Grassy Butte, North Dakota is a very remote Badlands settlement in McKenzie County near the Montana border, an unincorporated community with a population in the dozens. In the 1930s, Grassy Butte was one of a multitude of places where the locals who’d arrived in search of the American dream faced sad realities and hard choices. The population was in the hundreds then, and knowing that, you now understand the choice that many eventually made. They left.
Communities like this were hit hard during the Dust Bowl (it would be the new millennium before an oil boom would bring some life back to Grassy Butte) and the Farm Security Administration sent photographers to document the conditions American farmers and families were facing. Arthur Rothstein was the first of these photographers, later to be joined by Russell Lee, who would also photograph parts of North Dakota during the Dust Bowl.
Mr. Rothstein captured the photos you see here in 1936. Mr. Rothstein’s captions paint a bleak portrait of life in western North Dakota at this time and make clear that the Dust Bowl was an accelerating factor in the depopulation of the plains.
Captioned: J. Huffman of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, has been forced to close his general store on account of the drought
Captioned: Waiting for better times, J. Huffman of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, sits in front of his closed store. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.
Captioned: Going to Church to Pray for Rain. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.
Photos by Arthur Rothstein
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