The View from Ground Zero: Sunday Oct 11, 2020 winds bring memories of Dirty Thirties

The term ground zero is usually associated with an explosion and describes the location closest to a detonation. In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the detonation.   In recent American culture it often refers to the location nearest 911 terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Centers in 2001.   The term is also often used in describing the worst hit areas near earthquakes, tornados and other disasters or to describe other disasters with a geographic reference or conceptual epicenter.

Rarely is Colorado mentioned when conversations arise about the Dust Bowl.  However those of  who grew up in southeast Colorado’s Baca County are fully aware that ground zero of the 1930’s dust bowl included Southeast Colorado along with Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the upper Texas Panhandle and Northeast New Mexico. For Baca Countians, the Dust Bowl ground zero was their backyard.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

This past week the present reminded us of the past. Although we usually think of the 1930s the dirt blowing past of Southeastern Colorado may have first been documented in the Lamar, Colorado newspaper in 1887.

Bent County Register (Lamar, Colorado) April 9, 1887.

Hard-hitting winds, with reported 60mph gusts, whipped across the Great Plains this past Sunday October 11th, reducing visibility, extreme temperature drops brought back memories of the Dust Bowl. Many people are familiar with the dust bowl because authors such as Tim Eagan and producers such as Ken Burns have spent significant time trying to capture the essence of that era.

Many reports from the 1930s talk about the blue sky suddenly turning dark when a storm blew through. However, when you look at the old grainy black and white photos it looks like dust is everywhere. Maybe the black and white photos our parents and grandparents took don’t provide the contrast or maybe shock that we see in the photos from the storm blowing through Baca County Sunday October 11, 2020. There is an amazing and distinct line between the blue sky and the ‘roller’ coming through Baca County this past week.

Springfield, Colorado 1935
The white building in the lower right hand portion of the photo

was my grandparents store in the early 1930s.
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Springfield, Colorado 1937
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Eastern Baca County, Sunday October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Leslie Hume

 Baca County Colorado,  is the most southeast county in the state of Colorado and is where I grew up, was included in the epicenter or ground zero, as shown in the maps below. This area, in the 1930’s became known as the Dustbowl.  In other words, Ground Zero for the 1930’s dustbowl. Memories of that time have passed down to the present generation. Those memories came to life this past Sunday, October 11, 2020.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe
Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

The winds were scary in their intensity, and, for a time Sunday, the people of Baca County could sense what our parents & grandparents went through — for weeks on end — during the Dirty ‘30s.

Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter
Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter

So this happened today in Springfield, Colorado
Social media used many terms of description such as amazing, frightening, scary, and eerie as well. When dirt was whirling at its worst, the skies were dusky and dreary, making it hard to see trees and buildings only a short distance away. In western Baca County it was reported, “It was creepy when it hit the canyon, daylight just disappeared.” 

As is the case in Baca County the dust storm is a reminder that drought and the wind driven dirt is always on the mind of of area residents.  

Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

Courtesy of Kirk Guder

East of Walsh, Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Judy Trahern

Dust Bowl Poems(1930s) by Nellie Grover Bamber

This post is a true pleasure. There are some little things to look for. The image of Grandma Bamber printed on an early dot matrix printer is a piece of history in itself. The poems? Priceless. In the not so recent past I had a conversation with Nancy Hall Nelson about using her Grandma’s Poems in a compilation I am working on, which will tell the story of the Dust Bowl primarily through the eyes of the Springfield Herald, 1930-1939. I will call that book, “The Dust Bowl: A View from Ground Zero

Although they are not all dated, the poems which are dated were written over the course of several years, beginning in 1935 with the most recent 1970. Per my conversation with Nancy I am going to share all of them here. Starting with this post we will present the ones that are dated 1935 or reference the “Dirty Thirties” or “Dust Bowl”. Enjoy.

BELOW: Nellie Grover Bamber which appear to be looking back at the 1930s and the Dust Bowl

Next up: The Remainder of the Nellie Grover Bamber poems (post 1930s – 1970 courtesy of her granddaughter, Nancy Hall Nelson. Thanks Nancy, what a privilege to get to share your Grandma’s poems and obviously her faith on this blog.

More Tales From the Prairie: A Sanora Babb Conversation

Reposted from KentBrooks.com  November 28, 2013

In early September 2013, I was in my hometown of Springfield Colorado.   While eating at the Longhorn Steakhouse I got into a discussion with an old Baca County compadre, Kevin Greenlee,  about author Sanora Babb.  Babb wrote “An Owl on Every Post”  which chronicles her early years living in a dugout on the Southeast Colorado prairie near the town of Two Buttes.  Kevin’s class had taken a field trip to look for the dugout, which was the home of Babb and her family.  According to Kevin they found the general location of the dugout but not the structure itself.

 

General location of Sanora Babb Dugout in SE Colorado

After our conversation, I started looking up some information about Babb and discovered some additional interesting information about her writing. The most interesting story was related to her depression era manuscript about the travails of a Depression-era farm family.  Babb waited 65 years in the shadow of literary giant John Steinbeck for her first completed novel to be published.  In 1939 John Steinbeck’s best-selling “The Grapes of Wrath,” was published.  Babb’s story was shelved by the venerable Random House, which feared that the market would not support two novels on the same theme. Bitterly disappointed, Babb stuck her manuscript in a drawer, and there it remained until 2004 when it was rescued by the University of Oklahoma Press. The name of her Dust Bowl novel, “Whose Names Are Unknown”.

 

Dustbowl in my hometown, Springfield Colorado, May 21 1937, Source: Box in my Mom’s Basement

Here is where the story gets really interesting and this part of the story reminds me of the Anne of Green Gables Movie, The Continuing Story which has a theme about a famous writer stealing one of Anne’s novels.

In Babb’s case it appears  Steinbeck may have been fed and actually used some of Babb’s notes for “Grapes of Wrath”.    In early 1938, Babb worked with the federal government’s Farm Security Administration, traveling the Central Valley with her boss Tom Collins, informing migrants about programs to help them. She kept a journal of her experiences which she hoped to turn into a novel about the Dust Bowl refugees she’d met.  She wrote,

How brave they all are, they aren’t broken and docile but they don’t complain . . . They all want work and hate to have help.

Collins was sharing her reports with writer John Steinbeck.  As she prepared to publish her work, in the winter of 1939, Steinbeck had come out with his own Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s book was a best seller and was dedicated to none other than Tom Collins.

Sanora Babb went on to write other books based on her childhood on the southern Plains. Her Dust Bowl novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, was published in 2004, the year before her death.

NOTE: Thought it would be good to transfer this from a Facebook Conversation to a location where more people would have access

Additional Reading

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/bios/sanora-babb/

http://www.utexas.edu/opa/blogs/culturalcompass/2012/11/15/sanora-babb/ (407)

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