Mary Jane Weaver told her daughter-in-law her life story back in
1940, she was 85 years old, born six years before the Civil War.
She had seen a lot during that long lifetime, but what happened
one spring afternoon in Vega,
the seat of Oldham
County, was high on the list of the most memorable.
As she recalled it, she was at her brother Rufus' residence. He
was outside, in the fashion of old-time Texans, sitting on the porch.
She was inside when he called for her to join him.
"I just wanted you to see what was comin'," he said, pointing toward
a towering, billowing blackness headed in their direction.
It looked like a monstrous thunderstorm, minus any lightning, thunder
or the refreshing smell of rain.
"We all believed it was a cyclone," Mrs. Weaver recalled. "It was
just rollin' and boilin'. In less than ten minutes, it was just
as dark as any night you ever saw."
Back inside the house, she discovered that she literally could not
see her hand before her face.
The sun-killing phenomenon descending on the
Panhandle was not a tornado. It was a dust storm.
"About that time I heard a train whistle," she continued. "The train
went within 20 feet of Rufus' house and the headlight just give
out a little glow, not a bit bigger than the top of a teacup."
Mrs. Weaver and her brother had trouble breathing, the air was so
full of dirt. The next morning, everything in the house was coated
with fine dust.
In telling her daughter-in-law about the storm that turned day into
night, Mrs. Weaver didn't mention a date, but it probably was the
one that swept across the Panhandle on Palm Sunday, April 14, 1935.
An earlier storm on March 3 had been more severe, but it had blown
through at night. The Palm Sunday storm was one of 350 dust storms
recorded from 1932 to 1937. Of all those, it was the second worst.
| The same storm
raced through nearby Amarillo
at 50 miles an hour.
"We thought the world was coming to an end," Dessie M. Hanburry recalled
a half century later. "It was so dark you couldn't see the light in
the room. I've never witnessed darkness so dark."
When the storm hit Stinnett,
in Hutchinson County
northeast of Amarillo,
Mrs. Weaver's daughter Myrtle was about to serve dinner (as Texans
then commonly called the noon meal) in the café she and her husband
"Somebody come runnin' to the café and told her to go to the
courthouse and get there quick," Mrs. Weaver said.
Myrtle ran back into the kitchen, covered the food, and grabbed her
son. Her waitress collected Myrtle's daughter and they ran to the
By the time they got inside the fence that surrounded the building,
it was too dark to see. And then Myrtle dropped her son.
"The dust was so thick she couldn't find him," her mother continued.
"But he cried out and she grabbed him by his hair."
Newspapers reported the following day that the storm had rolled from
Nebraska and Kansas at 60 miles an hour. The thick concentration of
dust particles generated enough static electricity to interfere with
automobile ignitions, causing vehicles to stall or making them unable
Unknown to Mrs. Weaver, until she saw the story in the Monday morning
edition of the Amarillo Globe-Times, was the experience an Amarillo
rancher and a photographer had. They left Amarillo Sunday morning
intending to take pictures of sand drifts and other damage wrought
by previous "black blizzards."
Later that day, the dust storm caught them out in the open on the
XIT Ranch outside of Dalhart.
The photographer managed four shots before the blackness enveloped
them. They groped their way along a barbed wire fence until they found
an abandoned two-story building. Breaking open the door, the pair
spent the night inside. When they made it back to their automobile
the next morning, they found the dust had dulled all its chrome and
ground the glass over the vehicle's headlights to near opaqueness.
In the same issue of the Amarillo newspaper, the main story on the
dust storm led with a local weather forecaster denying that the Sunday
storm had been the Panhandle's
worst ever. To what must have been the delight of the chamber of commerce,
he said it had merely been the most "spectacular" storm since it appeared
during daylight hours. Not that the daylight lasted. And by all accounts
it was the region's worst dust storm.
From time to time, the wind still blows dust in the
Panhandle, but soil conservation efforts begun following the Great
Depression keep most of the dirt where it belongs-on the ground.