The Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl was an incredible phenomenon during the 1930’s in which the early settlers dug up the deep rooted native grasses of the Great Plains to plant wheat and other non-native commodity crops. In doing so, settlers unleashed a chain of events that would haunt this generation eternally. A lack of dry-land farming knowledge combined with a string of unprecedented droughts caused the “virgin topsoil” to literally blow away in the ever-present winds.
The Homestead Act
Encouraged by the Homestead Act, settlers came from near and far (but mostly far). It was a time when many Europeans were exploring the Great Plains, and this migration was made easier by the First Transcontinental Railroad. The “Overland Route” connected the existing Eastern U.S. rail network to the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco Bay.
The Topsoil of the Great Plains
The topsoil of the Great Plains reportedly made it all the way to NY City at times, carried by the jet stream eastward. Homesteaders that stayed on the land during the dust bowl years suffered many ailments including dust pneumonia, rickets, valley fever, and malnutrition (to name just a few).
The Worst Hard Time
In the fall of 1932, many farmers did not plant a crop of next year’s wheat. What was the point? They could hope for the drought to end and bring in a good harvest next year, but if the price was anywhere close what it had been for the last two years, it meant only another shove toward bankruptcy. The challenge was to keep a smidgen of self respect while living on what you could kill or grow in a garden. Life was on hold, suspended until the rains returned. To see land that you had brought to life turn to nothing was as sad as watching a friend die of a long illness. And then to fallow that land, because hope itself was gone, was harder still. — Excerpt from “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan
The Plow That Broke the Plains
Below is a historical documentary titled “The Plow That Broke the Plains” (1936). The short documentary was written and directed by Pare Lorentz, and it depicts what happened to the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada when uncontrolled agricultural farming led to the Dust Bowl. The film was sponsored by the U.S. Resettlement Administration to raise awareness about “The New Deal”. It was considered controversial at the time, especially to those settlers riding out the Dust Bowl who thought the film sensationalized their plight on the plains.
credits: Wikipedia, YouTube, & “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan