The Dust Bowl

Oklahoma Dust Bowl Memories

Some of my earliest recollections are of the dust storms that blew into Oklahoma from Colorado, New Mexico, western Kansas, and west Texas.  When the winds would come from the west by northwest, my mother would go into action and have the boys go to the creek and carry buckets of water to the house.  She and my two sisters would gather flour sacks and other scraps of cloth and soak them in the water.  We then would “chink,” push the wet cloths between the windows and the windowsills, under and around the doors to stop the dust from coming into the house.  When the storm was over and the cloths were removed, they would be the color of the dust.  No pattern of flowers or design could be seen until they were washed and readied for the next storm.

People think all of Oklahoma was the Dust Bowl, but in the part of Oklahoma where we lived there was no drought from lack of rain.  We did, though, get terrible dust storms caused by dust blowing in from the drought-stricken areas, and when it would rain after those dust storms, it would be extremely muddy from all the dust that had been dropped.

I remember one storm when I was about five years old (1937/38), which was so bad that at midday the sun looked about the size of a basketball; the light was much like the late dusk of summer.  If we left the house, we wore kerchiefs dampened with water over our mouths and noses to keep from breathing the dust, and pieces of rags stuffed in our ears to keep the dust out.

It was not uncommon for people and animals to get “dust pneumonia” from breathing all the dust.

Abandoned Farm in the Dust Bowl Area of Oklahoma, 1936. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

Abandoned Farm in the Dust Bowl Area of Oklahoma, 1936. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

For more photos of the Dust Bowl please see our “Images of the Dust Bowl” photo gallery:

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