From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom.
- "The Great Dust Storm" Woody Guthrie
The 1930's was undoubtedly one of the last century's most tumultuous decades. Marked by the crash of the Stock Market on October 29, 1929, the 30's would bring an end to the glitz and glamor of the "Roaring Twenties." With the population of the United States suffering a severe and extremely devastating financial crisis, an environmental catastrophe would be brewing in it's Mid-West prairie lands.
The area known as the Great Plains has largely been known as the agricultural heartbeat of the country. Home to over millions of acres of farmland, it's inhabitants largely relied on it's production of crops in order make a living. Farmers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and parts of Colorado and New Mexico would find the mid-1930's to be a benevolent time of destruction to their homelands.
This photograph, by an unknown photographer was taken on April 18, 1935 in Stratford, Texas. The massive dust cloud is seen encroaching on the small farming town. What makes this image such a stark example of the storms is its juxtaposition of the dust clouds versus the clear skies above it. The people in the background seem to be surveying the omniscient power of what is headed towards them.
The Dust Bowl, as it's commonly called today was the result of a harsh combination of a drought and years upon years of extensive farming. The drought turned the soil of the land into dust that would later wreak utter havoc on the people. With their land unable to harvest crops, the people of the Great Plains were forced to uproot their lives and relocate to other areas of the country. This massive migration would be the largest mass resettlement in American history for such a short period of time. By the end of the decade, some 2.5 million people had left their homes.
This period of US History would also leave it's mark on the arts as well. Author John Steinbeck would win a Pulitzer Prize for his portrayal of a displaced Oklahoma family in Grapes of Wrath. Folk singer Woody Guthrie would also use the Dust Bowl as a topic for a few of his songs. The people of the Great Plains and their stories will long be remembered, if not from the legacy of literature and song but from the photographs that haunt its viewers to this day.
The Dust Bowl on Wikipedia
NOAA Photo Library