It’s been very hot and dry here in Oklahoma. The governor has declared a state of emergency and a burn ban because of drought conditions. The mayor has declared restrictions on water. The electric company reports record usage as people try to tolerate the brutal heat.
It makes me thankful for my air-conditioning, though it fights to keep up. I look at my lawn, dried and brown, but still dotted with islands of green grass. I’ve been nursing it along by watering it about every 4 days. What if there was no water to keep the plants from shriveling and blowing away? What if there was no air conditioning to keep my family cool in this abnormal heat?
That’s exactly what happened during 1932 – 1938 in Oklahoma. There were drought conditions combined with high summer temperatures that helped create what today is called ‘The Dust Bowl’. In 1936 the highest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma happened in the towns of Poteau, Alva and Altus at 120 degrees. People didn’t have the modern conveniences of air conditioning, electric refrigeration, or automatic water irrigation. Combined with the economic conditions of the Depression, it forced a mass exodus of Oklahomans to find jobs, habitable land and homes in the Western states, mainly California.
John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath gave a face to the terrible plight many families confronted and Woody Guthrie memorialized it with what was considered the first concept album ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’:
Interested in finding out more about the Dust Bowl?
Here are some books to whet your historical appetite:
- Children of the Dust Bowl – Jerry Stanley
- American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California, James N. Gregory
- The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
- The Stricklands – Edwin Lanham
- Red Dirt Jessie – Anna Myers
- The Silver DeSoto – Patty Lou Floyd
Could the Dust Bowl happen again? Conditions are ripe but federal, state and local governments have learned from agricultural policies of the 1930’s. Still, governments can’t control the weather. Hopefully proper land and water management will help. My grass going dry is nothing compared with what some tough Oklahomans endured in the past.
Question: Do you or relatives have any recollections of life during the Depression and Dust Bowl days? Know of any good historical fiction reads set in the ‘Dirty Thirties’? Let us know!