Dust Bowl essay

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Dust Bowl Bibliography

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Bonnifield, Matthew Paul. The Dust Bowl: Men Dirt and Depression. University of New Mexico Press, 1979.

A journalist named Robert Geiger first coined the term Dust Bowl in the 1930s, which was a decade of extreme droughts, blizzards, tornadoes, dust storms and other climatic changes. Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and other Plains states bore the brunt of this drought, and Dr. Bonnifield lived through it at the time. This region of the country was highly arid and semi-desert even at the best of times, and had undergone a big speculative boom in wheat farming during World War I and the 1920s. When the drought began in 1930, coinciding with the Great Depression, these events caught the Plains farmers completely unaware and unprepared. Many went bankrupt and abandoned their farms, turning into migrant workers and economic refugees on the West Coast. Huge dust storms that continued until 1938 combined with record-breaking heat caused hundreds of deaths every year. Often the wheat crops were completely destroyed as the land was blown away in storms that could last a month or longer. At times, the dust blew as far east as New York, as in the great storm of 1935 or the "snuster" of 1938, which combined snow and dirt.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. NY: Mariner Books, 2006.

This book received a National Book Award for its coverage of the Dust Bowl from the point-of-view of those who actually survived it. These High Plains regions can be a desolate and frightening place even in good times, empty and desolate, lacking rivers, trees, hills or large towns, and always featuring extremes of storms and climate variability. Now there are even emptier than in frontier times, full of abandoned farms and houses. In the 1930s, the people here went through a truly hellish experience which seemed to many of them like the end of the world, when the earth itself turned against them. In these parts, the great 1930s drought was always called "the drouth" in which dust clouds rose to 10,000 feet or more and covered everything, including clothing, hair and food and farmers had to use shovels to clear it out of their houses as the storms continued for days and weeks on end. In 1934, the storms even blew hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic, covering the ships there, while cattle, horses and humans were blinded, driven mad and suffocated by the clouds and died of "dust pneumonia." Even today, elderly persons who lived through these times still have nightmares about them. These Plains had always been dry, so much so that in the 19th Century, tuberculosis patients had been sent to sanitaria here for their health, but in the 1930s, summer temperatures stayed over 100 degrees for months -- and in those times few buildings had air conditioning. People wore masks when going outdoors, and the sky would be turned into black, purple and brown and was full of lightening and static electricity. In these storms, birds fell dead from the sky by the thousands. Worst of all was Black Sunday on April 14, 1935, in which 300,000 tons of topsoil blew away, ruining 100 million acres of farmland in a day.

Ganziel, Bill. Dust Bowl Descent. University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

This is a short (130 pages) cultural and social history illustrated with Farm Security Administration pictures as well and contemporary photos taken by Bill Ganziel, along with oral history interviews about the lives of those who endured the Dust Bowl and their descendents.

Gregory, James N. American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Dorothea Lange took one of the iconic depression photographs in 1936 called "Migrant Mother," of a careworn woman and her small children living in a tent city in San Luis Obispo, California. These were pea pickers waiting for the harvest, and they had run out of money and food, but received no assistance from the government. These migrants were not like the legendary pioneers of the 19th Century, for they were driven not by hope and optimism for the future, but by fear, poverty and desperation in a country whose economy seemed to have stopped functioning. They were not really going anywhere, and the images of their plight only seemed to reflect the complete failure of American society. So it was when John Steinbeck wrote his famous novel about the Joad family, tenant farmers forced off their land to survive as best they could in California. These Okies, Arkies and South-westerners were not exactly welcomed with open arms, and received distinctly worse treatment than other white migrants to the West Coast. In the 1930s and 1940s, they lived segregated into Little Oklahoma neighborhoods where they maintained their own institutions and subculture like country music, Southern accents and evangelical Protestant churches in places like Bakersfield. Only very gradually were they assimilated after the Second World War when then began to achieve a modest level of prosperity, but for many years they remained within their own tight enclave communities.

Hunt, R. Douglas. The Dust Bowl: An Agricultural and Social History. Burnham, Inc., 1981.

People caught up in the Dust Bowl often resorted to magic, prayer, rain dances and con artists of various tops in order to induce the rain to return. Spring time was the worst of all for these great dust storms, especially in 1935-36 in southwestern Kansas. Droughts in this region could last five or ten years and there had always been dust storms there. These were known to follow a 30-40-year cycle, with severe droughts in the 1860s, 1890s and of course the 1930s. In the 19th Century in Kansas and Nebraska, dust storms were known to pile up dirt in giant drifts, even though the dry climate was widely regarded as very healthy. In Kansas, the drought of the 1890s had produced great dust storms that were able to scratch glass and peel off skin, also killing thousands of cattle and horses. Erosion and loss of topsoil had always been a major problem in these Plains states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska ever since farming had begun there. Drought, wind, lack of vegetation frequently caused dust storms long before the 1930s since much of the land was actually unsuitable for agriculture -- particularly the kind practiced there of large-scale wheat farming. Overproduction in the 1920s made the dust storms in Kansas worse than they had even been before in the next decade, but these same practices have continued into the present.

La Chapelle, Peter. Proud to be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music and Migration to Southern California. University of California Press, 2007.

A cultural history of the Dust Bowl migrants and the centrality of country music in their lives, from Woody Guthrie's radical populism to the cultural conservatism of Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee" in the 1960s and Buck Owens on Hee Haw in the 1970s. These migrants were originally Democrats and part of the New Deal coalition, but they turned to conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in reaction to the counterculture and New Left student radicalism, which offended their patriotism, evangelical Protestant religion and traditional family values. This study reinforces the idea of the cultural and religious conservatism of working class and lower middle class whites in the South and Southwest, which cost the Democrats millions of votes when the Republicans adopted their famous Southern Strategy.

Riley-Kehrberg, Pamela. Rooted in Dust: Surviving Drought and Depression in Southwestern Kansas. University Press of Kansas, 1994.

For Plains residents in the 1930s, drought added to the miseries of mass poverty, hunger and unemployment, and from the Dakotas to Texas, these were the worst economic and environmental times in U.S. history. Southwestern Kansas was the heart of the Dust Bowl, and one-quarter of the population fled from there in the 1930s. Those who remained faced truly horrendous conditions in of repossession of farms, government relief, low prices, crop failures, and hard work for very little reward. Many could not even afford to migrate or they would have left as well, since lives and communities disintegrated in the midst of mass poverty and hopelessness. This area had been settled once before in the 1890s, but drought and depression had collapsed the economy and forced the frontier to recede again. There was another major expansion of wheat production due to the high prices of World War I, just as there would be again during World War II. At least half of the farmers were renters, tenants or speculators gambling on high wheat prices during these boom periods, and they had little incentive to preserve the land or engage in conservation practices. This contributed greatly to the degree and intensity of the 1930s dust storms, which were as much caused by human greed and shortsightedness as by nature.

Shindo, Charles R. Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination. University…[continue]

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