About The Dust Bowl Essay Research Paper

About The Dust Bowl Essay, Research Paper

The Dust Bowl

of the 1930s lasted about a decade. Its primary area of impact was on the southern Plains.

The northern Plains were not so badly effected, but nonetheless, the drought, windblown

dust and agricultural decline were no strangers to the north. In fact the agricultural

devastation helped to lengthen the Depression whose effects were felt worldwide. The

movement of people on the Plains was also profound.

As John Steinbeck wrote in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath: "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."

Poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought caused the Dust Bowl. Plains

grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to wheat. During the years when there was

adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops. But as the droughts of the early

1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and planting and nothing would grow. The ground

cover that held the soil in place was gone. The Plains winds whipped across the fields

raising billowing clouds of dust to the skys. The skys could darken for days, and even the

most well sealed homes could have a thick layer of dust on furniture. In some places the

dust would drift like snow, covering farmsteads.

Timeline of The Dust Bowl


Severe drought hits the midwestern and southern plains. As the crops die,

the ‘black blizzards" begin. Dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed land begins to



The number of dust storms is increasing. Fourteen are reported this year;

next year there will be 38.


March: When Franklin Roosevelt takes office, the country is in

desperate straits. He took quick steps to declare a four-day bank holiday, during which

time Congress came up with the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, which stabilized the banking

industry and restored people’s faith in the banking system by putting the federal

government behind it.

May: The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act allots $200 million for

refinancing mortgages to help farmers facing foreclosure. The Farm Credit Act of 1933

established a local bank and set up local credit associations.

September: Over 6 million young pigs are slaughtered to

stabilize prices With most of the meat going to waste, public outcry led to the creation,

in October, of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation. The FSRC diverted agricultural

commodities to relief organizations. Apples, beans, canned beef, flour and pork products

were distributed through local relief channels. Cotton goods were eventually included to

clothe the needy as well.

October: In California’s San Joaquin Valley, where many farmers

fleeing the plains have gone, seeking migrant farm work, the largest agricultural strike

in America’s history begins. More than 18,000 cotton workers with the Cannery and

Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) went on strike for 24 days. During the

strike, two men and one woman were killed and hundreds injured. In the settlement, the

union was recognized by growers, and workers were given a 25 percent raise.


May: Great dust storms spread from the Dust Bowl area. The

drought is the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country

and affecting 27 states severely.

June: The Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act is approved. This

act restricted the ability of banks to dispossess farmers in times of distress. Originally

effective until 1938, the act was renewed four times until 1947, when it expired.

Roosevelt signs the Taylor Grazing Act, which allows him to take up to 140 million acres

of federally-owned land out of the public domain and establish grazing districts that will

be carefully monitored. One of many New Deal efforts to reverse the damage done to the

land by overuse, the program was able to arrest the deterioration, but couldn’t undo the

historical damage.

December: The "Yearbook of Agriculture" for 1934

announces, "Approximately 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land have

essentially been destroyed for crop production. . . . 100 million acres now in crops have

lost all or most of the topsoil; 125 million acres of land now in crops are rapidly losing

topsoil. . . "


January 15: The federal government forms a Drought Relief

Service to coordinate relief activities. The DRS bought cattle in counties that were

designated emergency areas, for $14 to $20 a head. Those unfit for human consumption -

more than 50 percent at the beginning of the program – were destroyed. The remaining

cattle were given to the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation to be used in food

distribution to families nationwide. Although it was difficult for farmers to give up

their herds, the cattle slaughter program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. "The

government cattle buying program was a God-send to many farmers, as they could not afford

to keep their cattle, and the government paid a better price than they could obtain in

local markets."

April 8: FDR approves the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act,

which provides $525 million for drought relief, and authorizes creation of the Works

Progress Administration, which would employ 8.5 million people.

April 14: Black Sunday. The worst "black blizzard" of

the Dust Bowl occurs, causing extensive damage.

April 27: Congress declares soil erosion "a national

menace" in an act establishing the Soil Conservation Service in the Department of

Agriculture (formerly the Soil Erosion Service in the U.S. Department of Interior). Under

the direction of Hugh H. Bennett, the SCS developed extensive conservation programs that

retained topsoil and prevented irreparable damage to the land. Farming techniques such as

strip cropping, terracing, crop rotation, contour plowing, and cover crops were advocated.

Farmers were paid to practice soil-conserving farming techniques.

December: At a meeting in Pueblo, Colorado, experts estimate

that 850,000,000 tons of topsoil has blown off the Southern Plains during the course of

the year, and that if the drought continued, the total area affected would increase from

4,350,000 acres to 5,350,000 acres in the spring of 1936. C.H. Wilson of the Resettlement

Administration proposes buying up 2,250,000 acres and retiring it from cultivation.


February: Los Angeles Police Chief James E. Davis sends 125

policemen to patrol the borders of Arizona and Oregon to keep "undesirables"

out. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union sues the city.

May: The SCS publishes a soil conservation district law, which,

if passed by the states, allows farmers to set up their own districts to enforce soil

conservation practices for five-year periods. One of the few grassroots organizations set

up by the New Deal still in operation, the soil conservation district program recognized

that new farming methods needed to be accepted and enforced by the farmers on the land

rather than bureaucrats in Washington.


March: Roosevelt addresses the nation in his second inaugural

address, stating, "I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished

. . . the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who

have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

FDR’s Shelterbelt Project begins. The project called for large-scale planting of

trees across the Great Plains, stretching in a 100-mile wide zone from Canada to northern

Texas, to protect the land from erosion. Native trees, such as red cedar and green ash,

were planted along fence rows separating properties, and farmers were paid to plant and

cultivate them. The project was estimated to cost 75 million dollars over a period of 12

years. When disputes arose over funding sources (the project was considered to be a

long-term strategy, and therefore ineligible for emergency relief funds), FDR transferred

the program to the WPA, where the project had limited success.


The extensive work re-plowing the land into furrows, planting trees in shelterbelts,

and other conservation methods has resulted in a 65 percent reduction in the amount of

soil blowing. However, the drought continued.


In the fall, the rain comes, finally bringing an end to the drought. During the next

few years, with the coming of World War II, the country is pulled out of the Depression

and the plains once again become golden with wheat.




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