The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981

Book Reviews
NORMAN D. BROWN, Editor
The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression. By Paul Bonnifield. (Al-
buquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979. Pp. xii+232.
Preface, illustrations, bibliography, index. $12.50.)
The Dust Bowl was centered over the southern High Plains, and the
popular accounts of what happened to this area during the Dust Bowl
days and the accompanying economic depression have left vivid im-
pressions in the minds of many. To some, the Dust Bowl means the in-
tense greed of the farmers who broke the virgin sod to make money as
quickly as possible. Paul Bonnifield does much to correct this and
other popular images of the area and the period.
Bonnifield goes to the basic sources for his study: interviews with
individuals who lived in the area during the Dust Bowl years, articles
in local newspapers, and state and federal reports on and studies of the
affected area. The results of this grass-roots study of the heartland of
the Dust Bowl is a book that challenges many of the assumptions about
the region and the rural New Deal programs.
Bonnifield notes that dust storms were not new in 1935 and argues
that neither the farmer nor the grain crops caused the Dust Bowl, that
the area was not a dead land, and that it was not plagued by drought
and depression. He uses population figures, the high value of the land,
the number of new schools, new churches, new roads, and new rail-
roads that were built, and the increase in the number of newspapers as
evidence that most of the people stayed on the land and that they did
not give up. He also uses bank assets, postal receipts, and the sales of
implements, trucks, and cars to show that the local economy was sound.
His interpretation of these statistics may be questioned.
The author criticizes most of the federal policies that were applied
in this area of rural America. The United States Department of Agri-
culture, contends the author, pursued the land-use plan that was de-
veloped in the early 192os by Lewis C. Gray and followed in the 1930os
by M. L. Wilson. The Resettlement Administration, the Farm Security
Administration, and the Soil Conservation Service were agents of the
New Deal planners, and if these agencies had succeeded, Bonnifield

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/. Accessed November 23, 2014.