The 1930s was perhaps, in terms of economy and morale, the worst decade in American history. During the 1930s Americans experienced the Great Depression, the Great Drought, and the Dust Bowl. Every State suffered at least one of those “traumas”; many by all three.
Some people thought God was bringing the world to an end. In retrospect some of us wonder if perhaps God used the 1930s to prepare Americans to fight and win World War Two.
Regardless, Americans brought America through but in the process many suffered immense hardships; some didn’t survive but no one saw the darkness more than the people of the Southern Plains.
By 1935 Americans had been in the throes of economic depression for over five years. All but two states had suffered severe drought. It was called a “plague of dryness” and an “appalling disaster.” More than four thousand people died from the heat.
Kicked up by high-speed winds that blew non-stop for 100 hours great clouds of dust blew across the country from Southern Plains states. Those “black bizzards” moved at speeds as great as 100 miles per hour. One dust storm dumped 12 million tons on Chicago. “Muddy rains” fell on Boston, Washington DC, New York, and Atlanta. Many sections of the six Southern Mid-west states from which the sand came were left desolate waste lands; “no-man’s land” as if they were World War I battlefields.
The “blackest” year, or so it seemed, was 1935. Said one historian; “the Dust Bowl made its full-blown debut.” In some areas in the Southern Plains the sun wasn’t seen for six weeks. But everyone agreed that the worst day of all was April 14, 1935 when the dust hit with all its fury in what is now called “Black Sunday.”
Sunday morning April 14 began as a deceptively nice day; clear and bright. It seemed a much needed respite from the prior weeks of dust. Then, within a short time, the temperature suddenly plummeted by 50 degrees. Birds congregated into great flocks and chattered “nervously” and then they’d fly away. Looking toward the northern horizon people understood why. A great black wall was approaching.
It hit eastern Colorado and western Kansas in the early afternoon and then swept south into Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. It was 300 million tons of dry topsoil moving at 60 miles per hour. It swept in and surrounded everything. Birds couldn’t fly, animals couldn’t sprint, people couldn’t run, and cars couldn’t drive fast enough. It engulfed everything in its path.
Thousands of birds, jackrabbits, and mice were killed almost instantly. Larger animals and some human beings, those that’s didn’t find shelter, suffocated within hours. Horses and cows ran amok. People hunkered in houses, barns, and shacks. Many feared their shelters would “blow away.”
The dust left people with burning eyes, chafed skin, and hoarse voices. It also left many, in epidemic proportions, with what was called “dust pneumonia.”
Some people died while most others were left discouraged, despondent, and depressed. For more than 5 years many had prayed for rain; on Black Sunday they got more dust. Some people packed up and headed to California.
Of course, the Drought, the Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression ended. The great trials were on the same scale as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Perhaps the great trials of the 1930s were meant to prepare Americans for the next great trial; World War II.
Donald Worster: The Dust Bowl: Southern Plains in the 1930s
New York Times
PBS American Experience: “Surviving the Dust Bowl”
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Spearman Texas April 14, 1935