In 1938, Waddell was at the center of a human tragedy caused by nature and the cotton industry.
Cotton farmers had put in a record crop that year, and growers feared there would not be enough pickers. The Farm Labor Service launched a recruiting campaign. Flyers were handed out in neighboring states and advertisements put newspapers, to attract migrant workers to the valley. The program may have been too successful. Reportedly some 25,000 people were lured to Arizona from September 1937 through the early months of 1938.
As the cotton harvest was finishing up in Arizona, in early 1938, transient families were encouraged to travel on to California to follow the harvest of crops there. But heavy rains in January and February in California caused massive flooding. California crops were wiped out and the roads west were impassable. Many farm workers, unable to proceed on to California, turned back to the Salt RiverValley where they joined those workers who had not yet moved on. With no work, poor living conditions and little money to live on, sickness and hunger ravaged the farm camps.
One of those camps was the Waddell camp located north of the cotton gin at Cotton Lane and Waddell Road. After public outcry about the reported conditions, the Waddell camp was inspected by Arizona Governor R. C. Stanford and the state superintendant of public health, Dr. Colt Hughes. Many families were on the verge of starvation. Widespread illness included measles, whooping cough and typhoid fever. Nurses were sent to the camps and emergency food supplies were brought in. Several children with typhoid were sent by ambulance to the county clinic. Similar conditions were found at the worker camps all over the valley.