The Dust Bowl

By: Angela Smith

Facts About The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl was named for the area of the Great Plains (SouthWestern Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the Texas Panhandle, NorthEastern New Mexico, and SouthEastern Colorado), that was plagued with a decade of drought and soil erosion during the 1930's. The Dust Bowl happened between the years of 1931 - 1939. An eight-year drought started in 1931 with abnormal temperatures, hotter than usual for this time of year. In 1932, 14 dust storms, also called black blizzards, were reported. In 1933, there were 38 dust storms, and in 1934, there were 110 dust storms. People wore masks so they wouldn't breathe in the dust and put wet sheets over their windows in their houses but dust still got in. Outside, the dust was like snow, burying cars and even houses. People became delirious from spitting out dirt and mucus, a condition which became known as the "Dust Pneumonia" or the "Brown Plague." On the worst days of the Dust Bowl, students were sent home to prevent them from getting "Dust Pneumonia." This area, which was once fertile, was known as the "Dust Bowl" as referred to by Robert Geiger in 1935.

More Facts About The Dust Bowl

Over 100 million acres of farmland was lost including most of the topsoil. Poor farming conditions also contributed to the Dust Bowl. Farmers had used tractors and plows to break up the grasslands and they planted millions of acres of new farmland. By plowing the grasslands, it removed the thick protective layer of the grasslands. Farmers over produced crops and in turn the grasslands were unsuitable for farming. To try and help, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Drought Relief Service which offered relief checks, buying of livestock and handouts of food though it didn't help with the land problem. Under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, the government reserved 140 million acres of protected federal lands. The government also launched the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early 1930's. 3 million men volunteered for forestry and conservation work. They were known as Roosevelt's "Forest Army," and they planted trees, dug ditches, and built reservoirs that would help flood control, water conservation and future soil erosion. Another person trying to help with the issue of the Dust Bowl was Hugh Hammond Bennett who was a soil scientist. In 1933, he was made director of the newly formed Soil Erosion Service, which worked to combat erosions caused by dust storms and other farming methods. Though in May 1934, Bennett attended a Congressional hearing that focused on the problem of the Dust Bowl. Then in March 1935, Hugh Hammond Bennett, now known as the father of soil conservation had an idea and went to the lawmakers on Capital Hill.

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Bennett gained the support of Congress with the help of a dust storm that hit Washington, D.C. in May, 1934, while he was talking in front of a congressional committee. The legislators got to experience what a dust storm was like from the Midwest and on April 27th, 1935, the 74th Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act that was signed by President Roosevelt. Soil Conservation began and there were 200 million wind-breaking trees across the Great Plains that were planted from Canada to Northern Texas to protect the land from erosion. Re-plowing of the land into furrows, planting trees into shelter belts which were a line of trees planted to protect an area, and crop rotation resulted in a 65 percent reduction in the amount of soil blowing away by 1938. Though the drought still continued. About 3 million people were affected by the Dust Bowl and by 1940, about 2.5 million people moved out of the Dust Bowl states. With no rain for about 4 years, farmers took a journey out West to California to look for work there. Some of these migrants were known as the Okies - a term used for Oklahomans but was used for all migrants- that found work as farmhands. Finally in 1939, the rain finally came. With the rain and new development of irrigation built to resist drought, the land grew with fields of golden wheat.
U.S. Dust Bowl of 1930's