On the Wonderful Country
There’s nothin’ like this country when it rains, I mean as far as the grassland is beautiful, the Brahma grass and buffalo grass. With rain, the country produces something as good as nearly anyway in the world, because we have a variety of soil. We have the black land, tight lands, sandy land, and the mix, you see. So it’s — it’s a wonderful country.
On a Human Trait
That’s kindly a human trait: we don’t think. We don’t think, except for ourselves and it comes down to greed. You know, we’re selfish and we want — we’re self-centered and we want what we want and we don’t even think of what the end results might be. Or, like a lot of people say, as far as you can see is the end of your nose and that’s what a lot of people back then, they could just see the great thing that was happening, the rain and the produce of the crops is doin’. So that’s — that’s about as far as they see and that’s as far as they thought. They didn’t think in the future what could happen if things did change.
On Black Sunday
It’s on a Sunday afternoon about six o’clock. And we was gittin’ prepared to go to church and went to church in a team and wagon. And I’d gone out to kinda tend the chickens and stuff and back in the north it was just a little bank, oh, like about eight or ten feet high. We had one of those headers out on each end, you know. And I did a few things there around the chickens and everything and went back in the house and I said, “Dad, we ain’t goin’ to be able to go to church tonight.” And he said, “Why?” And that’s how fast it’s travelin’. And we was livin’ in an old house that was 14 feet wide, 36 foot long, just one room, board and batten with a washed roof on it. It kept gittin’ worse and worse and wind blowin’ harder and harder and it kept gittin’ darker and darker. And the old house was just a-vibratin’ like it was gonna blow away. And I started tryin’ to see my hand. And I kept bringin’ my hand up closer and closer and closer and closer and closer and I finally touched the end of my nose and I still couldn’t see my hand. That’s how black it was. And we burned kerosene lamps and Dad lit an old kerosene lamp, set it on the kitchen table and it was just across the room from me, about — about 14 feet. And I could just barely see that lamp flame across the room. That’s how dark it was and it was six o’clock in the afternoon. It was the 14th of April, 1935. The sun was still up, but it was totally black and that was blackest, worst dust storm, sand storm we had durin’ the whole time.
A lot of people died. A lot of children, especially, died of dust pneumonia. They’d take little kids and cover 'em with sheets and sprinkle water on the sheets to filter the dust out. But we had to haul water. We had a team and we had water barrels. We hauled stock water and household water both. And we didn’t have the water to use for that, so we just had to suffer through it. And lots of mornin’s we’d get up and strain our drinkin’ water like people strain milk, through a cloth, to strain the debris out of it. But then, of course, a lotta grit went through and settled to the bottom of the bucket, but you had have drinkin’ water. And when you got you a little dipper of water, you drink it. You didn’t take a sip and throw it away, because it was a very precious thing to us because we had to haul it.
On Wondering What It’s Coming To
They was a lotta different thoughts and ideas went through people’s mind. I heard a lot of 'em expressed and then in the spring of ’35 there was meteor come up over Dalhart 'bout four o’ clock, in the mornin’. And it lit up just like daylight and it — it really scared a lotta people. A lotta people got off their bed and got their children outta the bed and got down prayin’, thought that was it. They thought that was the end of the world with all the dust storms and that meteor, which is hit over in Arizona somewheres. It’s still over there. I mean I’ve seen pictures of it. But, naw, it was a — it was feeling that, you just wondered what — what is it comin’ to, because things, just like I say, each and every day got worse and you couldn’t see no end. You couldn’t see anything of any improvement. And the government come in and took the cattle and killed 'em, paid $16 for a cow and $3 for a calf. When that was gone, then you didn’t have anything hardly left. And you’s just nearly fully dependent on the government for a job. And it was not much future.
We had two — two milk cows and one — one had a little small calf and one of the — I thought it was the prettiest and nicest Guernsey cow, they led it off and the little calf and I don’t know how come they let Dad have the — the skin off the calf, but they would not let you have the meat to eat. That, I couldn’t understand. People starvin’ an dependin’ on the government for what we called then “relief commodities”. It wasn’t called “welfare” then. But they’d take 'em and run 'em off in the draw somewheres and shoot a lot of 'em at a time, several head at a time, and just leave 'em for whatever. And I couldn’t understand that, why they couldn’t have taken 'em and had 'em butchered and give 'em back to the people for — for food. But they just didn’t operate that way.
Some people thought it was an act of God and a punishment for — and possibly in a way it kindly was, because they’d more or less what you’d say raped the land. The way they had done the land, 'cause, to me, God didn’t create the plains to be farmland. He created it for what He put on it, in grass and cattle. And they come in and completely changed it.
They abused it somethin’ terrible. They raped it. They got everything out they could and — but there’d been cycles like that before and there’d been cycles like that since, but not that severe.
On Waiting for Next Year
I’ve seen desperate looks on Dad’s face. He had lots of stamina. He didn’t seem to — he didn’t show discouragement. He didn’t show disappointment. He always — he — he lived with hopes. “Next year. Next year. I failed this time, but next year’ll be better.” And I never did see him have the look of givin’ up or quitting. He — he always stayed in there and seemed that he was gonna make it some way or another. If anybody made it, he’d be one of 'em, he thought.
The reason why we stayed, the reason my dad stayed, we didn’t have a wherewith to do with. We had no reserve, had no money. We had no automobile. We had teams, but where could we go? Ah, 'cause at that time a hundred miles in a team wagon was a good long ways. It was like I said while a go. It took eight days to come from Los Alamos to Colorado to Dalhart with a team and wagon. So where would we go? We had nowhere to go or nothin’ to go with. So — and he had this little job with the WPA and he went to gettin’ his little $16-a-month pension. So he figured it was best to stay with what he had, because he didn’t know where to go to get anything any better.
On Government Commodities
Now Dad seemed to accept what they called “commodities”. Ah, it wasn’t all that much, but it helped a great deal. We got prunes and grapefruit, canned, ... sheep meat, what you call it, mutton. And flour. You’d have flour. And then sometimes they’d have lard. You had to sign up for you and how many that was in your family and, ah, I don’t remember whether it was ever two weeks. And then you got — I know we got some sausage and it was about so big around and about so long and it had so much cayenne pepper, if you know what cayenne pepper it — it’s very hot — that you could just eat maybe one little slice of it. But we’d — we’d go down in the team and wagon and get the commodities and Dad didn’t seem to be — well, the — a lotta people was in the same condition we were, you know. He didn’t seem to be thinkin’ it was disgrace. It was just a way of livin’ and feedin’ his family. And it was a great help.
On Being in the Movies
I suppose they was from California. I suppose they was from Los Angeles that come in to make a film of all the area of the Dust Bowl. And, of course, they was tryin’ to find scenes to take, which they could find plenty of sand dunes and houses and buildings was pretty well covered up with sand and equipment, wagons and farm equipment. But they was wantin’ someone with a team and a plow to more or less demonstrate how they started breakin’ the plains up. So him, with a team, just two horses, a single team, and a one-bottom breakin’ plow, that way, they could take and show that and have him — have the horses and start 'em and let the plow go in the ground and start turnin’ over and they had him to plow sod, grassland that had never been broken up, and turn that. And they took it there just west of Dalhart and they took it where it would show back to the west where there was nothin’. There was no trees, buildings, nothin’ to make it look like you could see forever, because that was the title they was gonna name the movie was “The Plow that Broke the Plains”. So they had him bein’ the guilty one to start it, of bein’ the one that started breakin’ the plains out back in the early day. And so he — he had the team and the wagon and the plow and everything to do it with. So someone, I guess, told 'em about his bein’ there and so they come to him. And I know he put on his best hat and then his best old leaf shirt and pants and shoes and he left about eight or eight-thirty that mornin’ and got back a little after eleven and you never saw such a happy man in your life. He said, “They paid me $25 for two hours’ work.” He said, “That’s nearly a month’s wages and I don’t see how they can afford to pay wages like that.” He had no idea what it was all about, who they were, or what they was gonna make of it. And then they told him, said, “We’ll give you five passes to this movie for you and your wife and your three children. It will be shown in Dalhart and you’ll be notified when it’ll be shown.” So that was in April of 1936 and then we moved to the country. We was livin’ in town in Dalhart when that was taped, you know. We moved to the country about 13 miles west of town. We got a letter sayin’ that this picture was bein’ show at the Mission Theater in Dalhart, Texas, certain certain time. So we went to town and that’s the first movie I ever saw in my life. And, ah, it’s — you know, I was just a big old ignorant kid and went in there and set down, went to lookin’ around at all the big high ceilin’s, the lights. And, of course, I had no idea what the curtain and everything up there was about, so directly here the picture come on and went to showin’ and we was — Dad and Mom and my brother and sister settin’ there and then directly there dad went to goin’ across the screen up there, him and ol’ Tom and Dan’s the name of the horses. There he was a-plowin’ and here he was settin’ here by me and I’d lookin’ at him lookin’ there and I couldn’t figure out how they was doin’ that, showin’ him that real. Him and the horses was bein’ shown and here he sat here by me, you know. So it was quite a thing and that’s the first movie I ever saw in my life.
When an earthen dam broke without warning, a small city in Pennsylvania was swept away in a wall of water over 30 feet high.
The American effort to relieve starvation in Soviet Russia in 1921 during the worst natural disaster in Europe in 500 years.
Robert Marshall, Aldo Leopold and Howard Zahniser dedicated their lives to protect the shrinking American wilderness.
President Theodore Roosevelt was caught in the middle of the first major battle for wilderness preservation in Yosemite National Park.
Her 1963 warnings about the effects of pesticides and herbicides sparked a revolution in environmental policy.
In 1927, the Mississippi River flooded from New Orleans to Illinois, leaving a million people homeless and leading to a major black migration to the North.
The inspiring story of the modern environmental movement.
High on a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills tower the huge carved faces of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.