When press reports of the dire situation in the Dust Bowl appeared throughout the country, John L. McCarty, the outspoken young editor of the “Dalhart Texan” newspaper, rushed to the region’s defense. He attacked outside critics for blaming “a group of courageous Americans for a six-year drouth [sic] cycle and national conditions beyond their control.”
In 1935, rumors of a forced resettlement were triggered by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes’ statement, “We’ll have to move them out of there and turn the land back to public domain.” In fact, the Resettlement Administration had been created in response to Black Sunday, and C.H. Wilson, an official there, proposed that the government buy up 2,250,000 acres of land in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, removing hundreds of farm families and settling them elsewhere. Roosevelt, however, was firmly opposed to the idea. “You and I know many farmers in many states are trying to make both ends meet on land not fit for agriculture,” he said, “But if they want to do that, I take it, it’s their funeral.”
As many fled the plains following the disaster of Black Sunday in April 1935, and the rumors of forced resettlement proliferated, McCarty dug in his heels and decided to stay, come what may. Declaring that the southern plains were “the best damned country God’s sun ever shown upon,” McCarty published a pledge in the newspaper, stating that he would stay until everyone else was gone. He vowed to be the last man on the plains, and he dared others to join him.
His dare did not go unchallenged. Farmers, bankers, doctors, cowboys and schoolteachers came to the newspaper office and signed McCarty’s pledge in ink, promising that, barring a family or other emergency, they would stay on the plains “until hell freezes over.” From all over the plains, applications for membership arrived at the newspaper. Although it held no meetings and made no resolutions, the Last Man’s Club became a rallying point, a symbol of the determination of the usually independent people of the plains to join together to stay and fight.
The desire to stay was strengthened by the belief that drought alone was the cause of the Dust Bowl. Although Roosevelt shared this belief, his administration soon came to believe that a more extensive conservation plan, incorporating social and economic policies, was needed.
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