles violently blowing against each other as the wind swept down the plains near Boise City, Okla. He describes it as an unearthly sound that would go on for hours.
“My father said not to worry about it…it was just a family banshee,” he jokingly recalled.
The 91-year-old is one of the few remaining who can offer a firsthand account of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His daughter, University of Central Oklahoma Artist in Residence Allison Hedge Coke, is intent on capturing and sharing his story through a documentary film titled “Red Dust.”
She recently partnered with USA Projects to raise the funds needed to complete the film. USA Projects is a microphilanthropy site that assists accomplished artists in securing funding for their work. The site hosts a page where accepted artists can promote their project directly to an engaged online community. The public can give as little as $1 or as much as they would like and can receive a tax deduction. Artists set their own fundraising goal and deadline, but do not receive any funding if they do not reach their goal by the set date. Hedge Coke hopes to raise $20,000 by Sept. 16.
“I am setting out to document my father’s history while he is still able to contribute effectively. My dad, and the few remaining survivors like him, lived it, and their oral history is exceedingly unique and necessary to our understanding of the time,” Hedge Coke said.
Funds raised through USA Projects will support location, travel and crew costs. She plans to travel with her father to many of the places he lived during the era, including Boise City, Okla., Baca County, Colo., Peralta, N.M., and Peacock, Texas. The film will end at Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla. where her father was processed for his service in World War II, which, as Hedge Coke put it, ended his youth, as he knew it.
The title, “Red Dust,” is a nod to her family’s Native American and mixed blood ancestry. Hedge Coke added that though many Native and mixed ancestry peoples experienced the advent of the Dust Bowl era, few, if any, have been recorded telling the tale.
She is from Huron, Metis, Cherokee, Creek, Portuguese, French-Canadian, Irish, Scot, and English heritage. An accomplished writer, she won the American Book Award for “Dog Road Woman” and the Wordcraft Writer of the Year Award for “Off-Season City Pipe,” a collection of poetry. Her last volume of poetry, “Blood Run” is directly responsible for the protection of a sacred site and creation of a state park and her memoir “Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer” is going paperback in January. Hedge Coke edited nine additional collections, including “Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas” and “Effigies.” She has received residencies/fellowships from Lannan Foundation, MacDowell Colony of the Arts, Weymouth Center of Arts and Humanities, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hawthornden Castle, and Kimmel Harding Nelson.
Those interested in supporting this project can learn more on Hedge Coke’s USA Projects page at www.usaprojects.org/user/allisonhedgecoke.