Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 16:1 (Winter 1996). Copyright © 1996 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Few environmental disasters match the drought years of the 1930s. Drought extended well beyond the Great Plains for most of the decade, but was particularly intense in southwestern Kansas. Fiction writers and historians have generally concentrated on those who fled the drought stricken Plains, or written accounts condemning farmers and government programs for converting the southern Plains into a dust bowl.

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg transforms farmers from villains in a man-made environmental disaster into stubborn optimists with heroic perseverance. She acknowledges that many avoided the economic depression in Kansas, or at least the drought, by simply abandoning the state, but notes that nearly 75% of those who lived in the heart of the dust bowl were still there when the dirty thirties finally ended.