The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980

Book Reviews
ROBER'rT A. CALVERr, Editor
Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's. By Donald Worster.
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Pp. 277. Bibliography,
index. $14-95.)
Few subjects of modern American history have the pathos and stir
heartrending feelings as much as the Dust Bowl in the thirties. John E.
Steinbeck's novel Grapes of Wrath best captured on the printed page
the human tragedy of the subject. Professional scholars, striving to pre-
sent the facts of the situation, have not fared so well. Donald Worster,
in Dust Bowl, manages in spots to demonstrate the effectiveness of the
drought in ruining homes and causing suffering. Worster took both a
microscopic and macroscopic look at the drought, which enabled him to
pull from his sources the daily examples of life ruined by drought and
also to put the subject of drought into a world perspective as a lesson
for our own times.
In several respects this treatment of the Dust Bowl resembles its pred-
ecessors. It discusses the misuse of the land, starting at the turn of the
century; it recalls the Okie exodus to California; and it depicts the
scenes of the black blizzards through both photographs and narrative.
And it has the usual statistical analysis and factual material that social
scientists depend on.
The heart of this study is an examination of the drought's effect in
two places: Cimarron County, Oklahoma, and Haskell County, Kansas.
Cimarron County was the geographic center of the Dust Bowl, a remote
and barren spot at the tip of the Oklahoma panhandle. It was here that
ground level reached windows as sand blew in. Using oral history inter-
views, Worster turns the mundane accounts of daily life into a vivid
description of hardship. A Boise City grocer tells how he accepted house-
hold items as payment for food. Land buyers wait like wolves to exploit
stricken families when they are forced to sell.
Haskell County belonged in the second tier of counties forming a ring
around the center of the Dust Bowl. Residents in Kansas fared slightly
better than some Dust Bowl victims both because many of them were
tenants and had less to lose, and because erosion was not as severe in
Kansas as in some states. Relief, as exemplified by the Farm Security

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101207/. Accessed August 1, 2014.