The name of the book I read is ‘The Worst Hard Time’ by Timothy Egan. Timothy Egan is an American author, journalist and op-ed columnist for The New York Times and has written a total of seven books. ‘The Worst Hard Time’ perfectly captures Americas worst environmental disaster through the eyes of those that experienced it first-hand, better known as the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl primarily affected southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas and parts of Oklahoma and Texas from 1930-1936. The Dust Bowl was known for its catastrophic effects on American agriculture and the neighboring communities.
The story begins when we are introduced to Bam White, a ranch hand traveling from Las Animas, Colorado to Littlefield, Texas for a brand-new start as Texas was the place to be for a ranch hand such as Bam. However, little did Bam White know that the once legendary XIT ranch, was now in shambles, suffering from drought, and having no cattle to their name. Realtors who were in a desperate attempt to sell land, handed lies to clients while pan handle farmers told people to stay away at all costs. Unfortunately, while Bam White and his family were resting in Dalhart, a small town one-hundred-seventy-six miles from their destination, he came to realize one of his horses had passed away, meaning that they could travel no further and he would be forced to look for work in the town they had only been supposed to be passing through. Meanwhile, in the story we are introduced to a young woman named Hazel and her father Carlyle Lucas who were settled in Boise City, Oklahoma. With the onset of World War One, Carlyle Lucas turned towards the wheat boom, as the war had caused the price of wheat to nearly double and he looked to support his family in any way possible. Carlyle would make nearly eight thousand a year which was incredibly fortunate in 1917. The people of Boise City were thriving, being able to replace their horses with Model-T’s, and loans that were previously impossible to receive, were now being granted all around the region, but it all seemed to be happening too fast. Bam White in the meantime, was struggling to find a job as a ranch hand and turned to the wheat just as many others in farmland were for the time being. However, the overuse of land for farming caused a glut of wheat in the U.S, marking the beginning of the end as wheat prices entered a downward spiral, and farmers were forced to produce more to support their families. Soon after, the stock market crashed, causing the people of the southern high plains to lose their savings due to bank closures while president Hoover refused to purchase the mass supply of wheat the farmers had produced. To make matters worse, on September 14th, 1930, the first of hundreds of dust storms began to arise. Businesses were failing, crops cost more to grow than to purchase, America’s soil had lost its life, and drought ravaged the southern highlands.
As Bam wandered the countryside picking up odd jobs whenever he could, he stumbled across Hooverville’s, in which he realized people were suffering just as bad as he was. However, once Roosevelt was sworn into office in March 1933 with his predecessor leaving him the shell of a nation, he immediately swung into action. Roosevelt began buying up surplus, regulating the price and flow of food, and asked to reduce farmers crops and cattle in exchange for cash. While the droughts were still relentless, things began to look better for those in the heart of the Dust Bowl. Meanwhile in Boise City, rain had not fallen in nearly two years, and in March and April 1933, they saw a two-month block of dirt storms killing any plans that survived to spring, which left the animals with nothing to feed on. Dust storms in the region made it nearly impossibly to not inhale dust particles, and those in no-man’s land began to lose all their possessions and hope. However, Roosevelt began to give the people hope once again, as unemployment improved due to subsidies to farmers and the thousands of government jobs that had been created. Meanwhile the storms continued their havoc, bringing wind, dust, and static electricity every time they arose making the people of Dalhart so desperate as to shoot TNT into the air in an attempt to have it rain.
Hazel, the daughter of Charles had just had her first baby, and although doctors advised to not return to Boise City in regards to the baby’s health, they did so any way. Soon after, a funeral was planned for their one-year old daughter who succumbed to dust pneumonia. Word eventually began to the rest of the nation about the dire conditions of the southern plains. The Roosevelt administration hired a photography team to record the destruction of the region, using Bam White’s frail body as the symbol of the Dust Bowl. Hazel soon welcomed her second child into the world, a baby boy who they made sure would be able to live a long life by leaving Boise City, and the dust bowl behind them.
Bam White was being shunned by his neighbors for appearing in the Roosevelt documentary as the symbol for the dust bowl. However, Bam White did not care as he knew the farmers were the one to blame for the disaster. Despite the improvements made by the federal government, there were still one-hundred-thirty-four clusters in 1937, making it the worst year known to date. Franklin D. Roosevelt eventually visits Amarillo, Texas in which many city officials believed that there could be a dust storm, ruining the presidents stay. However, to the people’s surprise, there was actually rain, and Roosevelt took it as a good omen. The people of Amarillo gave equal thanks to both Roosevelt and god for the end of the drought. While Roosevelt lauded the people for their strength and resiliency, he knew that the Dust Bowl could have been prevented, and the reason it did happen was because of human failure.
The reason I chose to read ‘The Worst Hard Time’ by Timothy Egan was because of its unique perspective on life during the Dust Bowl, and my interest in knowing what life would be like in the heart of Americas worst environmental disaster. Overall, the book was a very interesting read and exposed me to information that I wouldn’t have had without this book. While the book was overall a very interesting and good read, it could also be quite boring and slow at times, making it hard for me to want to continue reading at times. However, I would still recommend this book to another student if they were interested in learning more about the causes of both the Dust Bowl and Great Depression along with the impacts of both historical events on the people of the southern highlands.