2013-02-14 / Columns

News & Reviews

By Edward F. Keller, D.D.S.
1732 Golf Drive Bismarck, ND 58503

Dust Storms—1934

From Easter Sunday until fall, in 1934, my Emmons County, North Dakota farm experienced incessant strong winds with very little rain. May 10th, my 7th birthday, saw high, howling, northwest winds, pushing dark clouds and churning soil, peppering my house and turning day into night. On that day the crystal radio set, the one with earphones, the one Tony Hagel made, told that Chicago experts estimated 12,000,000 tons of plains soil was dumped on that city. The following day the sun dimmed in Washington, D.C., and ships 300 miles at sea reported dust settling on their decks.

In April my father had plowed and seeded braving the dust and wind. When he arrived from the fields the only contrast in his earth covered face was the whites of his eyes and his teeth. The wash basin turned an earthen color. His red handkerchief blackened as he cleared his lungs and air passages. Layers of dust engulfed the inside of our house, sifting right by the rags we had stuffed into the windows and door cracks. Dishes, cupboards, curtains, towels, floors, clothes, beds… all soaked in dust. I scraped layers of earth from the inside of my shoes to make room for my toes. Dust formed between my teeth, making goose bump, grinding and abrading sounds. By the end of May all the seed had blown from the fields. On higher areas of the fields all the five inch plowed soil was gone, exposing the scrape marks from the plow shares. Indian arrowheads lay bare on the crusted earth and made profitable finds. A Linton lawyer, Harry Lynn, paid five to ten cents for an arrow and decorated his office with them.

The summer dust pastures left cattle and horses dying as they too abraded their teeth, searching for grass and filled their lungs with the grimy dust, choking and coughing up gobs of earthy black slime.

In all of the 1930s 40,000,000 acres of plains soil blew onto roads, ditches, prairies, along thistle-stuffed fences and buildings, like snow drifts. I grew up thinking this all to be normal happenings. My friends often played in the sand. All along my father reassured, “Things will get better” when I really didn’t know what better would be like. All the neighbors lived like I did… and life went on; church, school, accordion dances, names day celebrations, church feasts, 4th of July celebrations in Linton and Strasburg and school picnics. Adult conversations before and after Sunday church centered with wind, dust and tough times. There were a lot of Och yes, Och Gott, vas kon es noch geben (Oh Jesus, Oh God,what else can yet happen), during these difficult times that my Emmons County, North Dakota pioneers endured.

Till next time.

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