Tag Archives: Oklahoma

The Dust Bowl Returneth


I noticed this photograph of dust and smoke on the front page of an Iowa newspaper, The North Scott Press in Eldridge. Later, I read about a 100-mile wide dust storm in Texas and Oklahoma. Let’s hope this doesn’t presage more of what’s coming.

My great uncle, who is now 100 years old, has told me many stories about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Some years the only plant that would grow in eastern South Dakota, where he and the family lived and farmed, were Russian thistle, which when dry are known as tumbleweed, often seen blowing across the landscape in Western films and TV. The thistle was the only nourishment the cows had. They would nibble on them.

It got so bad that many left, including his girlfriend, Grace, and her family. They relocated to Oregon. My great uncle soon followed, borrowing $15 from his eldest sister, Lois, and joining a group of friends who ventured by car, a Model T perhaps, to Anacortes, Washington.

The friends landed jobs building a lumber mill there. My great uncle ended up in Seattle, first working as a chauffeur for a wealthy, well-respected attorney known as Judge Gilman, who helped him land a job at Boeing. He would hop the Greyhound bus whenever he got the chance and visit his girl in Oregon, where soon they would marry and live.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I ended up out West. My father visited his farm in 1965 and fell in love with Oregon. He returned to South Dakota, however, served in the National Guard, then married my mother. They lived in Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota during this time.

Finally, after the death of my grandfather, my mother’s dad, they decided to do the same: move out West. We stayed in Tacoma at first, and then made our way to Oregon, where I grew up and where they still live.