Great Plains Studies, Center for



R. Douglas Hurt

Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:2 (Spring 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


In the spring of 1932, dust clouds swept over portions of the southern Great Plains. For the next six years, drought and the prevailing winds wreaked havoc over fifty million acres across northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, western Kansas, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma-an area known by 1935 as the Dust Bowl. Much of that acreage was submarginal-land that, given the price of wheat, did not merit cultivation-and it was easily windblown. Tillage with one-way disk plows pulverized the powder-dry soil, and the nearly constant winds blew and drifted it across crop and grasslands. During the remainder of the decade, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government agencies struggled to halt wind erosion and to restore the land in the Dust Bowl.

Their work mandated the development of a federal land policy that would enable government officials to help farmers reclaim their wind-eroded lands. Recognition of the need for a new federal land policy, however, was not new. For nearly a decade social scientists, such as L. C. Gray in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the USDA, had urged a comprehensive land-use program that would remove submarginal land from production to help solve the joint problems of surplus production and soil erosion. And in 1931 Gray influenced the Hoover administration to call a national conference on land utilization. When the delegates from the land-grant colleges, farm organizations, and the federal government met in Chicago in November, they too called for a national land-use program that included the federal purchase of submarginal lands.