Where Is the Dust Bowl?
The name Dust Bowl was given to the man-made desert in the Central United States in the 1930s. There dust storms blew which were as severe as any on record. One storm in 1933 was traced for 1,300 miles to northern New York. For the origin of the Dust Bowl we must go back to the late 1800s when homesteaders were advancing relentlessly towards the west and planting their crops in the short-grass country, land known previously as the American desert.
The farmers brought with them strains of hard winter wheat that were resistant to drought, disease and insects. They ploughed into the thin grassland and sowed the seeds both of wheat and tragedy. The states involved were western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and North and South Dakota to the Pacific coast. Wheat was the principal crop. Dry farming techniques were developed.
These enabled farmers to conserve the meagre moisture in the soil by a process of dust mulching and by permitting the land to lie fallow to build up moisture for the following crop year. However, the farmers did not know how to conserve their soil and prevent the erosion of semi-arid earth which had been anchored only by the cover-crop of thin grass.
The great drought of 1932 – 1937 led to the Dust Bowl and caused the abandonment of vast areas of land. Many people left their farms and homes for California, where they joined other migratory workers in search of jobs as fruit and vegetable pickers. Meanwhile the American government, with Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, took action to aid the ravaged area. Starving cattle were moved to better ranges, or bought and slaughtered.
Loans were extended to the distressed farmers. Mortgage foreclosures were stopped in 1933 by the extension of government credit. Soil erosion was attacked by encouraging farmers to use more effective methods of keeping their land in condition, and a great irrigation programme was begun. Many of these families, who were often known as “Okies” because so many of them came from Oklahoma, migrated to California and other states to find that the Great Depression had rendered economic conditions there little better than those they had left.
The Dust Bowl has been the subject of many cultural works, notably the novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck, the folk music of Woody Guthrie, and photographs depicting the conditions of migrants by Dorothea Lange.