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Dust Bowl Days or the "Dirty Thirties"

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"If you would like to have your heart broken, just come out here. This is the dust-storm country. It is the saddest land I have ever seen."

-- Ernie Pyle, a roving reporter in

 Kansas, just north of the Oklahoma

 border, June, 1936.


Dust Bowl Days near Dalhart, Texas

Dust Bowl days near Dalhart, Texas, 1938, Dorothea Lange.

This image available for photo prints  and editorial downloads HERE!




The Dust Bowl of the 1930s, sometimes referred to as the "Dirty Thirties” lasted about a decade. This was a period of severe dust storms which caused major agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands, primarily from 1930 to 1936, but in some areas, until 1940. It was caused by severe drought and decades of extensive farming without crop rotation.


The primary area of impact was on the southern plains, though northern areas were also affected, though not nearly with as much devastation. The drought hit first in the eastern part of the country in 1930 and by the next year it began to move westward. By 1934, it had turned the Great Plains into a desert and helped to lengthen the Depression.


For decades, farmers had unknowingly not utilized the concepts of fallow fields and crop rotation, cover crops to manage soil fertility and quality, or other techniques to prevent erosion. The deep plowing of the topsoil had killed the natural vegetation that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during dry periods and high winds. Wheat crops, in high demand during World War I, further exhausted the topsoil and overgrazing stripped the western plains of virtually all other cover.


As a result, during the drought of the 1930s, the soil dried and turned to dust, soon blowing in large dark clouds. Given names like "Black Blizzards" and "Black Rollers," these rolling clouds often reduced visibility to a few feet.


The region most affected – the Great Plains, included more than 100 million acres, centered in Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, Kansas, and parts of Colorado and New Mexico. These millions of acres of farmland became useless and soon, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.


A resident of Oklahoma would say of the devastation, later published in Reader's Digest:

"In the dust-covered desolation of our No Man's Land here, wearing our shade hats, with handkerchiefs tied over our faces and vaseline in our nostrils, we have been trying to rescue our home from the wind-blown dust which penetrates wherever air can go. It is almost a hopeless task, for there is rarely a day when at some time the dust clouds do not roll over. 'Visibility' approaches zero and everything is covered again with a silt-like deposit which may vary in depth from a film to actual ripples on the kitchen floor."


The Dust Bowl got its name in April, 1935, when Robert Geiger, a reporter for the Associated Press, traveled through the region and wrote the following: "Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer's tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent - if it rains." The term stuck, spreading across the airwaves and newspapers, though the people of the region hated the negative term, which they knew played a part in diminishing property values and business prospects in the region.


Soon hundreds of thousands of people began to abandon their land when the dust storms showed no signs of letting up. Others were forced out when their land was taken in bank foreclosures. In all, more than 500,000 people, primarily from Texas and Oklahoma, were left homeless. One-quarter of the population left the affected area, packing up everything they owned and heading westward, where they hoped to find greater opportunities.



Continued Next Page




"The land just blew away; we had to go somewhere."

-- Kansas preacher, June, 1936




Dust bowl days in Oklahoma

Dust Bowl in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936, by  Arthur Rothstein.

This image available for photo prints  and editorial downloads HERE!



Dust Bowl Farmer's son

Son of a Dust Bowl farmer in Cimarron County,  Oklahoma, 1936,

 Arthur Rothstein.

This image available for photo prints  and editorial downloads HERE!


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