Segments in this Video

Dust Bowl (04:59)


Hear descriptions of what it was like to live through the man-made ecological disaster that nearly obliterated America’s “bread basket.”

Homestead Claim (04:04)

When Caroline Henderson settled in Texas County in 1908, it was an ideal landscape. She married, had a daughter, and submitted articles about life on the plains to earn extra money. Many were intrigued by the rich soil and large stretches of flat land; the grasses were an evolutionary adaptation.

Great Plains (03:49)

Many thought the area unfit for settlement; Plains Indians called it home. Cattlemen took over during the "Beef Bonanza" until it went bust and homesteaders arrived. Hear an excerpt from Henderson’s writings.

World War Wheat Boom (04:25)

The government and agriculture experts told farmers that tearing up buffalo grass and plowing the plains would allow rainfall to more easily penetrate the earth. During the Great War, a record amount of acreage was dedicated to growing wheat known as “the great plow up.”

Farming Revolution (08:12)

People of many nationalities and classes were able to own land, and new technology made farming easier; many thought the buffalo grasses should not be destroyed. Hear an excerpt from Henderson’s writings and tales of the bold decisions of farmers.

Financial Panic (07:01)

Even after Black Tuesday, the Great Depression was delayed in reaching rural wheat farmers. The U.S. government encouraged them to reduce production. Farmers increased production to pay debts.

Two Midnights (08:04)

The dust storms begins in Amarillo, Texas; different types of dust and sandstorms continued to plague the Great Plains. Hear Henderson’s description of the drought and storms.

Unrelenting Dust Storms (07:05)

Robert Forest recalls the hardship his family faced when their crop withered in the drought. American people began to resent President Hoover and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president attempted to implement helpful government programs, but he could not change the weather.

Static Storms (04:11)

Don Wells says eddies were created by sand, dirt, and thistles so live stock would walk over the fences; land without thistles became hard and barren. Static electricity created by the storms was so strong it knocked people to the ground and killed plants.

Housewives and Rabbits (05:47)

Women were frustrated by constant dust; Dorothy Kleffman recalls some committing suicide. Intensifying the situation, jackrabbits ran rampant eating everything in sight; people had “rabbit drives” to kill them off.

National Drought (05:57)

In spring of 1934, snow and rain brought moisture to the farms, but the dust storms soon resumed. Easterners believed they could cover the plains with rocks or old cars to stop the storms. Roosevelt acknowledged that the problem did not have an easy solution.

Burying the Herds (07:00)

Hear an excerpt from Henderson’s writings. The farmers, unable to afford feed for cows, began taking advantage of government programs that paid them to kill their livestock. Children shared in the experience of watching the cattle shot.

Battle Against Hope (07:09)

The drought psychologically tormented residents, and many people of the dust bowl committed suicide. Every person and business was negatively impacted during the drought.

Dust Pneumonia (05:34)

Dust storms increased in strength, severity, and frequency; Donald Worster claims they were more frightening than snow storms. A new epidemic arose when children and the elderly began contracting deadly illnesses from the dust.

Dust Disease (07:47)

Floyd Coen's baby sister was one of 31 to die in their county. McCoy says many religious people began believing they were cursed for violently plowing the soil.

End of the World (06:36)

When a sunny day greeted the people of the Dust Bowl, many people, including the Browns, took advantage of the good weather. This day turned into the biggest and blackest dust storm yet, and many people believed it was the apocalypse.

Black Sunday (07:33)

Trixie Travis Brown recalls the events of April 14, 1935. Boots McCoy describes what his father did to navigate the severe dust storm to check on a family member.

Dust Bowl Blues (02:53)

Black Sunday lead a reporter to coin the term “the Dust Bowl” and inspired Woody Guthrie music. Many people were inspired to leave and seek out a new life outside of the Great Plains.

Credits: The Great Plow Up (02:40)

Credits: The Great Plow Up

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The Great Plow Up

Part of the Series : Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl
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In the early twentieth century, thousands of homesteaders and "suitcase farmers" converge on the southern Plains, where wet years, rising wheat prices and World War I produce a classic boom. Millions of acres of virgin sod are plowed up. Caroline Henderson stakes her claim in a strip of Oklahoma called No Man's Land, and for a while prosperity seems certain for her and the families of two dozen survivors who provide eyewitness testimony. Then, in 1931, a decade-long drought begins, exacerbated by the Great Depression. Huge dust storms carry off the exposed topsoil and darken the skies at midday, killing crops and livestock. "Dust pneumonia" breaks out, threatening children's lives. And just when it seems things could not get any worse, in 1935 the most catastrophic dust storm in history strikes on "Black Sunday."

Length: 112 minutes

Item#: BVL131309

Copyright date: ©2012

Closed Captioned

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