Great Plains Studies, Center for



Harry C. McDean

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 late 1930s, Undersecretary of Agriculture Milburn Lincoln Wilson organized "T ravelling Great Plains Schools," culminating three decades of research and reform work in the Great Plains. The schools brought hundreds of rural social scientists together with scores of federal and state policymakers. The schools were broken into two sections, one dedicated to the southern Plains and the other to the northern. Those who attended spent several weeks making their way through the Plains, with care taken to differentiate problems particular to each of the two regions. In the southern Plains, the school spent several days examining the problems specific to the Dust Bowl area that Wilson's staff clearly delineated on maps provided the students. As the maps showed, the term Dust Bowl designated a specific region in the Great Plains, including northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. The schools were aided by agronomists, who demonstrated to the students the difference between the soils in the Dust Bowl and those found elsewhere in the Plains. Here were soil groups whose configuration was distinctive: most notably, the Dust Bowl had extensive reddish-chestnut soils that bordered upon brown soils. Although both soil groups were susceptible to depletion, erosion, and blowing, the reddish-chestnut soils were especially sensitive to cultural mistreatment.