The Wrath of the Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl was one of the most economically and environmentally significant times in American history. This tragic event took place in the Great Plains area, and was coined by an Associated Press writer and reporter named Robert Geiger. Soon, the term Dust Bowl caught on, and became a symbol of the Great Depression. Swirling dust in deep colors of brown, red, and yellow overtook the entire area where farmers and families lived. The heat of the summer in the 1930’s was unbearable, and the addition of the drying winds did not help the parched land. Many people actually survived this brutal event, a true testament to American’s strength, unity, and sheer will to survive.


During World War I, the areas of the Great Plains were a popular place for farmers to plow land to grow wheat. At the time, buyers were offering a generous sum of money for the wheat, so hundreds of families flocked there to begin farming. Because the land was not properly irrigated, the land became dry and began to erode. Soon, a great drought also hit the area, making for even drier conditions. This area of the country was already destined to be a difficult place to farm. The Rocky Mountains and Gulf of Mexico surrounded it, and high winds and hot sun were common characteristics. The earth was already dry and dusty before the farmers began working the land. But many people during that time were not familiar with the Great Plains, and were not absolutely sure it was suitable land for farming.


States like Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma were hit especially hard by the Dust Bowl. The top soil began to blow away, and along with it, many peoples’ hopes. In the springs of 1932 and 1933, some dust was present, but in 1934 the dust became so severe that it started to darken the skies. Some people thought initially a tornado was striking the area, but within a matter of hours, peoples’ homes were literally caked with dust both inside and outside. The black dust permeated everything including dishes, linens, flooring, and anything that it could lay on. After the dust storm, food would sometimes be hard to eat since the dinner table was literally covered in thick layer of dust. Soon, the dust storms became a regular occurrence. Sometimes, it was a finer consistency, and would find its way under doors and through any opening in the home.


The Dust Bowl wreaked havoc on vehicles, railroads, fences, and water barrels. Livestock was affected and often, when the dust settled, farmers would go outside to find their cattle or horses perished. The dust was so brutal that it often had a sandpaper-like effect and took the paint off of cars. It clogged motors and even blocked railroad tracks. It was dangerous to drive because of low visibility and sometimes, fatal accidents occurred because of it. Depending on the day, one could tell which part of the plains was stirring up. Red dust usually meant it was coming from Oklahoma, while yellow dust typically meant the ground of Montana or the Dakotas was being kicked up.

In May of 1934, the story of the Dust Bowl began to make the national newspapers, and people living in other parts of the country were learning about how the people of the Great Plains were dealing with a brutal dust storm. Soon, the Dust Bowl reached the East Coast, and even affected New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and even reached ships out in the Atlantic. The magnitude was absolutely unimaginable. The people who lived in the heart of these storms suffered on a daily basis, and it seemed as if the skies would never be clear again, and as if peoples’ homes would never be clean again. It also caused people to suffer from numerous health conditions, including something called dust pneumonia. This had the biggest effect on children and the elderly. Despite all of the hardships, the people of the Great Plains endured, even through the onslaught of the continuing Dust Bowl into part of 1938.


In 1939, novelist John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a story about farmers and families dealing with the toils of the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl era. The story helped to shed light on the suffering and pain that so many people endured, and to help expose how humanity has the strength and will to go on. The story of Tom Joad is one that many Americans both then and now can relate to. Our human struggles, our fears, hopes, and dreams are things that everyone has. John Steinbeck helped to educate people about the difficulties of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression thanks to his epic novel. The strength shown by the American people throughout the Dust Bowl is a true testament to their tenacity and will to survive.