Give us back our lush green land, you prayed.

It was Sunday 14 April 1935, after four years of drought. Your family had gone to church. But your prayer was not answered. That afternoon the worst of the black blizzards hit. 

The house shook. Dust filled the air, squeezing past the wet rags your mother had stuffed round the windows. Anxiously you listened. Your father had gone into the biting blackness to settle the cattle. Finally he returned, choking, spitting up mud. 

Before your family had come to Oklahoma, the pioneers called the boundless tree-less plains the ‘Great American Desert’. Experts warned settlers that the lack of crop rotation and deep ploughing would leave soil exposed to the wind. But no one listened because, for a while, the rains were good. 

People died from the dust, the rest began to starve. Proud, your father refused handouts, but soon he had no choice: seven harvests failed out of eight. He sold the cattle, watched them slaughtered. You packed your meagre belongings and followed him out of the house, not even bothering to close the door. 

By 1940, two-and-a-half million people had left, and in the next seven years another five million would leave, ending single-family farming in the American Great Plains. 

The Dustbowl

Alex Harvie

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