<< RETURN TO THE GALLERY INDEX

Roscoe Rainwater

Roscoe Rainwater was born in Waterloo, Pulaski Co., KY in 1883. His first home, by his own description, was a log cabin, which he shared with his parents, Josiah W. and Elizabeth Weddle Rainwater, and eight siblings. In 1890, the family moved to Williamson Co., TX, where Josiah set up shop as farmer, general store keeper and postmaster of the newly founder Waterloo, TX.

Like many of his generation, Roscoe wanted more out of life than a farm. At age 18, he started teaching school, but took summer classes at a local business college. After 3 years, he gave up teaching for a position as a bookkeeper/stenographer in a local business. In 1905, he moved to Laredo where he worked briefly as the manager of a hotel, but shortly thereafter, went to work for the Southern Pacific Railway Company.

This connection led to his taking a position as a stenographer with the Isthmian Canal Commission. He was eventually promoted to the position of paymaster and remained in Panama four years. In the course of his long life, Roscoe also tried his hand at farming, cotton buying, banking, running a general merchandise store, real estate and insurance, with a reasonable degree of success in each enterprise.

In 1906, he married his childhood sweetheart and fellow Pulaski Countian, Gertrude Alice Caughron, and the couple had five children: Roscoe Compton, born 1908; Christine Minnie, born 1910; Johnie Wayne, born 1913; Walter Eugene, born 1915; and Clois Miles, born 1923.

In the 1960s, Roscoe told the story of his Panama experiences to a Vernon Daily Record reporter, resulting in an article entitled
"Panama Duty Career Highlight". Because of the length of the article, this is an abridgement.


It was a year after receiving his "sheepskin" for shorthand, banking and accounting at Hill's business college at Waco that Mr. Rainwater decided to give up his auditing job in the Houston office of the Southern-Pacific Railway Company to go to Panama as a stenographer to work in the auditor's office for the vast labor force the United States was massing to dig the Panama Canal.

Mr. Rainwater arrived by ship in June of 1905 and went to the city of Panama on the Pacific side of the newly independent nation.

He and other Americans arriving there had been promised quarters by the Isthmian Canal Commission in addition to a pay scale roughly double what they could expect for similar jobs in the United States. It was shortly evident that they would earn this pay. The quarters at this stage had not been prepared. Panama was a town of 45,000 persons with no paving, no sewers and no water works.

Deathly epidemics of yellow fever and malaria were rampant and the men on the job there often worked almost around the clock. A case of fever meant almost certain death and Mr. Rainwater saw it all around him. Among those to die were the head auditor in his office and the man in the desk next to his own.

Mr. Rainwater returned home on vacation after his first nine months in Panama and on May 23, 1906, married childhood sweetheart Gertrude Caughron, daughter of a Taylor, Texas farmer and railroad man.

He and Mrs. Rainwater returned to Panama, living in the city of Panama for about six months before moving out "on the line" of the canal construction area at Empire, an administrative center and residential city of some 300 housing units build for the canal project

Mr. Rainwater worked first as a stenographer to the chief clerk, then as stenographer to the auditor, and later helped to set up a new department as receiving tellers for the treasurer of the Isthmian Canal Commission. Subsequently, he became one of five paymasters who rode in a railway pay car along the canal route, meeting a very close schedule in which they were met by groups of workers who filed through the pay car past special teller windows.

Four of the paymasters, including Mr. Rainwater, paid the workmen in silver, issued to the paymasters in bags of $1,000 each which weighed 55 pounds per bag. A fifth teller paid in gold coin. The paymasters averaged disbursing $100,00 each per day during a four-day trip across the Isthmus, then spent the fifth day balancing up. They made up any shortages out of their own pocket, including possible losses for forged time cards.

Although one paymaster lost several hundred dollars to forgeries on a single trip - all later recovered - Mr. Rainwater luckily never had to make up any such losses.

Prior to his departure for Panama, Roscoe Rainwater taught school for several years at Sandoval and Beaukiss, attending Normal School in Georgetown in the summer months.

He attended Hill's Business College in Waco during the summers of 1903 and 1904, then worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper at Coleman and Laredo, before making the move to Houston, which led him to apply for a job in the Canal Zone.


Related Articles

Photo and article from the collection of Susan Chance-Rainwater and R. Steven Rainwater.