The 1930s during the Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl
Perhaps it left my memory but I honestly do not recall learning much of anything about the Dust Bowl during my school years, despite learning about the Great Depression.
- With focus on both European and American History, it seems that in elementary and early high school, many topics were given a very broad overview or summary just to be able to fit it into the curriculum and move on to the next topic.
- It is only through becoming a bit of a History buff later in life that I stumbled upon detailed information regarding the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
I am pleased to hear that American children from 4th grade to 8th grade and beyond (depending on the school they attend) are learning a lot more about the Dust Bowl in school nowadays.
If you are a teacher thinking about creating a lesson plan for the Dust Bowl, pbs.org offers a lot of resources.
Learning about the Dust Bowl in History class
It is such an important story in the fabric of American history and teaches a lot of life lessons. Especially in these times, it is good for American children to see the resilience of the families that came before theirs. Throughout history there have been great struggles for people to overcome. We know how history is often said to repeat itself.
Times of struggle are not going to end soon but we do need to deal with and rise up out of circumstances. Thus, the historical stories of generations before can resonate with us in the present day and for overcoming adversity, these stories can be very inspiring indeed.
My understanding of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s greatly inspires me to know the resilience of Americans at that time. While the Great Depression was still happening a natural disaster occurred to add enormous stress. It was called the Dust Bowl and affected several areas including the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Due to terrible drought, crops no longer grew and high winds caused dust to be picked up and travel in enormous clouds over various areas. Easter Sunday of 1935 was known as Black Sunday because the phenomenon of the Dust Bowl was especially bad on that day. Many found that the whole sky seemed black in the middle of the afternoon.
Surviving the Dust Bowl
As this was considered an historical event in later years, it was further dissected and analyzed as history always is. Many of those who survived that time have been interviewed and many powerful and insightful documentaries have been compiled. One of the best I found is at pbs.org and the video is named American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl.
The video is approximately one hour long and some of the insight that it includes is the statement that the farm land was over plowed.
- Because the once tall wheat crops of the Great Southern Plains (including the eastern parts of Colorado and New Mexico as well as Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma) were over plowed, the rich top soil was left overexposed.
- The drought and high winds caused the soil to become dust and blow up 100s of feet into the air, leaving a large expanse of land just bare and like a "wasteland".
- On some days, schools had to be closed. When they were not, the American Red Cross issued a mandate to provide face masks to young children especially.
- Walking in this dust with your mouth insufficiently covered would cause you to spit up dust that entered your mouth.
- Witnesses of the time of the Dust Bowl likened spitting up the dust to spitting out chewing tobacco.
Dead crops caused extreme poverty during the Dust Bowl
During the Dust Bowl, the land was said to become desert like.
Imagine a bird's nest being made out of barbed wire because the birds could find no other material (branches, grass) to build it.
Amazingly, farmers covered the mouths of their horses with face masks also so that the horses would not meet sickness and death from inhaling or swallowing the dust.
Sadly, the dead crops caused extreme poverty in addition to the economic times. Many people in this area could only eat cornbread and beans. Cattle suffered starvation and were killed in enormous numbers. Starving jack rabbits came down into the plains looking for food and were brutally killed with shotguns and clubs for protect farmers' remaining land.
Decade long drought conditions fueled the Dust Bowl
The drought continued and stunningly lasted a decade (all of the 1930's). Small children of the time grew up, spending an entire decade of their lives in the dust. By 1936, even the eastern U.S. states were experiencing the effects of the dust.
Back in the Southern Great Plains, people felt loyalty to their land but the devastation was causing them to lose hope.
- So many had died from what they called dust pneumonia at the time.
- After four years with no substantial rain, thousands of people began to leave and go towards California.
- They had to just pack up whatever they had and abandon their homes.
Some groups such as "The Last Man's Club" formed with the promise that they would stay on their land no matter what.
With this, some farmers did not admit defeat until as late as 1939 and just 6 months later they received relief in the form of rain.
Slideshow footage of the Dust Bowl can be found on YouTube
YouTube is also a good source of information for seeing actual footage of the Dust Bowl and black and white photos. Many people who lived through the time have uploaded home movies of their personal stories. Testimonies offered include a video where a couple of current Oklahoma residents are interviewed. They have lived in Oklahoma their whole lives and the woman in the video, who claims to have been 8 or 9 years old at the time of Black Sunday, offers her description.
Children assisted their mothers with covering the windows of their homes with towels or sheets that were soaked in water or pasted with starch so that the dust would stay out of the families' homes.
Covering the windows slowed down the dust but did not completely prevent it from entering the homes. Families had to set their dinner tables only immediately before it was time to eat and turn plates downward until it was time for the food to go on the plate.
Even then, dust still got into people's food. They ate dust and breathed dust when they were outside even when they took precautions to cover their nose and mouth with cloth and makeshift face masks.
Many deaths occurred from the complications of pulmonary illnesses and many survivers went on to have problems with their lungs. Parallels can be drawn to what surviving 9/11 rescue workers have gone through.
According to one man's testimony on livinghistoryfarm.org, chickens were coming to roost in the middle of the day during the Dust Bowl because it was so dark, the chickens thought is was night.
To turn away from the dust bowl disaster, a lot of peole emigrated to California where they found they were not welcome at all.
Californians were struggling with the effects of the Great Depression and many were jobless. There was fear that an influx of even more jobless people would be a threat to those residents looking for jobs.
Those seeking relief from the natural disaster eventually did receive some aid from the federal government (Franklin D. Roosevelt's The New Deal) with the sentiment that we are all Americans.
U.S. Dust Bowl of 1930's
Dust Bowl Refugees
Had you known the magnitude of this Dust Bowl event in American History?
Did you already know about the Dust Bowl prior to reading this discussion of what occurred?
© 2011 Nyesha Pagnou MPH