The Dust Bowl:
How did it Impact the Lives of Agricultural Families of the Great Plains?
December 19th, 2013
Ruth very much enjoyed her mile-long walks home from school in the Great Plains of Oklahoma. It seemed especially beautiful on this sunny afternoon in the fall of 1933. Apart from the peace and quiet of walking alone, she enjoyed the beautiful nature around her. The flatness of the land, which had recently been bountifully planted with green and yellow fields of cotton, corn and wheat, never seized to amaze her. She absolutely loved being in the Oklahoma countryside, and never wanted to leave. Unfortunately for Ruth, before her walk home had been completed that afternoon, day turned into night, and she found herself in the middle of a vicious dust storm that would turn her pretty light dress into a deep shade of red. While Ruth did not yet fully understand this, her walks home from school would never look the same. This dust storm would foreshadow a significant and permanent change in the lives of those living in the Great Plains. The storm Ruth experienced on her walk home turned out to be the first dust storm of a natural phenomenon that is today referred to as the “Dust Bowl.” While people initially thought that the 1933 storm was just a natural oddity, storms kept coming for the better part of the next decade, forever changing the landscape of the great American Plains. The Dust Bowl severely impacted the lives of agricultural families in the American Plains, uprooting them from their way of life, their farms and their communities. Making matters worse for these families was the fact that the United States as a whole was still in the middle of the Great Depression, which forced many of them into government sponsored camps. This paper will focus on the exact way in which the lives of individuals were impacted by the Dust Bowl. By focusing on five people that lived in the Great Plains during this time, this paper will seek to shed light on the Dust Bowl as it was experienced by the individual. It will touch on their recollections prior to and during the Dust Bowl, as well as the difficulties they encountered in emigrating towards a better life. Historical Background
While the focus of this paper is the individual that lived through the Dust Bowl, any paper on the subject is required to at least give a short summary of the phenomenon and what is thought to have caused it. The Dust Bowl was caused by a series of events dating all the way back to the 19th century. It all began with the availability of cheap land, which brought many farmers to the Great Plains. In the latter half of the 19th century, the country had been crossed by the transcontinental rail, and railroads needed people and goods to transport across their tracks. With the government’s Homestead Act, land in the Great Plains became so cheap that it was virtually free. Americans have had a long standing tradition of seeking property, and the Great Plains became a very affordable place to attain it. In addition, an unusual long-lasting period of rain made farmers believe that the Great Plains was blessed with fertile lands. Many of these farmers were ignorant to the fact that the Great Plains had a history of climatic cycles of rain and droughts.1
I addition to the ever increasing amount of farmers in the Great Plains, a significant contributor to the Dust Bowl was the introduction of better plows and tractors as farming equipment. Farmers’ ability to plow increasingly larger fields due to better technology, combined with the fact that soil conservation techniques was not a high priority, would prove to be very destructive for the fragile Great Plains soil. The combination of the above facts with the beginning of a new and very severe drought cycle created the perfect ingredients for dust storms. As crops failed due to the drought, enormous amounts of farm fields remained bare and exposed to the summer heat....
Bibliography: Primary Sources
Belezzuoli, Ethel Oleta Wever. Interview by Stacey Jagels. CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY –The 1930s Migration to the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California State College, Bakersfield. March 18, 1981. http://www.csub.edu/library/special/dustbowl/interviews/Belezzuoli124.pdf
Holmes, Loye Lucille Martin. Interview by Judith Gannon. CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY –The 1930s Migration to the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California State College, Bakersfield. February 23-24, 1981. http://www.csub.edu/library/special/dustbowl/interviews/Holmes113.pdf
Mitchell, Viola Lilian Maxwell. Interview by Stacey Jagels. CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY –The 1930s Migration to the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California State College, Bakersfield. January 12-15, 1981. http://www.csub.edu/library/special/dustbowl/interviews/Mitchell102.pdf
Pate, Reverend Billy H. Interview by Michael Neely. CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY –The 1930s Migration to the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California State College, Bakersfield. March 5, 1981. http://www.csub.edu/library/special/dustbowl/interviews/Pate117.pdf
Seabolt, Joyce V. Interview by Stacey Jagels. CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY –The 1930s Migration to the Southern San Joaquin Valley. California State College, Bakersfield. March 19, 1981. http://www.csub.edu/library/special/dustbowl/interviews/Seabolt126.pdf
Ganzel, Bill. Dust bowl descent. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984)
Hurt, R. Douglas. The Dust Bowl: an agricultural and social history. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981)
Stein, Walter J. California and the Dust Bowl migration. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973)
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