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home : local news : local news May 24, 2016

7/24/2013 2:34:00 PM
Summer heat resurrects Dust Bowl memories
Marjorie LaVon Young Smith (left above), with her brothers Elvis “Ike,” Doyt, Charles and little sister Wanda before leaving Oklahoma.
Marjorie LaVon Young Smith (left above), with her brothers Elvis “Ike,” Doyt, Charles and little sister Wanda before leaving Oklahoma.
One of the small houses in which the family braved the “black blizzards” while in Oklahoma.
One of the small houses in which the family braved the “black blizzards” while in Oklahoma.
Daily News

With rain nearly everyday this summer it is hard to remember last year's drought and excessive temperatures. For Marjorie Lavon Young Smith, last year's drought brought back childhood memories of another drought and her family's exodus from Oklahoma.

In the 1930s, Delmar and Effie Young were attempting to raise their children on a small farm in Beaver County, Okla., when the Dustbowl, a combination of natural and manmade disasters, devastated a large part of the Southwest.

Smith, along with brothers, Doyt, Elvis "Ike" and Charlie, and sister Wanda along with her parents lived on a 160-acre farm near the town of Domby. She had two other bothers - Don and Kenneth - who died in infancy.

As the drought continued, Smith's family lost their farm. They prepared to move, and Smith remembers sitting on the ground watching her father build a small trailer to haul their few possessions. "We left the furniture, but took mother's sewing machine, our clothes and bedding," said Smith.

While last year's heat, drought and dust devils were bad enough, the "black blizzards" of the 1930s were apocalyptic. "It would be dark as night, and we needed a lantern just to get to the cellar," said Smith.

She remembers one day they had just come home from school and a storm came rolling across the plains. "It was so dark I could not see mother," said Smith. She remembers a ladder that disappeared from the roof where father had been working and the dog scratching at the door to get in.

Smith said she remembers families coming together to burn the hundreds of tumbleweed that would collect around houses and fences.

"I can still hear the crackle and pops," she said.

Other results of the drought were herds of jack rabbits and swarms of grasshoppers. The rabbits would eat what little of food they could grow in small gardens. Even fences did not help said Smith.

It was common for groups to herd the rabbits in to pens then bash them with clubs. Smith said one time a big storm came just as they started bashing.

"Mom said God wanted them to stop," said Smith.

More pleasant memories for Smith include finding "sparkly" things in the dirt after storms. They turned out to be arrowheads. She also remembers helping a neighbor woman collect dried cow chips to burn in a small red wagon.

When she was 12, Smith said they finally gave up and headed to Crawford County, where they had family.

"Mother told us they had green lawns and flowers in Illinois," said Smith. "I thought it would be like going to heaven."

Traveling was not easy, said Smith: "Traveling through the storms was like being sandblasted."

Before coming into Robinson the family stopped at the old Smokey Row Schoolhouse, where Sparks and Son's now sets.

"We took turns cleaning up near the well pump with rags," said Smith.

The family stayed in Crawford County for four years, but her father was not able to find steady employment so they moved to Kansas. They stayed with a relative until her death just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, then moved back to Crawford County. She still resides here, as does her brother, Charles.

The dust storms raged nearly everywhere, but the most severely affected areas were in the Cimarron, Texas, Beaver counties of Oklahoma, the Texas panhandles, western Kansas, eastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico.

The most severe dust storms occurred between 1935 and 1938. It was estimated that 300 million tons of soil were removed from the region in May 1934 and spread across large portions of the eastern United States.

By 1935, an additional 850 million tons of topsoil was blowing in 101 counties of various states. It is estimated that by that year, wind erosion had damaged 162 million acres more than 80 percent of the High Plains.

In 1938, 5 inches of topsoil had been lost more than an area of 10 million acres and 2.5 inches had been lost more than another 13.5 million acres.

Smith said she has visited Beaver County and still remembers running up and own the sandhills on the last day of school.

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