The Dirty Thirties

The Dust Bowl (1931-1939)

What was the Dust Bowl?

1931-1939 dust blew over the plains of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas due to years’ natural and human habits of poor agricultural regulations habits and severe drought. Between the drought and bad farming the soil lost all of its nutrients and became useless as it turned from dirt to dust. This dust would get caught up in the vast winds blowing over the plains and cause great sandstorms that made life hard in the south western plains. When the winds would whip across the plains causing enormous billowing clouds of dust, it would find its ways into homes, covering livestock causing multiple deaths from people being buried alive. In 1938 experts said that about 850,000,000 tons of topsoil had been blown off the Southern Plains. Over the eight year period the drought and damages from the dust storms totaled up to cost about $525 million. One of the biggest “black blizzards” was 2 miles high and covered 2,000 miles. It lasted for over 5 hours and reached the East coast covering the sky and even the Statue of Liberty.

How did the Dust Bowl affect the people living there?

Life on the plains was very challenging as it was. When the dust storms began to hit it only made life ten times worse. Dust would find its way into loosely sealed homes and cover everything making it hard to cook meals or even keep a clean house. Growing crops was impossible due to the immense dust storms blowing away the topsoil that plants need to root in, leaving only rock and useless land much like a desert. As many as 567 confirmed deaths occurred from dust pneumonia, malnutrition and suffocation from the dust. There was also many counts of people being buried alive. People lived off of the crops that they grew which also fueled the economy. During the thirties the stock market had crashed and when these large farms when under there was no one to help the farmer’s out of this economic situation.

Where did people go?

Contrary to popular belief three-fourths of farmers stayed exactly where they were. If they did move they tended to just move to a neighboring state and try to farm there. Of the 1.2 million migrants that went to California, only about 16,000 were from the Dust Bowl area. Almost everyone that migrated to California were labeled as an “Okie”. “Okie” was a broad term for an agricultural migrant. However, only one-fifth of the migrants were actually from Oklahoma. “Okie” was very much a blanket term seeing how most were not even from Oklahoma. Californians were very hostile toward these farmers because they blamed them for the economic problems and also coming and crowding up their state even more.