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The Dust BowlAn American Tragedy Jim McNeill Silver Bluff High School 64 DeSoto Drive Aiken, SC For NCHE
What were the causes of the Dust Bowl? There was no single cause for one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the United States.
The Great Plains have always suffered from repeated drought cycles. However, the natural vegetation of the plains, a combination of deep- rooted grasses Including buffalo grass, were able to withstand the dry periods when they occurred.
With continued westward expansion, settlers arrived in the region, many of them to farm.
“Wheat was the preferred crop for many farmers, especially when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. The demand for grain overseas was high, and prices rose from less than a dollar a bushel to over two dollars a bushel in 1917.”
Increased profits brought new economic options… “Not everyone believed that such a narrow focus was sensible. ‘Wisely or other-wisely, this region has permitted wheat growing to become its main concern,’ said author Caroline A. Henderson, a farm wife from Eva, Oklahoma.” Farmers purchased tractors, disc harrows and combine harvesters to expand their tilled fields and continue reaping large profits from their crops.
“The lands were planted to wheat year after year without a thought as to the damage that was being done. Grasslands that should have never been plowed were plowed up. Millions of acres of farm land in the great plains were broken. 1930 was dry but most of the farmers made a wheat crop. In 1931 the wheat crop was considered a bumper crop with over twelve million bushels of wheat. Wheat was everywhere, in the elevators, on the ground and in the road. The wheat supply forced the price down from sixty-eight cents/bushel in July 1930 to twenty-five cents/bushel in July 1931. Many farmers went broke and others abandoned their fields. “ http://www.ccccok.org/museum/dustbowl.html
“With prices low, money tight, and drought affecting more than half of the nation, all it took was one more factor – wind – to create disaster on the plains . . .As historian Vance Johnson writes, ‘Every wind was destructive, and the wind blew almost every day. . .Acre by acre, the crops were torn out by their roots and carried away.’” http://www.ccccok.org/museum/dustbowl.html
Many farmers who stayed on their land switched to raising cattle. That met with, at best, limited success since the animals required large amounts of range land for feed.
Droughts began in 1930 – 1931. Planting was delayed in 1932 and winds destroyed much of the crops. 1933 saw over 100 “dirty Days.” 1934 was a calmer year, but did see wind storms that carried dirt all the way to New York City and beyond. 1935 was a severe year with early storms lashing the region. On April 14, a dust storm so large arose that it had an impact on Washington D.C. This day was called “Black Sunday.”
“During 1936, the number of dirt storms increased and the temperature broke the 1934 record high by soaring above 120 degrees in parts of Kansas. 1937 was another year of unprecedented dirt storms. Day after day, Dust Bowl farmers unwillingly traded farms as the land moved back and forth between Texas and Kansas. 1938 was the year of the "snuster". The snuster was a mixture of dirt and snow Reaching blizzard proportions.” http://www.ccccok.org/museum/dustbowl.html
How did the people cope with the conditions? “When the wind blew in the dust bowl, something as ordinary as breathing became a challenge. . .it (dust) would just coat the inside of your nose literally. And sometimes your mouth would just get cottony dry because . . .you spit out dirt. . .It looked like tobacco juice. . .But just thought that was part of livin.’ ” http://www.ppld.org/AboutYourLibrary/Events/appr2008/curriculumguideLifeDuringTheDustBowl.pdf
“The blowing dirt made daily routines burdensome and depressing. Whether one was trying to keep house, run a small business, go to school, or go to church, the impact of The dust was serious.” “Everything that had a surface became dusty. Clothes hanging on the line to dry ended up stiff with dirt. Families went to sleep on clean sheets and pillowcases and awoke to find everything dirty but the spots where they had lain.”
Many chose to leave, abandoning their homes and history to seek a new life in California and other west coast states, lured by the opportunity for work.
Many of the migrants struggled to reach their destinations and met obstacles along the way. The experiences of these “Okies” and “Arkies” became the basis for John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
A return of more abundant rainfall beginning in 1938 and a focus on the nation’s needs during World War II helped bring the region out of its crisis. “The Dust Bowl taught farmers new farming methods and techniques. The 1930's fostered a whole new era of soil conservation. Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned form the Dust Bowl - take care of the land.” http://www.ccccok.org/museum/dustbowl.html http://www.newint.org/issue378/earth.htm
http://drought.unl.edu/whatis/dustbowl.htm#coping The Soil Conservation Service (SCS)—now The Natural Resources Conservation Service began to stress soil conservation measures. Through their efforts, the first soil conservation districts came into being, and demonstration projects were carried out to show the benefits of practices such as terracing, contour plowing, conservation tillage and the reintroduction of windbreaks.
Wind Break or Shelter Belt http://www.forestry.ok.gov/windbreaks-shelterbelts Contour Plowing http://www.cottoninc.com/Soil-Resources/Controlling-Soil-Erosion/
Sources http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/dustbowl/ http://www.ccccok.org/museum/dustbowl.html http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/depression/dustbowl.htm http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/water_02.html http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tshome.html http://www.weru.ksu.edu/new_weru/multimedia/dustbowl/dustbowlpics.html http://www.humanities-interactive.org/texas/dustbowl/ http://drought.unl.edu/whatis/dustbowl.htm http://www.shorpy.com/ http://www.woodyguthrie.org/ http://newdeal.feri.org/hopkins/hop27.htm http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tsme.html http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/drought/dust_storms.shtml http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/D/DU012.html