The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression: Causes and Outcomes

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Life, something that may be considered easy or hard. In America during the 1930s life was the latter. During this time period not only was the Great Depression (a time of economic hardships and depression) hitting but so was possibly the greatest natural disaster to ever affect America.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl started out as drought across the Great Plains, affecting farming and everyday life, but soon, it would get worse for not only the farmers but also families living in or near the area. Farming during the 1930s was not an easy task. Crop prices dropped at significant rates due to the increased demand for crops during the first World War. Farmers had invested in machinery and land during this time in order to meet the high demand and make a profit. What once was grassland had been converted into heavily plowed straight-lined crops. As more farmers bought extra land and produced major amounts of crops, their overall income steadily decreased.

As a result of a lack of interest, farmers grew absurd amounts of crops in a futile attempt to attain an income. During this time farmers had not had much experience with the area’s climate, and they used, what were, and still are considered as poor farming approaches. For instance, new methods using machines, not only decreased soil nutrients but also left an abundance of loose topsoil. This loose topsoil piled up, leaving farmers and residents of the Great Plains at the time to mother nature’s mercy. By the early 1930s, the land was dry, a drought (a time period where water and rain are rare) had hit. Topsoil became dry and similar to dirt or dust. Winds started to pick up carrying the topsoil across the land. Sometimes winds even picked up to 60mph. Black blizzards often occurred, these happened when the topsoil that had been picked up by the high winds and blacked out the sun.

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Afterward, the dried-out soil accumulated, sometimes even burying cars and houses under massive piles of dust. Farmers helplessly watched as winds carried away crops, along with hopes for a better profit. Moving away, the possibility of dying if you step a foot outside, starvation, these were all hardships faced by families affected by the Dust Bowl. Few shreds of light were spread across the area during moments when the sun had been covered by blowing dust, street lamps, along with car headlights were used in an attempt to see through the dark. If a person or even an animal were to step outside during a storm there was a high chance of suffocation and later death.

On the fourteenth of April, in 1935 the most ghastly storm hit. In an attempt to prevent the dust from getting into houses people put wet sheets over windows to catch the dust (Price, 6), this did not do much though. People were surrounded by dust as it not only blew outside but also blew into houses despite efforts to keep it out. Most forms of transportation were stopped because of the dust. Some places closed, such as hospitals, flour mills, some businesses, and even schools. People that came from farming families left the area and hitchhiked or rode to California to try to get a job. So many farms had been destroyed leaving people penniless. In order to get money, many families moved, their overall goal being to get a job in order to make an income, that way their family could be fed and would not starve. People came from everywhere, including Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. Most came from Oklahoma though, so most of these people were referred to as Okies. Getting to California usually took people a little under a week depending on their form of transportation. At first, finding a job in California was easy, there were many crops that needed to be picked in the area, but as more Okies came these jobs became scarce.

Farm owners in California could not afford to pay so many workers with good wages, leaving many of the Okies still jobless in spite of their efforts. Families suffered, lives were lost, and the shreds of light in people’s hearts began to fade, as the storms carried on. Rebuilding hope, seeing a light during a dark time, these things aren’t always as simple as we may think. In 1941 the Dust Bowl ended. Winds died down and rain finally came, with these few moments the drought was over. People could finally go outside and breathe without so much worry. Dust began to convert back into regular soil as it regained moisture, although most of the nutrients had been lost.

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