Sunday, December 04, 2011
The Worst Hard Time
By Timothy Egan
When the Great Plains were opened to settlement, the area was thought to be prime farmland. The great grasslands were plowed under, the native bison destroyed, and the prairie divided into fenced plots and sowed with crops. At the time, the area was experiencing a period of fairly wet conditions and crops flourished. The price of wheat was high and more and more land was put to the plow. Overproduction resulted and prices crashed. Wheat was piled up on the ground as the elevators filled. Farmers' cost of production exceeded the price they could get for their crop. At about the same time, the country was plunged into the Great Depression and America's buying power was decimated, which didn't help the farmers at all. Then, on top of all that, a drought struck the Great Plains, a drought that lasted for years and years. Farmers tried to plant a crop only watch it wither and die from lack of moisture. Too much acreage was laid bare to wind, wind which is a permanent feature of the Great Plains. Gigantic dust storms ensued, storms so massive that fences were buried, tractors and vehicles buried. The good top soil was stripped off and sent up into the atmosphere traveling at times as far as New York City and Washington DC.
This is the story of those times, of the people who stuck it out and refused to give up on the dream. They dealt with the dust that got everywhere, that destroyed not only the health of their livestock, but their own health. It's a fascinating, heartbreaking and even frightening story as greed replaced common sense and people believed what they wanted to believe and converted marginal, semi-arid land into farmland, telling themselves that "rain follows the plow."