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Humongous clouds of dust doomed numbers of people in blackness. No way to escape, people were surrounded. Dust was getting everywhere: in their mouth, eyes, nose making it hard to breathe. It had entered houses through any minor cracks. The dust was even in food people ate and it was impossible to get rid of. People were in despair. “Now the wind grew strong and hard and it worked at the rain crust in the corn fields. Little by little the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and carried away. The wind grew stronger. The rain crust broke and the dust lifted up out of the fields and drove gray plumes into the air like sluggish smoke. The corn threshed the wind and made a dry, rushing sound. The finest dust did not settle back to earth now, but disappeared into the darkening sky. … The people came out of their houses and smelled the hot stinging air and covered their noses from it. And the children came out of the houses, but they did not run or shout as they would have done after a rain. Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men – to feel whether this time the men would break.”- John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath (1939)” Dust has ruined lives of people, physically and mentally, it had touched the economy as well. Who caused this tremendous catastrophe? People did. Now they had to do what it takes to get rid of fatal effects of the dust bowl.
The disaster was ecological, economical, social, and cultural. The disaster was caused by the combination of environmental and human factors. It lasted ten years. Disaster caused people change their farming ways, leave their homes and suffer. This terrible disaster lasted ten years, and got its name from Associated Press reporter who called it dust bowl on news “Three little words achingly familiar on the Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent – if it rains.”
The climate was an important cause of the dust bowl. The climate of the Great Plain’s region is dry and windy; winds reached the speed of 60mph. Scientists believed that drought which caused the dust bowl to take place occurred because it happened same time as La Nina event in the Pacific Ocean. Cold sea surface temperatures reduced the amount of moisture entering the jet stream and directed it south to U.S., were it hit The Great Plains. The only thing that kept the soil on place is its vegetation, which is thick grass that doesn’t need much water. The land of Great Plains had experienced drought from 1931 to 1937 which turned out to be much worse then it would because of human interference. In 1800s railroads were built throughout the United States. In 1862 government promised free land to anyone who moved to the prairie for five years. Free land was a good reason for a move, while the railroads aided the migration. They planted crop and farmed. Between 1909 and 1932 more then 30 million acres of land were plowed. It seemed like a huge profit for the farmers to plow so much land, yet they ignored one moment, that the land those years lost its main protection, the grass. All plowing they did turned crucial causing the black blizzards. In 1920s people came up with new, fast, and effective ways of getting crops, they had new equipment and the work was much more efficient. Most of farmers couldn’t afford such expensive technology, so they rented it and worked harder in order to pay for the rent and still get some profit. In late 1920s national economy went into decline, so this had encouraged farmers to work harder. In 1930 farmers of Southern Plains planted a lot of wheat, plowing the land which should not be plowed. The region wasn’t set for the European- style agriculture; it was called The Great American Desert. The ground was abused. Droughts followed and nothing would grow, instead the plowed land went dry and titanic winds have blown this ground away creating enormous cloud of pitch black dust covering the skies, harming people, making living dangerous and extremely difficult. In 1931 was the record wheat crop, which sent the wheat prices to the minimum which asked for more effort of farmers who needed to meet the required equipment and farm payments. In 1931 the winds begin to blow creating “black blizzards”. In 1932 the number of dust storms increases dramatically to fourteen, next year rose up to thirty two.
Many Europeans migrated to the plains in 20th century. Most of them migrated for farming. This led to major increase in farming. Not only people, but equipment was improving making farming even more efficient and of greater scale. After WWI the prices on products dropped dramatically, encouraging farmers to work harder. Farmers used harsh farming methods which led to erosion. For example cotton farmers left land bare in winter when winds are at their strongest. Some burned the stubble, or form of weeding prior to planting where the organic nutrients from soil are deprived making ground vulnerable to erosion. The native grasses which used to hold the soil were plowed. This left the ground unprotected.
In 1930s drought worsened the economic condition. Many farmers required government’s assistance. According to (http://www.drought.unl.edu/whatis/dustbowl.htm) 21% of rural families in the Great Plains received federal emergency relief. People from Southern Plains migrated because living was extremely difficult there. People had nowhere to go “And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless – restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do – to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut – anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.”
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939.These people migrated mostly to California and were named Oakies. Even though people were not only from Oklahoma, they were named Oakies due to largest percent from Oklahoma. They chose California mostly because of its mild climate; its climate provided long growing season and big crop diversity, it was a perfect place for farmers. California didn’t welcome the Oakies because they looked for jobs creating employment problems, sudden growth of workers and less job spaces. As Oakies migrated to California, ethnic fights between them and people from California occurred, because Oakies were ethnocentric, meaning that they thought their culture/ethnicity is prior to all. This created some long lasting effects like bad stereotypes of Oakies in Californian society. As Oakies took farmland the wages went extremely low which wasn’t enough for feeding the families. Many set camps at irrigation ditches on farms. These ditch banks had poor sanitary conditions and caused some major health issues. Farmers were kicked out of jobs because the land was messed up and they couldn’t grow crops, families who owned farms became poor also, because their money was based on work of farmers who got fired. Landowning families migrated because else they were bankrupt. Some say that roots of this disaster went way back from 1914 when the Turkish Navy blockaded the Dardanelles and cut off Russian wheat distribution to the rest of the world. Because of the sudden increase of demand Southern Plain farmers plowed the land that they had never plowed before. From 1932 the rain has stopped leaving the ground unprotected to raging winds, which blew the dry soil off forming clouds of dust. As the wheat price fell because of deflation after World War I they plowed even more to meet economic needs which made the ground even more vulnerable. In May another dust storm blew east blocking the sun in New York. The dust from Southern Plains had even appeared on President Roosevelt’s desk! Ref. (http://www.humanities-interactive.org/texas/dustbowl/thedustbowl_essay.htm) Dust reached 500 miles out to sea Ref. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/snprelief2.htm )
Due to the dust bowl kids saw their parents getting broke which affected their, yet unstable psychology. Kids had to play with anything they fund because parents couldn’t afford to buy any toys. Bigger kids had to help their parents do different jobs necessary for survival.
It was really tough to find food because everything was in dust, farmers didn’t have time to grow cattle, because they were fighting the harsh conditions. People would go to parks were special areas for cooking. People could built a fireplace and cook some simple foods they could find, afford. People shared with each other to give others a better chance for survival.
Dust Bowl gave birth to many excellent American art which included literature photography and music. For example Classics Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein bring the image of dust bowl in their writings, as well as John Steinbeck in his “The Grapes of Wrath”, or Woody Guthrie whose ballads, such as “The Great Dust Storm” gives us the feel of what its like to witness this disaster. This is extremely important because it shows that even in such a horrible thing like Dust Bowl people still found some positive effects. It is very difficult to look for positive sides of terrible things. It might sound strange but in a way Dust Bowl developed American culture to a little extent.
Charles L.Todd and Robert Sonkin made an expedition to migrant camps in California to discover more about how was it to live in those harsh conditions, to discover effects of dust bowl. Main point of Todd/Sonkin expedition was to document life in (FSA) Farm Security Administration camp in California.
At some points, people couldn’t see further than five feet ahead of themselves. It has been reported that in the beginning of 1935, the people began to die because of disease that they called the dust pneumonia. Ref. (rmpbs.org.) there were no official death rates for this period of time, and that the symptoms of this pneumonia were just the simple high fever, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, and a cough. The prairie dust was extremely fine – smaller than the period at the end of this sentence – with high silica content, which caused a type of silicosis similar to the black lung disease seen in coal miners back east. “Black at the base and tan at the top rose from the fields of eastern Colorado and western Kansas and began to move south. Inside the cloud darkness was totalâ€¦. People in the cloud’s path thought the end of the world had comeâ€¦” – Ian Frazier, Great Plains. by December 1935, about 850 million tons of top soil has been blown away, about 25% of U.S. population left the U.S.A, and about 2.5 million people moved out of Southern Plains. “If you would like to have your heart broken, just come out here”.- Ernie Pyle, reporter. At some point in 1935 the Red Cross has handed out 10000 masks to school which became solidly plunged with dirt in about an hour
It wasn’t until 1941 when Plains finally started to recover. The other version is that in 1920 farmers got new equipment like plows and listers, this made their work easier and vaster. They plowed more land then it could bear because now it was much easier, plus they needed to do it because of deflation after WWI. The equipment coasted big money which required more work on the fields to meet the coasts. Farmers used disk plows rather then listers, because the work was done faster this way, but plows caused much more damage to the ground making it vulnerable to wind erosion, soil moisture, depletion, depleted soil nutrients, and drought.
The drought program which was started by U.S. government has been applied to benefit people who had witnessed the horrible disaster. It has included four points.
Providing emergency supplies, cash, and livestock feed and transport to maintain the basic functioning of livelihoods and farms/ ranches.
Establishing health care facilities and supplies to meet emergency medical needs.
Establishing government-based markets for farm goods, higher tariffs, and loan funds for farm market maintenance and business rehabilitation.
4)Providing the supplies, technology, and technical advice necessary to research, implement,
and promote appropriate land management strategies.
Even though the program helped people, it was not enough, because the disaster still lasted and they had to witness it. People got sick; fell in depression because thought their future was ruined. Yet, most of them didn’t loose their faith and overcame this horrible event by making jokes like:” birds fly backwards so sand doesn’t get in their eyes”. People had stamina, humor, and optimism which were the main traits to keep them alive and well during this horrible period. By 1941 most areas previously dry had normal rainfall, moreover, the climate has brought economic boom to the country. In about 1980 people forgot awful droughts and stopped paying attention to anti drought programs. They started practicing same farming methods that they used to practice in 1930s which caused some more trouble until 1990. Droughts of 1930s and The Great Depression led to relief expenditures of 525 billion dollars by the Congress. Now to avoid avoiding farther soil problems during droughts, which cause such global impact on people, Soil Conservation Service is at work in order to keep away from future disasters of such kind. After drought conservation practices and irrigation increased, farm sizes grew larger, crop diversity increased, federal crop insurance was established, and the regional economy was diversified.
The tremendous disaster had caused a lot of death and ruined the peoples’ spirit, yet it united people and taught them to stay positive in hard times, plus it made them look back at their mistakes and learn at them. Now people learned from this disaster to prevent it happening again, and they know that any time something similar happens they would stand there together and fight it, like they fought The Dust Bowl. “United we stand, divided we fall”. Dust Bowl had not only negative effects which we see right away, but some supreme positive effects when looked at deeper. Everything has a positive side from which people have to learn, even such a horrible thing as dust bowl. “The ultimate meaning of the dust storms of the 1930s was that America as a whole, not just the plains, was badly out of balance with its natural environment. Unbounded optimism about the future, careless disregard of nature’s limits and uncertainties, uncritical faith in Providence, devotion to self-aggrandizement – all these were national as well as regional characteristics.”- Robert Worster, historian.
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