The Dust Bowl What was it?
The Ecosystem Before the Tragedy It was a sea of grass and wheat 2-4 feet tall.
For ten years there was a severe lack of rainfall (only 20” per year)
Soil Erosion • Lack of rain caused a shortage of grass, bison overgrazed, prairie fires occurred due to the heat, wind persisted spreading both dust and fire.
As the droughts of the early 1930s worsened, the farmers plowed and planted deeper, further eroding the topsoil.
Soil was dry up to 3 feet Soil was dry for 3 feet deep.
Soil in the air created static electricity which destroyed any small amount of growth.
By December 1934, 35 million acres had been completely destroyed for crop production.
100 million acres had lost all or most of the top soil.
Another 125 million acres were rapidly losing their top soil.
Consequences • Dust Pneumonia • Dust in food • Cars wouldn’t start (static electricity) • Planters were unable to make a living. • Forced to move -- mostly to the West where there were rumors of farm employment.
On the move Dust Bowlers received fliers requesting farm workers.
"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 from his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath
Problems of the Journey • Hygiene = no clean water • No Money = had to work odd jobs to afford gas to get from to town to town • They had to cross the desert with of their all possessions
Trouble for “Okies” • Teachers and school children ridiculed “Okie” kids • Many Okie kids went to school barefooted
February 1936 - Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis sent 125 policemen to patrol the borders of Arizona and Oregon to keep "undesirables" out.
The US government set up camps in California to accommodate the new arrivals • School teachers and students teased “okie” children • Many kids wore old flour or potato sacks
New Deal solutions to problems • Restoration of pastures (rotational grazing-plant grass) • Leave stubble After plowing to hold down soil • Plow in furrows opposite wind direction to prevent wind erosion • Plow ACROSS a hill to prevent water erosion • Strip cropping with hay or sorghum to prevent erosion • Plant trees alongside fields to stop wind erosion • PAID FARMERS NOT TO PLANT=HIGHER PRICES!
September 1933 - Six million pigs are slaughtered to stabilize prices. What happened to all the meat? Why?
Most of the meat went to waste. Public outcry led to the creation 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.
Fall 1939 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.