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‘Dirty ’30s’ still stinging in Oklahomans’ memories

BY ROBERT BARRON Published: November 5, 2012

During the Dust Bowl, his mother swept the windowsills off every day. Miller does not know how she kept the dust out of the cooking pans. He recalled the government paying farmers to kill livestock because they couldn’t support them.

“We didn’t have a windmill and pumped water for cattle by hand,” he said.

‘We got out of there’

The late Milford Robertson was born on a homestead in Harper County. Robertson died between the time he was interviewed for this story and the date of publication.

His family moved to Stillwater in 1919, so the kids could go to school. At 96, Robertson remembered when they lived on the farm they had an orchard, garden, a deep well and horses.

“Thank goodness we got out of there before the dust storms,” he said.

As a student at Oklahoma A&M, he saw the Dust Bowl and said it was “terrible.”

“It was not a little incident,” he said. “We lived on a farm at Stillwater, but we didn’t get the dust that was experienced in western Oklahoma.”

Even though they did not get the same type of dust as western Oklahoma, the family still had problems. Robertson said he walked four miles from their farm to school, and there was dust in the air. His family had to dust and sweep every day.

“You could see in the north and south, the dust was quite evident,” Robertson said. “There was dust all day long and into the night and next day like it wouldn’t end. It was a plague. I don’t know how people survived.”

‘8 rooms and a path’

Eva McClanahan was raised two miles north of Drummond on a farm where it was hot and dry.

“We had eight rooms and a path. Mom hung a towel over some windows,” she said. “The dust was so thick, you could not see in front of you.”

Her father bought horses and sold them in Arkansas for money. They drove a horse and buggy to school.

“It was terrible hot in the summer, plus the dust. You saw a big, dark cloud in the northwest and knew another dust storm was coming. They were very frequent, though not every day,” she said.

She recalled the summer of 1936 as being extremely hot, and does not remember if they had a wheat crop that year.

McClanahan said throughout the period, her family did not think they were any different from anyone else.

“Everyone was poor,” she said.

In 1939, the rains came again and much of the agricultural land had been placed in conservation districts. With the approach of World War II, America began to come out of the decade-long Depression.

Soil conservation

Many Oklahomans who left the state never returned. But there was another movement in the country, one that did not involve people moving out of the state. Rather, this new movement reclaimed the land and taught people how to farm it in a different way that protected the soil for future harvests. The new soil conservation movement had begun, and was starting to catch on in rural America.

Timothy Egan, author of “The Worst Hard Time,” considers the Dust Bowl story a parable of sorts, according to a readers’ guide by publisher Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. Looking back, the story of the Dust Bowl was about what happens when people push the land and do not care for it properly.

McClanahan and Miller said that is a lesson of the Dust Bowl — learning a new way of farming and a new way of caring for the land.

Distributed by

The Associated Press

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