The Worst Hard Time:

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
by Timothy Egan
2011 / 352  pages
rating – 8.5

What happened to the people who lived through the Dust Bowl but didn’t migrate?

We all know that the Great Depression was bad and that the farmers of Oklahoma and other states in that area experience the dust bowl as well.   But did we really know how bad it was?  Most of my information came from Grapes of Wrath and that was about people who had left Oklahoma.  What about the ones who stayed,  who  ”weathered it out,”  so to speak?   And they weren’t just in Oklahoma but in the whole midwest from North Dakota (and Canada)  to Texas,  and from the
Nebraska to Montana –  big area –  2.5 million moved out in 10 years.   So what did happen to those who stayed?
I even lived in Oklahoma (Norman) for awhile and the “hard times” were never mentioned by anyone I knew.  I saw a couple dust storms but even the weather channel said they weren’t to be compared to the storms of the ’30s.    Out here in California where the some Okies headed,  the situation was pretty normal conversation.

Egan gets it all –  the politics,  the farming issues,  the boom before the bust, the government action, the effect.   He gets the people,  the emigrants and immigrants and native folks alike.  He fingers the power brokers and the poverty stricken,  the men the women and the poor, poor kids who had to survive all this.  He gets the parties and the funerals.  it’s not terribly depressing until toward the end when on top of all of what has gone before –  here come the grasshoppers. But when you learn how to farm in good times and work the soil for all it’s worth – then how are you going to know what to do when the rain stops?

To the settlers, “it seemed on many days as if a curtain were being drawn across a vast stage at world’s end.” Families couldn’t huddle together for warmth or love: the static electricity would knock them down. Children died of dust pneumonia, and livestock suffocated on dirt, their insides packed with soil. Women hung wet sheets in windows, taped doors and stuffed cracks with rags. None of this really worked. Housecleaning, in this era, was performed with a shovel.

The book is very well researched and wonderfully well written (I’d like to read more by Egan.) It’s suspenseful actually, although the reader knows what happens in general,   she doesn’t know what happened to these particular people.  And I didn’t know many of the specifics, actually .

Wiki on the Dustbowl

Dustbowl photos:

Smithsonian review:


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