A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 28, 2009
“So would hell” (rancher on being told Texas would be a great place if it had water)

"This would be a fine country if it only had water,” a newcomer to Texas is alleged to have said. An old Texan giving up and heading back east replied, “So would hell!”

This exchange probably dates to the 19th century, but is cited in print from 1944.


Texas State Library
To Love the Beautiful: The Story of Texas State Parks
“So Would Hell”

An old Texas joke recounts the arrival of a new settler in West Texas who admires the grasslands and notes, “This would be a fine country if it only had water.” A grizzled farmer packing up his things to leave his bankrupt land replies, “So would Hell.”

Texas was a land known for its repeated dry spells, but it had never seen anything like the drought of the 1950s. From 1950 to 1957, Texas baked under the most severe drought in recorded history. The total rainfall was off by 40%, and excessive high summer temperatures made the situation that much worse. In one year, 1952, Lubbock did not record even a trace of rain for the entire year.

Google Books
A Treasury of American Folklore:
Stories, ballads, and traditions of the people

By Benjamin Albert Botkin
New York, NY: Crown Publishers
1944
Pg. 332:
“This,” said a newcomer to the Plains, “would be a fine country if we just had water.”

“Yes,” answered the man whose wagon tongue pointed east, “so would hell.”

Google Books
Great Day in the Morning : a novel
By Robert Hardy Andrews
New York, NY: Coward-McCann, Inc.,
1950
Pg. 105:
He chuckled, quoting their description of the Great American Desert: “It would be a fine place to live if it had water, but so would hell.”

27 November 1952, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Water History Old in Texas” by Ross Phares, part 2, pg. 2:
Those who know Texas say that the water problem will be solved satisfactorily. Lack of water has long been an inconvenience at times. But it has not stopped progress. Discouraging tales are told, but factories continue to spring up and more land is being opened. Texans will continue to make jokes about this “waterless” country, and then take the matter as philosophically as the pioneer Plainsman encountered by a newcomer who said: “This would be a fine country is we just had water.”

“Yep,” answere the old-timer, “so would hell.”

Google Books
From the High Plains
By John Fischer
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1978
Pg. 124:
One of the best known was the exchange between a Texas Panhandle rancher and his foreman. “If we only had water,” the cattleman remarked, “this country would be a paradise.” To which the foreman replied: “So would hell.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Tuesday, July 28, 2009 • Permalink