THE DUST BOWL: Men, Dirt, and Depression by Paul Bonnifield

THE DUST BOWL: Men, Dirt, and Depression

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A government publication of the 1930s describes the Dust Bowl as ""a dead land, populated by defeated people. . . plagued by drought and depression."" But for Paul Bonnifield, a professor at Panhandle State University in Oklahoma, this is a false picture, and his carefully-detailed account combines history, geography, economics, and sociology to provide a truer analysis. Contrary to the ""generally accepted theory"" that the wind erosion responsible for the Dust Bowl phenomenon resulted directly from high wheat prices in World War I and consequent overplowing, Bonnifield notes that severe dirt storms were nothing new, having plagued settlers in the 1850s, ""before any plow turned the short-grass sod or longhorn cattle overgrazed the range."" True, when ""the most severe drought"" in U.S. history hit the area, overproduction had already dampened wheat prices. But Bonnifield contends that business conditions in the Dust Bowl--parts of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado--were no worse than elsewhere during the Depression, and were even better in some ways: ""Railroads and the oil and gas industry provided money and employment,"" and ""land value held up better."" Bonnifield criticizes New Deal agricultural programs, particularly for ignoring wind erosion problems, and he disputes ""mass migration"" theories, citing school statistics to prove that the region suffered no major population drop, and noting that most of the ""Okie migrants"" were from non-Dust Bowl areas of affected and adjacent states. An extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources fills out this well-constructed, interesting study: another look may be in order, it suggests, at the basis of migration.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico Press