BookTimothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time,book




PROMISE 1901-1930 | BETRAYAL, 1931-1933 | BLOWUP, 1934-1939 | Epilogue



April 14 –80th Anniversary of Black Sunday


"It scares them because of the forced intimacy with a place that gives nothing back to a stranger. . . ."

p. 1.



Live Through This,

“At its peak the Dust Bowl covered one hundred million acres.”


“More than a quarter million people fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.”

P. 9.

"One in three families" left the high plains by 1939.



PROMISE 1901-1930 | BETRAYAL, 1931-1933 | BLOWUP, 1934-1939 | Epilogue






Portrayed as both "A Garden in the Grasslands" or the "Great American Desert"; The contrasts had tragic consequences for the nation.

I     PROMISE 1901-1930


1. The Wanderer,

Bam White’s family migrates on to the high plains to get a ranch in Amarillo


2. No Man’s Land, 

“It was founded on a fraud. Except there was not a single tree in Boise City.” Le bois French word for trees


3. Creating Dalhart,

Southern panhandle Plains “the old XIT grasslands were still being carved up . . . .

ranches were disappearing by the day”
                                 A town grew from nothing into something and then?


4. High Plains Deutsch,

“by the summer of 1929 the United States had a food surplus….There was a glut in Europe as well.”


5. The Last Great Plow-up, The stock market crashed on October 29, 1929.




II     BETRAYAL, 1931-1933 book


6. First Wave,

6-27-31, the bank did not open for business


7. A Darkening,

“two years into a drought so severe that less rain fell in eastern Montana than normally fell in the desert of southern Arizona.”


"Subsistence farming may have kept people alive, but it did nothing for the land, which was going fallow section by section."


"At the end of 1931, . . . of sixteen million acres in cultivation in the state, thirteen million were seriously eroded. And this was before the drought  had calcified most of the ground."

P. 111.

"Around noon on January 21, 1932, a cloud ten thousand feet high from ground to top appeared just outside of Amarillo."


"Nobody knew what to call it."


"It was thick like course animal hair; it was alive People close to it described a feeling of being in a blizzard–a black blizzard, "

P. 113.

So dark at noon that "…It looked like dusk outside."

"Its the earth itself, Bam said. The earth is on the move."


8. In a Dry Land, “Life without water did strange things to the land.”


9. New Leader, New Deal,

FDR and the promises of 1931-1936 – conservation anew


"Next up: try to save the farm. Free-market agricultural economics was over, for good. Look what it had done....


"The average farmer was earning three hundred dollars per year–an 80 percent drop in income from a decade earlier."

P. 133.


10. Big Blows, “The land would not die an easy death.…The skies carried soil from state to state.” 


PROMISE 1901-1930 | BETRAYAL, 1931-1933 | BLOWUP, 1934-1939 | Epilogue


Black Sunday

III    BLOWUP, 1934-1939 book


11. Triage,  “There was not a buyer in the hemisphere for the wretched looking cattle stumbling over the prairie… all bound up with dust.”


12. The Long Darkness, “The third option they could steal food.”


13.  The Struggle for Air, “Life in the galloping flatlands was a pact with nature. It gave as much as it took, and in 1935, it was all take.”
P. 175.


14. Showdown in Dalhart, “As the ground took flight through the middle year of the Dirty Thirties, the courts had been contend with a new type of mental illness – the person driven mad by dust.” P. 177.


“ 'Dust is killing me!' she shouted again. 'Its killing my children.' " P. 178.


Conservation, --that was the new word coming from Big Hugh Bennett.”

“He had sent one of his scientists to Dallam County, and the old man told farmers they had been 'practicing suicidal production.' on the land."


". . . to change their ways, [they] would have to act as one."

P. 178.

pp. 176-192.


15. Duster’s Eve, “This year 1935, had been one duster after another, four years into the drought…” P. 194.


CCC workers“Sheriff Barrick said the roads out of town [Boise City] were blocked by huge drifts. The CCC crews [two CCC workers photographed on the right] would no sooner dig out one drift than another would appear, covering a quarter of a mile section of road."


" . . . pinned down at the edge of town, they were forced to return."


“The volume of dirt that had been thrown into the skies was extraordinary."


". . . forty six million truck-loads." blown from one side of Kansas to the east.

Pp. 195-196.



Western Kansas farm home behind a dune and a farm near Dalhart Texas in the 1930s.


16. Black Sunday, “My God! Here it comes!" Telegraphed message. P. 204.


“A woman. . . called the newspaper in Amarillo to alert them that the biggest duster of all was rolling south." P. 220.


“Winds screamed over the grasslands, carrying dust so heavy that visibility was less than 100 yards.”


“Charring the sky in five states.”

“It took an hour for the . . . duster to travel from the border towns of Amarillo . . . .the biggest city in the Texas Panhandle went dark, and its 42,000 residents choked on the same thick mass that had begun its roll in the Dakotas, clawing the barren plains.

“A fury that has neve been duplicated.” P. 221.


pp. 198-221.


17. A Call to Arms, “midnight at noon, a duster wiped out the sun!”

rule life in the dust bowl of the continent.” P. 222.


18. Goings,

“In may, the temperature rose to 105 degrees, the highest the mercury had ever been that early in the year in Baca County [Texas]."


Most Baca–ready to fold–residents would have starved without the government."


"…the land that had been so full of ancient mystery, these secrets of the conquistadores, these Indian burial grounds, this place of ghost grass and ghost bison."

p. 241.


19. Witnesses,book

“At the darkest hour, . . . a farmer’s life . . . during a decade when homesteads became graveyards.”

Don Hartwell, 1/1936, p. 242.


20. The Saddest Land,

“More than 850 million tons of topsoil had blown off the southern plains in the last year.” For more details.


21. Verdict,

“Bennett believed that the Great Plains could be saved; it did not have to blow away and lose its people.”


Hugh Hammond Bennett | Hugh Hammond Bennett plans


22. Cornhusker II,

“it took a full days work at one of the government road jobs to fill up your tank.”


23. The Last Men, book

“Nobody had money for tractor fuel, or hiring farm hands, or even for buying seed.”


24. Cornhusker III,

“An examination of the tree found that Nebraska had been through 20 droughts in 748 years.”


The farm the Hartwell's had possessed since 1909 was by 1938 “…three lame horses and a single dog.”


"The bank took the land...."  P. 301.


25. Rain,

“its CCC soil saving and tree planting crews to the Panhandle, and when they came they were greeted like firemen at ablaze.”


 nearly forty million saplings, 3,600 miles of living hope planted. . .  .”


“Roosevelt had always believed in the power of restoration.” 

P. 307.


 PROMISE 1901-1930 | BETRAYAL, 1931-1933 | BLOWUP, 1934-1939 | Epilogue



“The high Plains never fully recovered from the dust bowl.”



"All told, the government bought 11.3 million acres of dusted-over farm fields and tried to return much of it to grassland."


"The original intent was to purchase up to 75 million acres. After more than sixty-five years the land is still sterile and drifting."

P. 309.

soil saving and tree planting crews

Black Sunday



Part One | Part Two | Part Three


What caused the dust bowl?

Possible causes

USDA History of the dust bowl


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