Donald Worster’s book “Dust Bowl in the Southern Plains: The 1930s” offers an interesting look at the United States’s Great Depression-era plains. Worster discusses the devastating effects of major dust storms on people during that time. Five states were most affected by the Dust Bowl: Texas, Oklahoma Kansas Colorado New Mexico. Donald Worster discusses in detail the responses of each region to dust storms, as well as any possible solutions.
The book opens with the dark outlook for the United States. The Great Depression ravaged the country. The dustbowl follows. One type of dust storm was called “sand blows” while another was called “black blizzards.” Kansas is the result. Dust storms that swept through the region were killing crops and inflicting severe illness on those who were caught in their dusty winds. Dust storms are believed to cause new forms of pneumonia. Volunteers helped make dust masks for people who were exposed to dust. The Dust Bowl presented a significant challenge for Kansas residents, as well as a test of their will. Worster now turns to the Okies & Exodusters. The Okies were exodusters and refugees who fled the Dust Bowl-affected areas. These people fled the destruction of their farmland and began to move west. The number of people moving from the farms to seek work increased dramatically. Also, droughts were in effect. Many of the “Drought Survivors”, fled too. It is clear that the Exodusters and Okies fled from such severe effects. There were many responses to dust storms in southern plains. Some people fled in search of better opportunities, as we mentioned earlier. Some people stayed put and tried to survive whatever was happening. Some thought the harsh weather was a test for those who did not leave. They believed that the Dust Bowl was a drought. Worster provides some background on the geography of southern plains. Prehistoric wind erosion caused soil patterns. The land is subject to frequent droughts because it doesn’t get as much rain in the south. It is said that the weather in the plains can be unpredictable. It has extremes such as heat and cold. Floods and droughts. Cyclones and blizzards are all possible. A dust bowl seems more likely with such wild conditions. The work contains more history. Apache Indians once called the plains home. Their complete agricultural economy is illustrated by their hunt for buffalo. The Apaches were able to live a simpler life when they acquired horses. They took advantage of the land, adjusted to its natural order and exercised restraint when necessary. The Apache, like other Plains Indians, saw their lives end as the United States expanded onto its land. The farming methods improved in the years prior to the Dust Bowl. One such technique is called “dry agriculture.” This was to ensure that farmers didn’t have to depend on more cattle or grass for their work. The Enlarged Homestead Act was passed by Congress to help farmers. It gave each settler 320 acres. Despite all the help, it is possible that the Dust Bowl was caused by increased settlement. The invention of the machine was another important technique. The machine revolutionized farming. This was the birth of the wheat factory. It also gave rise to the idea that one crop could be grown. The Dust Bowl in Oklahoma is the setting for the book. The people in Cimarron County try their best to make the most of the dire circumstances. Families who didn’t leave their homes would sell the livestock they had to survive. They also collected driftwood from nearby rivers. Others would create illegal stills to make whisky. Cimarron County’s families still relied on cattle sales. A drought also made it difficult for farmers to find enough food for their animals. Oklahomans had the difficult task of rationing their food in order to survive. Due to the collapse of crops, Oklahoman families were forced to rely upon milk products that could be bought in the town to purchase other goods. The chickens were valuable because they could produce eggs to be consumed and sold. The tail of the sow became an important part of their lives. Each sow that was killed was taken apart and divided into cans, which were then given to the citizens. As a result, government relief was an essential necessity. The drought and depression forced farmers to choose wheat for their crop choice. Wheat was an attractive crop because of its ability to thrive in harsh conditions. The return on investment for wheat was higher than other crops. This is illustrated by Worster on page 151.
The chart shows how wheat saw a jump in market value in comparison to other crops. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is introduced to help people get by. Roosevelt established the National Resources Planning Board as a way to end the crisis. To survive the terrible conditions on the plains, a “New Deal Conservation” was needed. “It was important to recognize fundamental institutions like capitalism, industrial agriculture, and factory farms,” the leaders said. This conservation plan was more effective than the Progressive Era’s first. The New Deal was a program that helped the plains. One person tried to pinpoint the problem with land use. Lewis Gray believed that most of America’s land problems were the result of unrestrained capitalism (Worster, 189). Gray said that land planning would allow Americans to find a compromise between socialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Gray’s plan included multiple steps. The final step was grassroots collaborative planning. Gray was unable, unfortunately, to execute the plan. The board was first introduced to ecology by the Dust Bowl. They all agreed that economic growth has limits. They also learned that nature is not perfect, which made conservation more crucial. The Dust Bowl was eventually solved by conserving to “reach traditional expanding aims”. The nation was devastated by the Dust Bowl’s terrible storms. During the Great Depression, people were trying to find solutions for this terrible weather. Donald Worster does a great job explaining the Dust Bowl’s impact on the Plains and farmers. The Dust Bowl was very intense and the pictures in this book are a great representation of it. This book should be read. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Dust Bowl.