Black Sunday

Going back to my notebook of items received from Mildred Barby is an interesting article that has nothing to do with BRILES genealogy. However, it tells of an event that greatly impacted the western parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Black Sunday

Worst of Dust Bowl’s storms was 50 years ago

Guymon, Okla (AP) Rain comes grudgingly to the Oklahoma Panhandle, where farmers of the 980s coax startling grain and livestock production from the dry land.

But nature had the upper hand 50 years ago when Guymon was at the hub of a historical disaster that gave its name to a region and a decade — The Dust Bowl.

Among the hundreds of dust storms that raked western Oklahoma and parts of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas from 1933 to 1937, one stands out to those who stayed with their beloved land.

April 14, 1935, dawned as a warm, clear Palm Sunday, It became instead the day of the Black Blizzard — Black Sunday.

It was intense darkness. As dark as could be,” said Laurence Drake, 78, who was caught in the middle of an alfalfa field. “It scared us. We didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

The storm threw the farmers’ native abuse of the fragile plains back into their faces.

It definitely woke a lot of people up that we were misusing the land,” said Drake, who has spent a lifetime farming the Panhandle and working for soil and water conservation.

Settlers who squatted in the Panhandle before the turn of the century, when it was known as “No Man’s Land,” were joined by thousands more before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Over the decades, they plowed up the soil’s protective grass and, when the rains stopped, the wind began to lift the fine dirt.

“The one-way plow was the worst thing we could do,” Drake said.

By 1935, dust storms had become a familiar and costly inconvenience for farmers and ranchers. the Oklahoma Panhandle, a row of three block-shaped counties with an area about that of Connecticut, was rattled by a dust storm on average every five days in the worst of the “dirty ’30s.”

But April 1835 was the cruelest month. In a region that averaged 19 inches of rain a year, little or no rain fell that month. The Panhandle reported heavy to moderate dust on 20 of 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture weather bureau.

In the week before April 14, blinding dust forced schools to close. A southeastern Colorado store ran out of sponges, which people used as dust masks. IT took a 100-man search party to find tow Vanceville, Kan., youngsters who lost their way in the swirling dust on a hunt for Indian arrowheads.

On April 10, according to newspaper accounts, 36 truckloads of furniture were counted moving west out of Guymon. Some were farmers giving up on the land, identified in the parlance of the day as “exodusters.” Most were migrants passing through the devastated Dust Bowl on their way to California.

The term “Okie” eventually was applied to all displaced people making their way west. The aging jalopy burdened with possessions became an icon of the era, an image burned into the national consciousness by thousands of pictures made by federal photographs, by John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” and by the movie, starring Henry Fonda, a year later.

On Thursday, April 11, a minor league baseball game in Oklahoma City was suspended because of heavy dust. On Friday and Saturday the dust began to clear. By Sunday, Oklahomans were looking forward to a clear day and a break from the dust.

It was Laurence Drake’s 28th birthday. He and a helper were taking advantage of the good weather to work an irrigation canal running form the Cimarron River to a “little patch of alfalfa” on land his family had settled 50 years before.

“I looked up and noticed this terrible black cloud int he northwest,” said Drake, who still framers near Gate, where the Panhandle is attached to the rest of the state.

“About half the sky, I guess,” he recalled. “It looked like a terrible rainstorm.”

Racing an estimated 40 mph ahead of a cold front pressing down from Colorado and Kansas, the storm was upon the men in seconds. The darkness was complete except for static electricity arcing eerily within the roiling dust.

Through the blackness, Drake shouted to his co-worker. Using their shovels as blind men use white canes, they edged along the canal. When they were within arm’s reach, the intense darkness still kept them invisible to each other.’

Elsewhere, motorists out for Sunday drives had to halt their Model Ts in the middle of roads. Farmers fell to their hands and knees and crawled to their houses. Their wives stretched dampened sheets across windows in a futile attempt to keep out the choking dust.

Families lit kerosene lanterns against the entombing darkness and waited.

Thousands of feet high and extending beyond the 168-mnile length of the Panhandle, the storm took only minutes to sweep out of Kansas, cross the 34-mile-wide strip and boil southward into the Texas Panhandle like a moving mountain range.

For 10 to 15 minutes, no light penetrated the silt-like dirt. Later the pall of heavy dust left behind muffled sound and made outdoor activity nearly impossible.

And those who had gathered three time daily in a Guymon church to pray for rain knew their prayers would go unanswered a while longer.

The dust from this and other storms drifted into dunes along fence rows and outbuildings. Planting became impossible; wheat was barely in the ground before the wind would dig it up.

The federal Resettlement Administration, predecessor of the Farm Home Administration, set up a program to provide small grants, about $10 to $30 a month to the destitute.

Drake administered the program in Beaver county from 1935 to 1934, evaluating requests for help.

“Our office was filled every day almost. … It was unbelievable,” Drake said. “There were very, very poor conditions. They were existing almost. They kept thinking that things would get better.

“It was just survival. Some of them had to leave. They just give up.”

From 1930 to 1940, the population of the three Panhandle counties dropped form 30,960 to 21,198. Nearly one in three residents succumbed to the vise-like grip of dust and Depression.

But the survivors learned new ways of treating the land. Under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the U.S. Forest Service planted millions of acres of trees and shrubs on farms to serve as shelterbelts and reduce wind erosion.

Farmers who prided themselves on their ability to plow straight furrows learned the value of planting with the contours of the land to reduce wind and water erosion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil conservation Service began digging the first of more than 2,000 small lake sin Oklahoma to control flooding and provide irrigation.

Now, in a state that ranks among the top five in wheat and hay production, the Panhandle counties are among the most prolific producers. The weathered homesteads of those who could not withstand the onslaught still dot the counties, reminders of hard times adrift on seas of green wheat.

Cattle feedlots dot the Panhandle, accounting for a thick slide of the state’s beef production.

But rising prices for the fuel that powers irrigation pumps, a receding underground water supply and low farm prices raise the spectre of new dust storms.

“The poorest conservation measure for farmers is low farm prices,” said U.S. Rep. Glenn English, whose district includes much of western Oklahoma.

“Like every small businessman, during tough economic times, the farmer must squeeze every dollar out of his assets,” he said. “That land is once again being plowed up. It’s highly erodable land. Shelterbelts that have been there since the time of the Great Depression are boing torn out.

“Conservation is deteriorating, erosion of the land is increasing. IF we find ourselves in a dry period of time for two or three years, we could see the dirt blow.

According to the note below the photocopy of the article, the clipping was from the Joplin paper. A search of to locate this article did not find it in any Missouri (i.e. Joplin) paper. However, what is likely the original article was found in the April 14, 1985 edition of the Tulsa World.

In my search for this exact article, I found quite a few newspaper accounts on Black Sunday and its aftermath.

  • Reifenberg, Anne. “Dust Bowl Got Its Name on Black Sunday when a Dark Blanket Rolled over the Land,” The Buffalo News (Buffalo, New York). 21 Apr 1985, page F-6 available on
  • Fisher, James J. “The Cloud They Never Forgot: Dust Bowl Scarred Land and Lives.” The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO) 13 Apr 1985, page 27 available on
  • Fisher, James J. “Families Survived Dust Bowl days by Thinking ‘Next Year'” The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO) 13 Apr 1985, page 33 available on
  • Webb, Tom. “50 Years Can’t Erase Dust Bowl Memories,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 15 Apr 1984, page 63 available on
  • Griekspoor, Phyllis Jacobs. “Smart Farming Cuts Risk, but Threat Is Still There,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 15 Apr 1995, page 6 available on
  • “Readers Share Their Stories of the Dust Bowl,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 6 Apr 2010 page 9 available on
  • “Opinion: Dust Bowl Story, “The Worst Hard Time,’ Has Great Power,” The Iola Register (Iola, KS) 8 Nov 2007, page 4 available on
  • “Recalling Dust Bowl Years,” The Manhattan Mercury (Manhattan, KS) 23 Mar 1989, page 6 available on
  • Middleton, April. “‘Black Sunday’ Time Recalled,” The Salina Journal (Salina, KS) 14 Apr 2005, page 1 available on
  • “Editorials: Black Sunday: The Southern Plains became a Wasteland,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 14 Apr 1995, page 8 available on
  • “Kansans Shed Light on Dust Bowl’s Darkest Day,” The Salina Jounral (Salina, KS) 16 Apr 1995, page 1 available on
  • Ruetti, Oretha, “Recent Dust Cloud Sparks Memory of Mid-1930s,” The Marysville Advocate (Marysville, KS) 11 Apr 1991, page 21 available on
  • McManus, Gary, “On ‘Black Sunday'” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 18 Apr 2010 page 67 available on
  • “Most Dust Bowl Survivors Stayed Put,” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 25 Mar 2007, page 107 available on
  • McManus, Gary, “Black Sunday Remembered,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) 14 Apr 2010 page 6 available on
  • Hutchison, Mark A., “Som Saw Black Sunday’s Dust Storm as World’s End,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 18 Apr 1999 page 155 available on
  • Diehl, Don, “The Dust Bowl: Dirty Thirties Happened,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) 18 Sep 2016, page 12 available on
  • “Weather Stories Ranked,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 14 Dec 1999, page 9 available on
  • “‘Dust Bowl’ Documentary Relives Disaster in the 1930s,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 18 Nov 2012 page 64 available on
  • DeFrange, Ann, “‘Black Sunday’ of Dust Bowl Not Forgotten,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 16 Apr 1995, page 203 available on
  • “Looking Back: Top News Stories, 1928-1947” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 22 Apr 2007, page 202 available on
  • Raymond, Ken, “Filmmaker Stirs Up Dust Bowl Memories,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 10 Apr 2012, page 79 available on
  • DeFrange, Ann, “Survivors Dug Deeper Roots in Sands of Dust Bowl,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 3 Sep 1989, page 1 available on
  • Curtis, Gene, “Black Sunday Dust Storm Blotted Out Sun,” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 26 Feb 2007, page 9 available on

The above list is just a sampling of my search for

“Black Sunday” “Dust Bowl”

While my direct familial line did not live in the Oklahoma Panhandle, they were living in Dodge City which was affected by the dust storms. When my grandmother would talk about those times, she often mentioned hanging the sheets over the windows. It is hard to imagine such a cloud of dust! Unfortunately, western Kansas may be headed for a repeat since that region is in a major drought.

One thought on “Black Sunday

Comments are closed.