The 1930s could be described as a perfect storm of hardship in America. The Great Depression devastated the national economy and job market, and a persistent drought compounded matters in the Midwest, contributing to the Black Blizzards of the Dust Bowl era. The skies from Texas to the Canadian plains were sometimes so dark, cities would light their streetlamps in the daytime. Crops had already failed due to the drought, causing families to relocate, businesses to close up, and populations to sink. When you dared think things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
On April 14th, 1935 — a day that would come to be known as Black Sunday — over twenty Black Blizzards raced across the plains, blackening the entire heart of the continent with clouds of dust. It was the most severe series of dust storms (dusters) yet, and Associated Press reporter Robert E. Geiger coined the term Dust Bowl that day in an article about the Black Blizzard he witnessed in Oklahoma.
In many places, a grasshopper plague followed — swarms of locusts in the millions would darken the skies as they approached, only distinguishable from a dust storm by the unique glittering appearance of their translucent silvery wings. Wherever they chose to land, they ate the crops that had survived the drought and left destruction in their wake. Grasshopper plagues had been a problem around the nation for over a decade, and reached a crescendo in the mid-thirties. Parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming struggled with periodic Black Blizzards and grasshopper plagues for the remainder of the decade and beyond in some cases. As bad as it was on the northern plains, southern states were hardest hit.
Arthur Rothstein, a photographer for the Farm Security Administration captured the photos on this page in southwestern North Dakota in the summer of 1936. His captions are included below each photo.
Wheat field spoiled by grasshoppers plague near Beach, North Dakota
The only feed available for many cattle are the dried and grasshopper-chewed cornstalks. Near Carson, North Dakota
Trees stripped bare by drought and grasshoppers on farm near Saint Anthony, North Dakota
Grasshopper-eaten cornstalk. Grant County, North Dakota
Stripped bare by the drought and grasshoppers. Trees on the farm of Mrs. Emma Knoll. Grant County, North Dakota
John Frederick of Grant County, North Dakota, expects to get about twenty bushels of wheat off his forty acre field
Sawing down trees killed by the drought and grasshoppers plague on the farm of Mrs. Emma Knoll in Grant County, North Dakota
Vernon Evans (with his family) of Lemmon, South Dakota, near Missoula, Montana on Highway 10. Leaving grasshopper-ridden and drought-stricken area for a new start in Oregon or Washington. Expects to arrive at Yakima in time for hop picking. Live in tent. Makes about two hundred miles a day in Model T Ford
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Trees killed by drought and grasshoppers frame this farm in Grant County, North Dakota
Photos by Arthur Rothstein, Farm Security Administration, 1936
Original content copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy