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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Dust Bowl was deadly

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Until 1930, most agriculture workers, and especially the cattlemen, had retained their independence from government help and interference. However, the Crash of 1929 ushered in the beginnings of the Great Depression. By 1931 severe drought set in all across the Great Plains from Canada to Texas with annual rainfall averages cut in half from normal.

By 1933, areas in the Southern Plains began to experience dust storms that eventually grew into the Dust Bowl. Wind velocities often ranged from thirty to sixty miles per hour, with Amarillo experiencing 192 "dusters" between January 1933 and February 1936.

Commodity prices dropped approximately 50 percent by 1933 while taxes and interest rates remained unchanged. A total collapse of the agricultural industry threatened in spite of efforts by the Hoover administration and numerous commodity marketing boards. The situation became so desperate, massive federal action seemed to be the only alternative for relief.

The inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated a number of "New Deal" farm programs attending the problems of every phase of agriculture and assuring everyone the government was aware of their problems.

Roosevelt's Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 ushered in voluntary crop acreage reduction, allotments of crop acreage and extensive education on changing farming practices. All 26 counties of the upper Panhandle of Texas required emergency aid in the form of crop loans in order for farmers to continue. As the drought wore on, emergency livestock feed was made available.

In June of 1934, almost as a last resort, Congress authorized a Drought Relief Service for purchasing drought-stricken cattle. Depending on weight and condition, the agency would pay $4 to $8 for calves, $10 to $15 for yearlings, with cows, big steers and bulls bringing $12 to $20. Those in the worst condition were killed immediately and buried while others were sent to packing plants for slaughter.

Starting in June of 1934, the program ran until late January of 1935 with the government eventually purchasing almost 8.3 million head of livestock providing $111 million in payments to the livestock owners and their creditors. In spite of this help which basically saved the industry from disaster, it refused to extend any cooperation in future government programs.

I was born in 1933 and these problems and eventual solutions all came before my time. But I certainly remember the telling of the tales in later years about the livestock slaughter program. My parents and grandparents took their oldest milk cows and an older bull to the government buying station to be sold and slaughtered. I recall the carcasses were buried in a local caliche pit.

It is simply not true that some purchased livestock were driven over cliffs for slaughter, though tales still survive along that line. I doubt that law officers were ever needed to control livestock owners at the buying stations.

I do believe the hides and some meat were taken by families in distress. At least one case noted people hired for carcass burial were indicted for theft of meat which was sold for profit.

In review, it was a sad, hard time for all. The New Deal programs worked, though they often were slow, always changing to meet the newest crisis, cumbersome to operate and had government strings attached that no one liked. Those who survived the times bore indelible marks and memories from the sacrifices and suffering endured.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" February 7, 2009 Column

More on Dust Storms

  • Amarillo in thick of Dust Bowl by Delbert Trew
  • Dust Storms by Mike Cox
  • A Scary Thing: Dust Storm in the Texas Panhandle, April 1935 by Louis George

  • See Texas Panhandle

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