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  • and Andrew D. MacPhail
  • Present a Production
  • Silence Speaks
  • The Flatland
  • Transformed:
  • Oklahoma’s
  • Dust Bowl Years
  • 1890
  • Oklahoma was becoming another prosperous settlement of the as-of-yet fledgling American West. Those who sought a new start and a new way of life went west. Many chose to go to Oklahoma.
  • By 1893, so many people had chosen Oklahoma that the local authorities tried to enforce strict hours for land claims.
  • To give themselves an advantage, early risers were known to sneak into the unclaimed territory before sunrise and claim the best land. Nobody asked too many questions, and the “sooners” stayed.
  • As soon as the settlers staked their claims, they started
  • building and farming. Of course, getting the claim registered took a while…
  • In 1907, the Federal government granted Oklahoma statehood due to the rapid increase in population.
  • In Oklahoma, the flatlands stretched out as far as the eye could see. The best part for the settlers was that almost all the land was arable.
  • With the right mixture of rain and sun – something that happened on a regular basis between 1905 and 1925 – orchards, grain farms, and cattle ranchers thrived.
  • As communities came together, schools were formed.
  • The prosperity from the harvests of healthy crops brought all the amenities of fine living, such as a drug store with a soda fountain.
  • The harvests kept coming…
  • … and Oklahoma City grew…
  • …and the prosperity overflowed into education with such buildings as the Carnegie Library…
  • …and a public service depot, which brought even more new job opportunities to the Oklahoma City area.
  • The University of Oklahoma was built, and its students have always been known as the Sooners.
  • Relations with the Indians were good, and Wapanucka Indian Academy was founded.
  • Oklahoma City sprawled out and forced the formation of other outlying towns…
  • …such as Ivanhoe.
  • More blacksmiths and farmers and doctors and lawyers and tradesmen were needed in these settlements, and they came, and they, too, prospered.
  • The years rolled on, and 1929 came. Everything looked wonderful on paper. The trains ran, the people went to work, the land produced well.
  • The stock market panic started on October 25, 1929.
  • It culminated on Tuesday, October 29, 1929 – known as “Black Tuesday.”
  • Over 26 billion [1929 value] dollars were lost on Black Tuesday. News reporters filmed businessmen jumping from Manhattan skyscrapers upon hearing the news of the stock market crash. If the same crash happened today, proportionally, the market would suddenly slide over $3.25 trillion, catapulting the world market into chaos and reverting value to the gold standard.
  • Despite the turmoil on Wall Street, Oklahoma seemed all right. In 1930 and 1931, Oklahoma displayed unparalleled prosperity and growth. “Nation’s Business” magazine labeled the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas as the most prosperous region in the United States. The situation in the Panhandle area exhibited a marked contrast from the long soup lines in the East.
  • Oklahoma had dodged the fallout from the stock market crash, but nobody in the southern Midwest could dodge nature’s bullet.

Paul Bonnifield tells of the worst days of the Dust Bowl storms in his account, "The Dust Bowl, Men, Dirt and Depression."

  • Paul Bonnifield tells of the worst days of the Dust Bowl storms in his account, "The Dust Bowl, Men, Dirt and Depression."
  • “In September 1930, it rained over five inches in a very short time in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The flooding in Cimarron County was accompanied by a dirt storm which damaged several small buildings and granaries. Later that year, the regions were whipped again by a strong dirt storm from the southwest until the winds gave way to a blizzard from the north. After the blizzards in winter 1930-1931, the drought began.”
  • “First the northern plains felt the dry spell, but by July the southern plains were in the drought. It was not until late September that the ground had enough water to justify planting. Because of the late planting and early frost, much of the wheat was small and weak when the spring winds of 1932 began to blow. The wheat was also beaten by dirt from the abandoned fields. In March, there were twenty-two days of dirt storms and drifts began to build in the fence rows.”
  • “In late January 1933, the region was blasted by a magnificent dirt storm which killed much of the wheat. In early February, the thermometer dropped seventy four degrees in eighteen hours to a record low at Boise City. The mercury stayed below freezing for several days until another dirt storm scourged the land. Before the year was over, locals counted 139 ‘dirty days’ in 1933.”
  • “Although the dirt storms were fewer in 1934, it was the year which brought the Dust Bowl national attention. In May, a severe storm blew dirt from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas as far east as New York City and Washington, D.C. In spite of the terrific storm in May, the year 1934 was pleasant respite from the blowing dirt and tornadoes of the previous year.”
  • “But nature had another trick up her sleeve. The year was extremely hot with new records being made and broken at regular intervals. Before the year had run its course, hundreds of people in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas had died from the heat.”
  • “In 1935, the weather in the Dust Bowl again made the national headlines. This storm was followed by another and yet another in rapid succession. In late March a severe storm lashed Boise City so hard that many people were stranded for hours. No one dared to leave a store and head for home although it might be less than a block away.”
  • “On Sunday April 14, 1935, the sun came up in a clear sky. The day was warm and pleasant, a gentle breeze whimpered out of the southwest. Suddenly a cloud appeared on the horizon. Birds flew swiftly ahead of it, but not swift enough for the cloud traveling at sixty miles per hour. This day, which many people of the area readily remember, was named ‘Black Sunday.’ ”
  • “By May, it seemed like the wind and dirt had been blowing forever. The only rain the people saw was in their dreams. It was a year of intensive dirt storms, gales, rollers and floods mixed with economic depression, sickness and disaster. It was a year of extreme hardship, but surprisingly the vast majority of the people stayed.”
  • “By 1935, the unusual became the usual; the extreme became the normal; the exception became routine.” During 1936, the number of dirt storms increased and the temperature broke the 1934 record high by soaring above 120 degrees. One day in June 1936, the ground began to tremble. A sharp earthquake shook the land from Kenton to Perryton and from Liberal to Stratford. By Fall of 1936, the rains began to return and the heat wave was broken. The following year, 1937, was another year of unprecedented dirt storms.”
  • “Day after day, Dust Bowl farmers unwillingly traded farms as the land moved back and forth between Texas and Kansas. And, of course, there were the usual floods. 1938 was the year of the ‘snuster,’ a term for a storm of dirt and snow that reached blizzard proportions.”
  • “People’s faith in nature’s kindness began to run out, and ‘exodusters’ packed their bags and headed west, primarily to California. Depending on how much money they had been able to come away with, they made a new life for themselves closer to the west coast – or started saving their paltry wages for such a time as would provide that opportunity.”
  • 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."
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed legislation authorizing Federal insurance for banks, allotting tax money to create employment opportunities, and giving money and services to the dust-drowned Midwest. But it was still too late for many people. Between the stock market crash of Black Tuesday and the storms of the Dust Bowl, everyone from cowhands to the wealthiest of investors had lost about two-thirds of every asset, liquid or invested.
  • The poorer travelers followed clean water as far as they could, buying supplies along the way, asking for charitable acts and donations, and hoping to find work.
  • Those fortunate enough to have cars of their own helped carry as many people as they could westbound on the thoroughfares.
  • The wealthy boarded the trains and never looked back.
  • Eventually, they all found their way to better places.
  • It wasn’t until 1941 that Oklahoma’s worth was rediscovered. American industry needed oil, and that’s exactly what some cagy investors found below the surface of the sandy remains of America’s breadbasket.
  • But the people who bought the oil property in Oklahoma came from where the original settlers came from: the East. The people forced out by the Dust Bowl had hardly established themselves in their new locations and didn’t have the money or the energy to go back immediately. Many never returned.
  • The Dust Bowl and Black Tuesday ushered in the period known as the Great Depression. Times were hard for everyone who didn’t have a substantial amount of liquid savings. John Steinbeck’s novels address this period, generally recognized as having lasted between late 1929 and late 1942. In 1943, America’s economy was jump-started by the War effort.
  • For the survivors, the Depression represented a new theme in life that was eventually reflected in American literature. Nothing is perfect and everyone has a weakness, writers noted. Some writers, like John Knowles, went so far as to say that “nothing endures.” It was the beginning of postmodernism; the end of a brighter era.
  • It was the beginning of our modern age.
  • Many thanks to:

AltaVista Web Photo Search and all contributing sites

Paul Bonnifield for excerpts from "The Dust Bowl, Men, Dirt and Depression"

PBS Online Archives for photos of “Black Sunday”

Valley Entertainment Group for Darden Smith’s “Fall Apart at the Seams” from the 2000 release, “Extra Extra: Darden Smith sings twelve songs by heart”

Jeff Black for the rights to use the otherwise unreleased “Athena” from the “Birmingham Road” sessions. “Birmingham Road” and his other albums are available at

Valley Entertainment Group for Darden Smith’s “Bottom of a Deep Well” from the 2000 release, “Extra Extra: Darden Smith sings twelve songs by heart”

Dualtone Records for Jeff Black’s “Gold Heart Locket” from 2002’s “B-Sides and Confessions, Vol. 1”

  • LNM Records for Jeff Black’s “Home” from 2003’s “Honey and Salt”

And you, for your attention.

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