The Great Depression, and the much worse Dust Bowl that accompanied it, was the most impactful and profound time period, indeed the watershed moment, for southeastern Colorado. It was like year zero on our calendars, BDB – Before the Dust Bowl, and ADB – After the Dust Bowl.
Our good friend and history partner Steve Doner says, “Even though those events happened 20 years before I was born, they have colored and continue to color my world, from blow humps along fence lines that I drive by everyday, eighty years after they were formed, to the frugality that dictates how I spend money. April 14, 1935, known as Black Sunday, is logged in my memory even though the only knowledge I have of that day is all second hand. In the Spring of 2018, after the Badger Hole fire burned over 20 houses within 7 miles of mine and the critical plant residue that held the topsoil, we were subjected to several weeks of near zero visibility around our farm every time the wind blew, reminding us once again of the delicate dance agriculture has with nature on the High Plains.
My father raised me to accept the fact that those days could return and that this land was unforgiving if you forgot the lessons of the “Dirty Thirties.” I remember as a child wondering why my grandmother would use her finger to clean out every egg shell when cooking and my father said, “Son, you would have to live through the hard times of the Dust Bowl to realize why.” My mother grew up in far eastern Kansas and the Thirties were good times for her family with no such philosophies etched into her brain.
Rarely is Colorado mentioned when conversations arise about the Dust Bowl. However, those of us who grew up in southeast Colorado are fully aware Baca County Colorado was part of the hardest hit area of the 1930’s dust bowl.
The impact on Baca County Colorado was horrific. The census in 1930 was 10,570 but after a decade of dirt and depression it fell to 6,207 in 1940, a loss of over 41 percent. In terms of population, the county never recovered. The population climbed back to 7,964 in 1950 only to be hit with another mini dust bowl in the early 50s when it was dryer even than in the 30s. The population in Baca County has continued its downward spiral with the latest estimates placed at 3,575. Elliott West in the Contested Plains demonstrates that the trend of ebb and flow has been the normal pattern of human population on the plains since humans first arrived and tends to follow the rain cycle.
This post provides a primer to our latest book project, “Decade of Dirt.” Our project will provide additional historical documentation of what our parents and grandparents lived through during the “Dirty Thirties”. Our primary source document is content from the pages of the Springfield Democrat Herald (now the Plainsman Herald). We will also use content from the pages of the Springfield Republican and the Walsh Tab as those are available. Most of the photos are from Baca County families who lived through the thirties. Additional documentation including Red Cross materials provided locally by the Homsher Family will also be shared to help tell the story as well as letters, poems and comments from locals. We certainly intend to provide a unique perspective. We also hope to add to our collection of archives we intend to share in this compilation. If you have any Baca County Colorado Dust Bowl artifacts you want to be part of this compilations leave a comment and we’ll get back with you.
How will this project be different than other Dust Bowl compilations? During a recent conversation on this topic of whether some points made in works of outsiders such as Tim Egan and Ken Burns are accurate one of my fellow Baca Countians commented,
“Only those of us who live here and heard the stories first hand from our parents and grandparents really know the story.”
Excerpts from the Springfield Democrat Herald courtesy of the Plainsman Herald. The Red Cross was very active in the dust bowl region.
More Dust Bowl Era Red Cross Artifacts
Herb Homsher Sr. was the Red Cross Chairman (see Above) in my Baca county during the 1930’s Dust Bowl/ Depression. Note the Red Cross sign in the background of the photo. His grandson Kent Homsher has provided a literal treasure trove of artifacts for this project, including letters on Red Cross letterhead requesting services and food.
Dust Bowl stories made famous in works such as the “Grapes of Wrath” often discuss the plight of those who left the devastated area, but many had no resources to leave and were simply stuck where they were. The note is on the back of a torn out piece of newspaper. There were not even any resources with which to write the request for assistance. Also note the concern for the family’s children, “If you can get it for the kids, I guess John and I can go without -“
“Mrs. Ross – Get Earl’s overalls. Size 13 years old – Hugo – if you think they look big enough y not get larger ones – get Corolie some dresses and bloomers – get what you can stockings and socks – size 10 – stockings – tell him I just got 25 lbs for flour at Pritchett was all they had – If you can get it for the kids, I guess John and I can go without – I’ll sure thank you – for we haven’t anyway to get any where”
We are excited to get this project underway! If you are interested in contributing with a Baca County specific artifact, please leave a comment.
Check out these other Dust Bowl Stories on this site