Monday, February 8, 2021

Did We Cause the Dust Bowl? by Cora Leland

Did We Cause the Dust Bowl?

By Cora Leland





When a young blacksmith visited America in 1837, he learned first-hand about how hard the new residents of the grasslands of America were working, and that the plow they’d ‘inherited’  caused the need for hard work, but also caused many of the problems the settlers endured.


With some research, John Deere found that settlers needed a plow quite different from the ones they or their parents had farmed with in Europe.  In the mid west, farmers had to struggle, day in, day out, with the thick roots of prairie grass systems they found under the soil.  


The long-bladed plows then in use were hard to manoeuvre and very difficult to get mended, because steel was in short supply.   Some experts even say that the invention of the short-bladed steel plow cured Americans of the debilitating grip of the Financial Crisis of 1837.


New studies signal that the ecological problems of the 20th century caused the dust bowl. Further, not all these changes are man-made, and some didn't even originate in America.  And these problems continue. (For example, the nuclear testing and deforestation that’s taking place all over the world.)  Though it’s certainly true that the development of the Great Plains from miles of empty prairie to potent farmland was spectacular, it did not cause the Dust Bowl.  


These grasslands were soon America’s breadbasket, the agricultural belt capable of feeding the world.   But this lightning-like change was just  one tiny factor among many much bigger ones. 


For example, the settlers used no artificial fertilizers, but the farming concerns did, the ones that came later, around 1950 (the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch)  They added high levels of nitrogen and phosphate to the soils from their use of artificial fertilizers.  (Just for the record, the settlers and pioneers to the American West lived during an era of continuous stability, the Holocene Epoch.)


The mid-20th century ushered in huge spikes of damage, including plastic pollution, aluminum and concrete particles, and increasing doses artificially produced nitrogen and phosphate to the American soils.


But the people of the 1950’s on have encouraged the growth and development across the world of many kinds of animals.  For example, the barnyard chicken has been a continuing source of food and economic development.  (Many a new farmer’s, rancher’s or homesteader’s family survived on the proceeds that came from their chickens.) 

                                            Chickens to the Rescue


In the 19th century, some newcomers couldn’t provide a separate coop, so they housed their chickens in another building.  They were vigorous, but the harsh climate and changeable farming conditions made their grip fragile for surviving on the plains.   


Just to note a few examples, the storms of insects such as locusts, that flew in clouds to vanquish the settlers’ entire crops came at will.  These infestations seemed to follow no schedule, and had no apparent reason for occurring.   The extreme climate, with the scorching sun, then below freezing snows that devastated whole herds of cattle seemed to be more than a poor person could continue for very long.


 The Pioneers' Great Resilience 

Note:  I’ve had sudden computer problems this morning, and only half the article is here.  Tune in later for the rest!  Thanks.





  1. My family lived in through the Dust Bowl but lived near the Red River and my grandparents' farm was sub-irrigated. However, I grew up mostly in West Texas and lived through terrible dust and sandstorms. Walking home from school with gravel and sand pelting my legs was not fun. I'm asthmatic and breathing in a dust storm is difficult. While visiting my mother-in-law once, we had to leave as I could NOT breathe. It was leave or go to ER so we left and got ahead of the dust. It was black dust and we had no idea where it was from. The soil around Lubbock is brown with a bit of red in it. There's a famous photo of the approach of a dust storm near Midland during the Dust Bowl, though. Ancestors of mine in the late 1800s Oklahoma thought the end of the world had come when they were in a black dust storm. The family were living in a dugout and a tent at the time.

  2. That is supposed to say my family lived in North TX near Childress and OK


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