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The Dust Bowl

By Jane Runyon
You are standing at your
living room window. You are
looking out across your front
yard. There are no leaves on
the trees. There is no grass.
The sky is a murky gray color.
The ground is covered in
brown dirt. As you watch the
wind blowing the dust and dirt
onto your front porch, you
adjust the wet cloth you have
tied around your head. It
covers your nose and mouth. If you didn't keep this rag around your
nose and mouth you would choke on the dust in the air. In the
distance, you see nothing but black. A nasty storm is headed your
way. There will be no rain in this storm. It will have lightning,
thunder, and wind. More dust will blow. Dust might completely
cover up the chicken coop this time. It doesn't matter, though. Your
father had to sell off the last of the chickens last week.
That doesn't sound like a very pleasant way to live, does it? But
thousands of people had to live just that way in the 1930s. The Great
Plains region of the United States became a "dust bowl" during the
1930s. But the problems really started in the 1920s.
The wheat crop in 1926 was very successful. It was so successful
that many farmers turned all of their land into wheat fields. They
borrowed money from banks to buy more farming equipment. They
planted the same crop year after year hoping to make more money
on a good crop. The summer of 1930 was dry, but the farmers still
made money on their crop. The wheat crop in 1931 was the best
ever. There was so much wheat, however, that supply exceeded
demand. This caused the price of wheat to drop dramatically.
Farmers lost money. Some lost their farms because they couldn't
pay back their loans.
Dry weather turned into severe droughts. Land which had once
grown tall grass was now barren. Planting the same crop for so
many years had robbed the soil of its nutrients. The ground was
nothing more than dust blowing in the wind. And blow it did. Dust
storms became a way of life to the people of Texas, Oklahoma,
Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, and even as far east as Arkansas.
Fourteen dust storms were recorded in 1932. In 1933, there were
thirty-eight. The storms became stronger and did more damage. In
May of 1934, dust from Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas was blown
into New York City and Washington, D.C.
Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of the United States in
1933. He immediately went to work trying to help the farmers of the
Great Plains. He poured government money into plans to help
farmers save their farms. He set up the Emergency Farm Mortgage
Act and Farm Credit Act to provide financing for farmers about to
lose their land. This was a difficult time for everyone. The entire
country was trying to recover from the Great Depression, a financial
depression that left the country's economy in peril.
Weather in the Great Plains did not improve. In April of 1935,
the worst "dirt blizzard" ever seen struck. Damage caused by the
winds and erosion was immeasurable. The day was called "Black
Sunday" because of the color of the skies during the storm and the
amount of damage done.
Many of the people of the plains left their land and headed west
in search of a better life. American author John Steinbeck wrote of
one such family, the Joads, in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The
people of the Dust Bowl were not always welcome in the West. In
1936, the chief of police in Los Angeles, California, ordered over
one hundred of his men to patrol the borders between California and
Oregon and Nevada. It was their job to keep unwanted plains
farmers out of California.
By 1937, President Roosevelt had new farming plans in place.
Soil conservation districts were set up. New methods of farming
were being taught to farmers. Elimination of erosion became a top
priority. These methods of saving the soil and the end of the drought
in 1939 began new growth in the plains. Farmers returned to the
earth that had forced them to leave. America was finally pulling out
of a decade of depression and drought. Unfortunately, a new danger
was rearing its head in Europe.
The Dust Bowl
1. A drought is caused by a lack of rainfall in an area.
A. false
B. true
2. Which of these states is NOT considered to be a Great Plains
A. Texas
B. Tennessee
C. Oklahoma
D. Kansas
3. What crop did the farmers of the Great Plains depend on?
A. corn
B. wheat
C. soy beans
D. barley
4. How did planting the same crop over several years affect the
soil in the Great Plains?
5. How did "Black Sunday" get its name?
6. What president had to find a way to save the farmland in the
A. Calvin Coolidge
B. Herbert Hoover
C. Harry Truman
D. Franklin Roosevelt
7. What type of districts did the president set up to help farmers?
A. soil conservation districts
B. weather districts
C. conversation districts
D. voting districts
8. What American author wrote about plains farmers leaving
their homes?
A. Dan Brown
B. Irving Wallace
C. John Steinbeck
D. Lew Wallace