Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2013


Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


For two weeks in August 1891, the grounds of the "C" Ranch in rural West Texas thundered with the sound of explosions, as a federal government- sponsored expeditionary force hurled hundreds of pounds of heavy ordnance against an invisible enemy. In command of this unusual operation was "General" Robert Dyrenforth, who with $9,000 of congressional funding in pocket was doing his utmost to find out whether, as a bit of folk wisdom ran, the furious tumult and aerial concussions of battle could somehow cause rain. From tiny western hamlets to the metropolises of the East, Americans were fascinated by the sensational experiments. In magazines, newspapers, and journals, some scoffed at what they saw as a fool's errand and an egregious waste of public funds, while others were equally certain of the reality of the connection and regarded the potential windfall great enough to justifY any expense. Scientists in particular were almost unanimously doubtful (and occasionally hostile), and made their views clear in the scholarly organs of their profession. In the end, the experiments failed to prove a definitive connection; indeed, as many had predicted all along, sober assessments of the data yielded little to suggest any causal link between explosions and rainfall. Yet, curiously, this was by no means the end of the theory. Over the course of two decades, a colorful cast of characters, from an eccentric self-titled "general" to a millionaire cereal magnate-cum-social engineer, typified a stubborn core of devoted believers. Each attempted to prove (or make practical use of) the theory by discharging various weapons and explosives at the sky, hoping that raindrops would come down in exchange.