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Dusty Old Dust Storms Head Your Way

April 11, 2001

Historian's Notes

The Dust Bowl was one of the worst ecological disasters to ever hit the United States and the center of the event was in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Lasting in some areas for almost a decade, the dry wind and high heat tested the endurance and fortitude of the residents of western Oklahoma.

Resources

All of the material for this Almanac came out of a series of interviews conducted by Special Collections staff members with women who lived through the "Dirty Thirties."

Almanac Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

I'm Kelly Burley in this week for Steven Kite.

It was in this week of 1935 that many Oklahomans honestly believed the world was coming to an end. Children and parents hid under beds and in cellars awaiting their fate. Churches were packed with the faithful awaiting transportation to a better place. April 14, 1935 had started as a beautiful spring day, mild temperatures and bright clear skies. Many families ventured out into the country for picnics and the usual practice of visiting neighbors. It was late in the afternoon when residents of western Oklahoma began noticing something odd in the air.

Out of the west large flocks of birds appeared rapidly heading east. Animals began showing signs of nervousness, horses, cows, dogs all sniffed the air, pawed the ground and gathered in corners of farmyards or pastures. Some residents noticed these changes while others neglected what were later seen as warnings. If people noticed no changes early in the day, by the late afternoon it was hard to miss what was happening.

Out of the west came rolling a huge black cloud, mistaken for a thunderstorm by many residents it was soon discovered that the cloud was a wall of dirt that was covering everything in its path. The most common memory of Black Sunday witnesses was the complete silence of the black mass as it descended upon them, no wind or noise of any kind, just black suffocating darkness. As families and friends caught outside scrambled for the nearest shelter, the dust storm surrounded and enclosed all that it contacted. People sitting in living rooms couldn't see their family members just a few feet away. Lanterns and light bulbs proved useless in the effort to light a way through the daytime darkness; literally the only thing people could do was sit and wait. Wait for the end of the storm or the end of the world, whatever was to come first.

When people ventured out the next morning they did so with shovels and brooms preparing to dig themselves out of what has been called one of the worst dust storms in the known history of the United States. Looking about them they saw livestock dead, cars, plows and tractors completely covered, houses and fences covered or gone. The people who lived through this when asked about April 14, 1935, look off and say, "oh yeah, we called that Black Sunday."

I'm Kelly Burley.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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