Present a Production Silence Speaks
The Flatland Transformed: Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl Years
Oklahoma was becoming another prosperous settlement of the as-of-yet fledgling American West. Those who sought a new start and a new way of life went west. Many chose to go to Oklahoma.
By 1893, so many people had chosen Oklahoma that the local authorities tried to enforce strict hours for land claims.
To give themselves an advantage, early risers were known to sneak into the unclaimed territory before sunrise and claim the best land. Nobody asked too many questions, and the “sooners” stayed.
As soon as the settlers staked their claims, they started building and farming. Of course, getting the claim registered took a while…
…but as soon as the real estate lawyers had the records, new horizons appeared for many who had fled the crowded East.
In 1907, the Federal government granted Oklahoma statehood due to the rapid increase in population.
In Oklahoma, the flatlands stretched out as far as the eye could see. The best part for the settlers was that almost all the land was arable.
With the right mixture of rain and sun – something that happened on a regular basis between 1905 and 1925 – orchards, grain farms, and cattle ranchers thrived.
The prosperity from the harvests of healthy crops brought all the amenities of fine living, such as a drug store with a soda fountain.
…and the prosperity overflowed into education with such buildings as the Carnegie Library…
…and a public service depot, which brought even more new job opportunities to the Oklahoma City area.
The University of Oklahoma was built, and its students have always been known as the Sooners.
Relations with the Indians were good, and Wapanucka Indian Academy was founded.
Oklahoma City sprawled out and forced the formation of other outlying towns…
More blacksmiths and farmers and doctors and lawyers and tradesmen were needed in these settlements, and they came, and they, too, prospered.
The railroads also flourished, building lines to connect all the major settlements.
The years rolled on, and 1929 came. Everything looked wonderful on paper. The trains ran, the people went to work, the land produced well.
It culminated on Tuesday, October 29, 1929 – known as “Black Tuesday.”
Over 26 billion [1929 value] dollars were lost on Black Tuesday. News reporters filmed businessmen jumping from Manhattan skyscrapers upon hearing the news of the stock market crash. If the same crash happened today, proportionally, the market would suddenly slide over $3.25 trillion, catapulting the world market into chaos and reverting value to the gold standard.
Despite the turmoil on Wall Street, Oklahoma seemed all right. In 1930 and 1931, Oklahoma displayed unparalleled prosperity and growth. “Nation’s Business” magazine labeled the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas as the most prosperous region in the United States. The situation in the Panhandle area exhibited a marked contrast from the long soup lines in the East.
Oklahoma had dodged the fallout from the stock market crash, but nobody in the southern Midwest could dodge nature’s bullet.
Paul Bonnifield tells of the worst days of the Dust Bowl storms in his account, "The Dust Bowl, Men, Dirt and Depression."
“In September 1930, it rained over five inches in a very short time in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The flooding in Cimarron County was accompanied by a dirt storm which damaged several small buildings and granaries. Later that year, the regions were whipped again by a strong dirt storm from the southwest until the winds gave way to a blizzard from the north. After the blizzards in winter 1930-1931, the drought began.”
“First the northern plains felt the dry spell, but by July the southern plains were in the drought. It was not until late September that the ground had enough water to justify planting. Because of the late planting and early frost, much of the wheat was small and weak when the spring winds of 1932 began to blow. The wheat was also beaten by dirt from the abandoned fields. In March, there were twenty-two days of dirt storms and drifts began to build in the fence rows.”
“In late January 1933, the region was blasted by a magnificent dirt storm which killed much of the wheat. In early February, the thermometer dropped seventy four degrees in eighteen hours to a record low at Boise City. The mercury stayed below freezing for several days until another dirt storm scourged the land. Before the year was over, locals counted 139 ‘dirty days’ in 1933.”
“Although the dirt storms were fewer in 1934, it was the year which brought the Dust Bowl national attention. In May, a severe storm blew dirt from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas as far east as New York City and Washington, D.C. In spite of the terrific storm in May, the year 1934 was pleasant respite from the blowing dirt and tornadoes of the previous year.”
“But nature had another trick up her sleeve. The year was extremely hot with new records being made and broken at regular intervals. Before the year had run its course, hundreds of people in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas had died from the heat.”
“In 1935, the weather in the Dust Bowl again made the national headlines. This storm was followed by another and yet another in rapid succession. In late March a severe storm lashed Boise City so hard that many people were stranded for hours. No one dared to leave a store and head for home although it might be less than a block away.”