KanColl: The Kansas  
Historical Quarterlies

Dust Storms Part One, 1850-1860

by James C. Malin

May, 1946 (Vol. 14 No. 2), pages 129 to 133
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.

     DUST storms are among the natural phenomena of the Great Plains. They are a part of the economy of nature and are not in themselves necessarily abnormal; at least, not in the sense in which the subject was exploited during the drought decade of the 1930's. The top-soil materials of the Great Plains, in their condition prior to occupation by man, were the product of natural processes essentially continental in scope. They were derived largely from materials carried out from the Rocky Mountain formation by the water of melting glaciers, were deposited upon the bed rock, and were wind-blown prior to their being covered by vegetation and from time to time thereafter. Of course, no soil blows when the surface is fully covered by vegetation. In desert areas, under natural conditions, the vegetation was widely spaced by reason of the scanty supply of moisture, most of the soil surface being exposed to the action of the elements. In low rainfall areas, not deserts, the vegetation was widely spaced, but afforded more coverage, and as the effective moisture increased eastward the grass assumed a bunch habit, the distance between the bunches being determined by moisture, soil, topography, plant specie adaptation, and other factors. The short grasses such as the buffalo or blue grama closed up the spaces and formed an effective sod with a relatively scant amount of moisture, while the bluestems did not change from a bunch to a substantial sod condition until much farther eastward and with still additional moisture. The vigor of vegetation and its effectiveness as a soil cover was influenced by a number of factors such as long-term weather fluc-



tuations, prairie fires, burrowing animals, overgrazing and tramping by wild and later domestic animals, especially during prolonged dry periods. When the soil was exposed to the action of winds by these factors, especially by cumulative combinations of them, dust movements of varying proportions occurred. Various theories of dust storms have been advanced and attempts made at classification according to type characteristics, but with only a limited success.

     Superficially, there are at least two kinds; one where the dust is carried along the surface, and the other where the dust is lifted high into the atmosphere, often several thousand feet, and carried sometimes hundreds of miles, before it is dropped at some point distant from the place of origin. In connection with the first type, violence and persistence of the wind are conspicuous features, and the effects may be primarily local. In the latter type, high velocity of the wind is not necessary, the dust-lifting power being associated with the turbulence of the air-mass and general air-mass movements. Of course, sometimes both types of dust storms occur at the same time and place and the separate characteristics are difficult to distinguish. Air-mass analysis at high altitudes became practical and important only with the development of the airplane and so far as the application of principles of air-mass analysis to the dust-storm problem was concerned, only beginnings were made during the dust period of the 1930's. So far as the condition of the soil contributed to dust storms, theories differed; but varying emphasis was placed upon one or more of the following: exhaustion of the organic or humus factor in the soil, break down of the soil structure into separate soil particles, drying out of the soil by prolonged drought, and electrical phenomena. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss these theories or to pass judgment upon their validity, only to describe historically something of the frequency, extent and intensity of recorded dust storms. The most difficult handicaps to the historical study of dust storms are the problems of terminology and of records. The difficulty in terminology turns on indefiniteness of words used in newspapers, letters, diaries, and reports describing the weather.

     Standardization of terms was being established only near the end of the nineteenth century. Sometimes references to dust blowing meant only that the dirt of unpaved streets was disagreeable, and such an interpretation was occasionally made explicit by the suggestion that the town should buy a street sprinkler. Another kind of difficulty in interpreting these weather descriptions was the sensitiveness of the

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 131

boomer spirit to admission of the existence of dust storms or the ruining of crops by blowing. Furthermore, there was no quantitative measure of the seriousness of the dust blowing even when the fact was admitted. Prior to 1874 and 1879 the United States weather service made no attempt to gather certain kinds of weather data. In the former year systematic collection of data began on prairie fires, droughts (30 successive days without more than 0.25 inches), and electrical phenomena. In the latter year in June, the reporting of dust and sand storms began. Evidently these innovations were in response to a demand growing out of the severe and prolonged drought period beginning in 1873, and belated addition of dust and sand storms in 1879 was evidence in itself of the widespread prevalence of that kind of phenomena even if the historian did not have other evidence. These reports on dust storms were not printed for the years 1890-1894 inclusive, but were resumed in a different form in 1895.

     The formal weather records present their difficulties, for the earlier years, because competent observers were not obtainable for all stations, and there were not enough stations in operation to provide an adequate coverage. The full-fledged federal weather service really was being set up for the first time in the reorganizations beginning in 1887, the service not being effected in some states until later. In was only after these dates that uniform data were available for the United States, or to put it differently, that there was a systematic attempt to secure reports on the weather from observers who were reporting on the basis of a uniform set of instructions, terms and definitions. Even after several years of effort, standardization was admitted to be imperfect.

     As respects the records of particular weather stations kept at Western army posts, beginning in the 1830's and 1840's, any careful study should reveal their inadequacies. Sometimes they seem to have been recorded faithfully, but at times it is evident that they possess no validity whatsoever, and attempts to use them only falsify the picture. Also, many typographical errors occur in the printing of the weather records. The whole body of early printed records should be revised and reprinted, with full and candid explanations of the nature and the extent of the deficiencies, if they are to serve adequately as a basis for study of climate and history.

     It is obvious that there could be little data assembled on dust storms prior to the settlement of the Western country and easy communications. Travelers and explorers of the first half of the


nineteenth century usually entered the Indian country in the spring, after grass had started sufficiently to support their wagon teams, and too late to experience the March-April windy season, returning or reaching the mountains prior to the early winter windy season. An adequate record of dust would be possible only from year-round records covering long periods of years, including the successions of wet and dry years.

     Little dependence can be placed in Eastern records of phenomena similar to the experiences of the 1930's, because no one a century or a century and a half earlier was dust-storm-conscious. Unless there was something that directed attention particularly to the phenomena they usually passed unnoticed. The same is true of Kansas. On several occasions since the passing of the drought decade of the 1930's the present author has noted substantial dustfalls and other evidence. of dust storms that were not recorded by the weather bureau and were not the subject of comment in the press. They were as severe as many of the dust storms of the mid-1930's, the only difference being that people were not at that moment interested in dust storms.

     There were fairly numerous occasions when the Eastern United States experienced dark days of sufficient severity to become the subject of comment, especially on October 21, 1716; October 19, 1762; May 19, 1780; October 16, 1785, and July 3, 1814. These have been attributed usually to forest fires, although the evidence is not necessarily conclusive. Besides dust storms and forest and prairie fires, another cause of dustfalls or dark days may include volcanic ash from active volcanoes.

     Within the Kansas area the most explicit record of early dust storms was the journal of Isaac McCoy covering his experiences on an expedition surveying the Delaware Indian reservation boundary during October and November, 1830. Two factors were emphasized in his descriptions, the intensity of the drought that destroyed vegetation and the prairie fires; both of these, separately and jointly destroyed the vegetational cover and contributed to the exposure of the dry surface soil to the action of the winds. [1] Fuller local records became available with settlement of Kansas after 1854. The most notable droughts of definite record prior to the 1930's were 1860, 1864-1865, 1874, 1901, 1911, 1913, 1917, 1919, and 1922-1923. The greater apparent frequency in the twentieth century seems to be the

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 133

result of completeness of records. The state-wide federal weather service in Kansas was inaugurated in 1887, but several years were required to develop a stable and reasonably adequate coverage.

     The great drought of 1860 was not an isolated dry year, but was the culmination of a period of dry years beginning definitely in 1854 and possibly in 1853. Of the intervening seasons only that of 1859 seems to have been a favorable crop year. The year 1850 is listed as one of low rainfall in the records of the Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth stations and two men living in Kansas during the Indian period (Wilson and Dyer) recorded it as a half-crop year or almost failure, and the Osage Mission records showed a corn and potato failure. The next two years, 1851 and 1852, were reported good. For 1853, the evidence is incomplete, Wilson and Dyer reporting good crops, and the Osage Mission and Fort Leavenworth a drought. The agreement is complete as respects 1854, the first year of Kansas settlement; drought, grasshoppers and crop failure [2] The drought and crop failure of 1854 was quite general throughout the United States, the best summary of its impact upon the West, by a Western paper, is to be found in the St. Joseph (Mo.) Gazette, issues of August and September, especially those of September 13 and 20. A report from Fort Scott, dated August 25, declared that

     As regards the emigration to Kansas Territory, I do not think many will be able to settle in this part for the next twelve months, there being almost an entire failure in the crops throughout this section of country. Prospects are really dismal here for all kinds of produce. There will not be "hog and hominy" enough for the old inhabitants, much less for a large influx [of] emigration. [3]

     At the same time a report by a man just in from Fort Laramie, stated that

the drouth, from which we suffer, here, had prevailed severely on the Plains, accompanied, as here, by intensely hot weather. There is scarcely any grass to be found, it having been almost literally burned up by the heat. [4]

     A resident of Manhattan wrote, May 22, 1854, that "A fairer, more genial climate, we think, cannot be found on earth, though early in the spring we are told `high winds' and clouds of dust were a great annoyance." [5]


     The spring of 1855 was dry and backward, John Everett writing from the vicinity of Osawatomie that there had been no rain of consequence for ten months prior to mid-May. [6]

     The interpretation given to this situation by the Kansas Free State, Lawrence, January 31, 1855, was unusual:

     The strong south winds that we experience here are our greatest annoyance. They frequently last for several days, and are loaded with the black dust from the burnt prairie, which penetrates every corner of our houses, and makes every one who is exposed to it as sooty as a collier: This annoyance, however, will not be so great when the surrounding country is brought under cultivation, and the prairies cease to be burned.

     It seems scarcely reasonable that the ashes of burned grass alone would have produced so endless a supply of black dust. As McCoy's description of 1830 had indicated, the prairie fires removed the protection of a vegetational cover, and top soil as well as ashes of the burned grass provided the material of the dust storms. The Kansas Free State editor's views on cultivation only tend to emphasize his misunderstanding of the whole situation. By April 21, be was no longer confusing the two aspects of the dust problem:

     We have had some strange weather in Kansas. No rain yet. The air, in consequence of the winds, is filled with dust-a very strange appearance to those of us who have lived always in the States, and have been accustomed to seeing rainy and muddy weather at this season.

     The following week (April 30) the same editor commented: "High winds, no rain yet, and everything in our office covered with dust."

     The rival editor, G. W. Brown of the Herald of Freedom, commented on the situation April 14, 1855, referring to last Friday [apparently April 6] as a hot day with an office temperature of 90 in mid-afternoon: "extremely dry weather, and superabundance of dust, accompanied by high southern winds. . . ." On April 21 he wrote that there had been no rain of consequence since May, 1854, a matter upon which he could speak only from report, but he revealed most clearly the two-fold aspect of the dust storms-prairie fire and dust exposed after the burning of the grass cover:

     The High winds which have prevailed in this vicinity for the last few weeks, accompanied with heavy clouds of dust, have no doubt been a source of very great annoyance to strangers who have been on a visit to the Territory, as well as to the citizens. Whether those winds are common to Kansas in the spring we are not informed, probably they are; but the dust, which is the most annoying, is a resultant of the burning of the prairies, and will not

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 135

exist after the annual fires have abated. Neither will they harm us after the grass shall get high enough to prevent the wind from taking up the surface, and hurling it with so much force through the atmosphere.
     We are frank to confess that we have felt more inconvenience from the wind and dust, since our arrival in Kansas, than from any other source. Our houses are all

open, and the wind whistles in at every crevice, bringing along with it a heavy load of fine particles of charcoal, ashes, etc., and depositing it on our type, paper, library, furniture, and in fact not regarding our dinner, but liberally covering it with a condiment for which we have no relish.
     A few months will give us tight houses, and then adieu to these annoyances; till then we must bear with patience those sources of vexation. Those who cannot do this of course will go out of the Territory complaining it is the worst climate they ever knew.

     The drought ended in May, the Herald of Freedom announcing it May 5, but the Kansas Free State was convinced only by more substantial rains which were recorded in its issue of May 21. Both papers agreed that it was the end of an eleven-month drought. June was the loveliest of months, and the Herald of Freedom, June 30, commented that except for April, the editor's seven and one-half months in Kansas had been "all we could have desired. On account of the high winds through that month it was the most unpleasant one we can call to mind. . . ." He returned to the theme two weeks later in connection with an editorial condemning the faint hearted who had become discouraged and returned to the East. He admitted that upon his arrival in Kansas City in November, 1854, he had had misgivings about Kansas, but they were dissipated upon leaving that town and "From that time forth, save during a single day in April, when the winds enveloped everything about our premises with dust, have we felt anything bordering upon regrets." R. G. Elliott of the Kansas Free State was similarly impressed and the next year, March 3, commented with evident feeling upon the contrasting rains of early 1856: "An exquisite satisfaction, it would have been to us one year ago, when we were choked and blackened with clouds of dust." The drought condition of Kansas was not local in 1855 and the evidence of it was a matter of record in the East. Professor Fairchild of Oberlin College, Ohio, reported February 7, upon a black snow, icy pellets which had a smoky taste. [7] No satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon was forthcoming, whether the black snow had its origin in forest or prairie fires or in a combination fire and dust storm.

     The year 1856 in Kansas was notorious for the presidential cam-


paign and the Kansas civil war, in both of which slavery was made the center of the political controversy. Under these circumstances explicit commentary on the weather as such was slight and the crop failure or short crop of that year was usually charged to aggression of the enemy in diverting farmers from their work in the fields or to destruction of crops in the course of hostilities and reprisals. As already pointed out, the Kansas Free State, March 3, contrasted the mud of 1856 favorably with the dust of 1855, but later in the spring the rains did not come, the same paper commenting April 28 on the first season of rain that spring. The private letters of John and Sarah Everett, living near Osawatomie, presented a discouraging crop outlook. On July 22 Sarah wrote home that "It is very dry. We have had no rain to do much good for over 5 weeks. If we do not have some soon our crops will present a totally ruinous look," and on August 1, "The weather here continues very dry and hot! Newcomers are mostly getting down sick." [8] The summer drought was quite general over the country at large, numerous reports being gathered in the New York Tribune during the late summer.

   ril160, 1160, the Herald of Freedom reported that,

     The weather continues cold and cheerless. Vegetation has not yet made its appearance. Cattle are suffering. . . .

and the following week

     The winds continue to blow, the dust flies, and the prospect is quite cheerless. We need rain and warm weather.

Another two weeks brought encouragement:

     The weather is more humid than it has been, and the dust, which has been penetrating every crevice, and making the old residents almost sick of Kansas, has been laid to rest. Kansas would sell at a great advance from last week's prices.

     Not until the end of the month, however, was there more substantial improvement, when on May 30 the same paper recorded that "some fine showers during the fore part of the week has laid the dust, and given a new impetus to vegetation. Cattle and horses now subsist anywhere on the prairies, without the aid of grain." In another place the editor said that the emigration came a month too early, and, as the season is backward, instead of finding "verdure and beauty . . . they found dust and blackened fields, and cold winds. . . . We regret that the thousands who came and have

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 137

gone back disappointed with Kansas, could not be here now. . . ." In retrospect he continued "a person living for a day in the clouds of dust which infest our city at times during dry periods, and when the winds are high, feels the force of the Scriptural remark, `Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.'" The rains of May called out too much optimism, and June 27 the paper reported the continuance of severe drought in the Lawrence area, although southern Kansas received its usual spring rains. Scarcity and starvation prices stared the population of Kansas in the face.

     The season of 1858 promised well, but a frost on May 18 and a wet season in early

summer cut the wheat crops, and a dry summer cut the corn crop to about one half or less. [9] The dry fall brought prairie fires in numbers and earlier than usual. [10]

     The Weekly Kansas Herald of Leavenworth, October 9, 1858, complained about the dust: "It fills our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; settles upon our broadcloth; turns black brown; seasons our victuals,. and endows us with a little of the grit. Save us from high winds and dusty streets."

     The year 1859 was the only one in the decade that did not bring complaint, and, with only occasional exceptions, all crops were reported abundant. The fall of 1859 was dry, however, the beginning of the notorious drought of 1860, the climax of the 1850's. The Lawrence Republican, February 23, 1860, summarized the winter of 1859-1860: "No rain, no snow, and much open, thawing, mild weather, alternated with sharp, though brief [cold] snaps. . . ." The first days of April, 1860, seemed to bring the climax of the spring wind, several papers emphasizing the dust. The Fort Scott Democrat, April 5, said in comment on the storm of April 3 that it was "one of the most severe, and by far the most disagreeable we ever experienced. For the space of half an hour the cloud of dust was so intense, that it was impossible to distinguish objects at the distance of a dozen yards. . . ."

     The Leavenworth Weekly Herald, April 7, said that the "Wind and dust seemed to be on a regular `high' yesterday." Apparently that was April 6. The Freedom's Champion, of Atchison, April 7, gave the fullest and most vivid characterization of the season's dust experience:

     We once thought that the worst thing in Kansas was mud, and certainly did get enough of it. . . . But we are willing to compromise on the original mud, now. In fact we would consider a slight sprinkling of mud with


feelings of reverence just now. During nearly three months we have had dry weather, with hardly even a sprinkle of moisture. And now that the soil is perfectly dry, the wind is doing its best to blind every inhabitant of this section of country with dust. And such clouds of it! It penetrates everywhere; and has grown to be a most intolerable nuisance. We, one of the begrimmed and bedusted sufferers, protest against it. We can stand a little "throwing of dust in our eyes," but we don't like the mammoth wholesale business old Boreas has been conducting for the past week. Will take mud, any time, and thankfully, after this dust. . . .

Although the focus of this dust story is upon the Kansas scene, the drought was general, with the characteristic attendant phenomena. At Syracuse, N. Y., April 5, there was a "black rain, the drops resembling faint ink. Everybody and everything was spattered." [11] These dates coincide closely with the high mark of Kansas dust, irrespective of whether or not the black rain was explained as ashes of forest or prairie fires or combinations with dust. A late frost in Kansas May 9 killed much of the fruit, crop prospects were discouraging, "the grass upon the high prairie is drying up" and a plea was made for Kansans to stay and develop the territory, not to return East or go to the mines in the West." [12]

     Terrific storms, a particular intensity centering in the country west of were experienced early in June. Houses were blown down at Stanton where three persons were killed. One account said that "The air was filled with bricks, barrels, boxes, tubs, signs and boards which were blown about like chaff, and the dust so beclouded the air as to shut out the light of day." [13]

     July brought another round of extremes of heat, wind, and drought. In an address prepared by G. W. Martin, probably about 1906, but not published, he described a dust storm which he dated July 11, 1860:

     The year 1860, known as the great drought and famine year, was quite remarkable for these hot winds. At Topeka, July 11th of that year, the thermometer at 11 a. m. stood at 85 degrees, when a heavy dust cloud came from the south with great force. The air was so filled with exceedingly fine dust that a person could scarcely be seen one hundred yards. At 1 p. m. the thermometer stood at 112 degrees in Topeka; at Fort Scott 115; and at Fort Riley about the same as at Topeka. Domestic fowls and animals suffered terribly, and in some places many perished. Business in some sections was entirely suspended for from five to six hours. [14]

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 139

     Explicit contemporary confirmation of all details of Martin's story is lacking, but the records show particularly intense days July 4 and 9, and an eclipse of the sun July 18. There might have been some confusion of memories which linked the storms with the eclipse, but the descriptions of the storms as printed in several papers, Atchison, Leavenworth, Oskaloosa, Lawrence, and Topeka, are of such a nature as not to challenge seriously Martin's version. The several descriptions are printed in the order listed.

     Freedom's Champion, Atchison, July 14, 1860.

     EXTRAORDINARY PHENOMENON. Kansas was visited, on Monday last, by one of the most extraordinary wind storms we have ever felt, or ever heard of except in the desert of Sahara. At about 12 o'clock, as we were sitting in our office, we felt a gust of wind so hot and scorching that we at first supposed some building close by must be on fire, and rushed to the window to ascertain. We found, however, that it was nothing but the air, but such an air! Scorching, withering, blighting in its effects, it rapidly drove every one within doors, and forced them to close every aperture through which it could gain admittance. The wind blew very strong, but it was the first time in our life that we experienced a breeze in summer that was oppressive and intolerable. It continued until between three and four o'clock and during the whole of that time the breeze could be compared to nothing but a simoon of the desert. We understand that in some parts of the country all vegetable matter was withered and shriveled as though by fire, and it is feared much damage is done to the crops. What was the cause of this strange freak of nature, we are unable to explain. We hope, however, never to see the like again.

     The Daily Times, Leavenworth, July 10, 1860.

     The heat of yesterday was almost intolerable. It was the remark of every one that they had never experienced anything like it. The wind was dry and burning; and the atmosphere betokened a severe storm or hurricane. The thermometer stood as high as 108°

     Leavenworth Dispatch, reprint in Topeka State Record, July 14, 1860.

     The hot, burning breeze of yesterday (Monday) [July 91 was unprecedented and can not be accounted for by the oldest of the old inhabitants. It seemed as if the gates of Hell (metaphorically speaking) had been thrown open. . . . To us it is unaccountable.

     The Independent, Oskaloosa, July 11, 1860.

     On Monday afternoon last this region of Kansas was visited by so extraordinary a wind storm as to seem out of the course of nature, except on the burning deserts of Africa. So suddenly did the storm come up, and so hot was the wind that many persons at first supposed some building near by them was on fire. Others, though the weather was very warm, closed their doors and windows to keep the scorching air out of their houses. For some time the inmates of our dwelling took refuge in the cellar from the oppressive heat


of the almost scalding wind. The leaves of plants were literally parched up and killed, as if by a heavy frost. Three years ago the wind at times blew very warm about the middle of the day, but never before has it 'been our misfortune to experience such severe blasts of heated air. Every breath we drew seemed to almost dry up the vital moisture of our lungs, and leave only an inward burning sensation.

     Lawrence Republican, July 12, 1860.

     During the past week, the weather has been hotter than we have ever known it before in Kansas. Last Monday was a terrible day. The wind blew a gale from the south, and was as hot as though directly from the mouth of a blazing furnace. Thermometers exposed to it in the shade ran up to 115 degrees. Such heat is almost insupportable. Were it not for our cool nights, these fierce summer heats would be most disastrous. But the earth cools off with remarkable rapidity, and the hot, burning days are succeeded by the most delicious nights.

     Topeka Tribune, July 14, 1860.

     Monday last may be set down as the hottest day of the season. It was an intensely warm one, the wind blowing strongly from the South, bearing a degree of heat which would compare favorably with the raging sirocco which sometimes sweeps the southern portions of Europe from the heated deserts of Africa. -Mercury rose to 106° . . . , and we almost fancied we could smell brim-stone and hear the bubbling, seething and foaming of those naughty old chaldrons which used to loom up so frightfully in the days of our youthful disobedience.
In the evening, however, the wind shifted around into the North, when the sufferings of the day were soon forgotten and forgiveness granted for the "bad words" which the day had provoked. -For the greater part, this season, we have been favored with quite agreeable days, and decidedly cool and refreshing nights.

     Topeka State Record, July 14, 1860.

     We had on Monday last [July 91, the severest storm of wind ever known in this country. It was not so hard a blow as has several times visited us this Spring and Summer, but its peculiarity, as well as severity, lay in its temperature, being heated almost to suffocation. Penetrating every crevice, it was impossible to escape, entirely, its baleful effects. The clouds of dust, also, which it raised, were blinding to those who were compelled to be out of doors. Such was the severity of the wind and dust combined, that it was impossible to perform any out-of-door labor, or even to remain out of doors for any length of time. We have heard of several instances of animals and poultry being completely prostrated by it, and even of the young shoots of fruit trees being withered and literally burned by this terrible wind. The storm continued from 10 in the morning until 6 in the evening, when it slackened, and a fine fresh breeze sprung up from the North-west, which was a most welcome relief, infusing new life and vigor where before was exhaustion and prostration.

     Only the last of these, the Topeka State Record, admitted explicitly the dust, the primary occasion for the editorials being a com-

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 141

mentary on the unusual, which was the hot wind. They were all boomers at heart and were not admitting any more than seemed necessary. It should be apparent that Martin's account is not proved wrong and may have been only more candid than the contemporary accounts. At any rate it is plausible with the date shifted from July 11 to July 9. These summer winds were occurring in the season of the year when the vegetational cover was most complete and on that basis there should have been the least possible hazard of a general dust storm. Even in a drought year there is no reason to assume that the grass of eastern Kansas had been killed out sufficiently to expose the top soil of large areas, the prairie fire season would do that later. But farther west, the situation was different, and it is from that area that the essential information is lacking. None of the comment quoted was from any point west of Topeka. Some indirect evidence of scarcity of grass in the plains is available in the comment of the Topeka Tribune, June 23, that buffalo were unusually numerous and of the Lawrence Republican, August 30, which was more explicit in its statement that on account of the drought the buffalo had migrated east earlier than usual. This shifting of the buffalo migration eastward to the tall grass country was nature's adjustment of wild life to food supply and was essentially the same kind of thing that was done by cattlemen during later drought periods in driving or shipping their livestock east to pasture and feed, and Kansas in 1860 was to do likewise later in that season.

     Two more hot winds of somewhat similar intensity occurred later in the summer, July 30 and August 26, but they were not described in such detail as that of July 9. It would only have been repetition, except that in connection with a storm of August 8, the Leavenworth Times, August 10, emphasized the electrical phenomenon which disturbed the operation of the telegraph. On September 6 the Kansas City Western Journal of Commerce gave a dust description that may appropriately close this section of the incidents of 1860:

     At no period of this unprecedentedly dry season has the drouth and its attendant dust been so desperately oppressive. With every gust of wind the dust whirls up in suffocating clouds. The continued heat and the constant motion of animals, vehicles and footmen upon the streets, has rendered the dust a perfect powder and the slightest breeze sets it in motion. All moving objects are enveloped in it like a cloud. . . . Here it comes-in at the window, in at the door, over the furniture, over the floor; rolling and curling and whirling it flies, stopping your guzzle and closing your eyes; we breathe


it, we drink it, we swallow it down, we "gol-darn" the weather and "gol-darn" the town; turning our noses in supreme disgust; but thus must it dust and dust thus it must. Kerwhang, bang! there went ther masheen, and phew! ke-chew! booh! ah !- -the dust!

     Certain facts about the dust problems of the decade of the 1850's stand out clearly. All that McCoy had revealed in his descriptions of dust storms in north central Kansas in 1830 was confirmed over and over again during this decade when scarcely any sod had been broken. Drought, animals and prairie fires impaired the vegetational cover sufficiently to expose the dry top-soil to the action of the wind. Certain other facts about the dust problem were not explicit in these accounts which are drawn exclusively from eastern Kansas, and the exact meaning of some of the descriptions await the more complete perspective of experience in the next two decades. The kind of data is lacking which would be essential for quantitative comparisons of the severity of these and later storms, but the contemporary descriptions determine beyond question a high degree of both severity and frequency. Similar studies of the frontier to the north and south, Minnesota, Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas, would establish as explicitly a similar situation all along the Great Plains front where settlement was providing slowly for the first time a continuous body of records.

     The degree of crop failure in 1860 varied somewhat, but for the most part approached completeness. Relief committees were organized and private capital was brought to the aid of farmers in need of seed. Thaddeus Hyatt, a New York philanthropist, who had headed the National Kansas Committee of 1856, again in 1860 came to the aid of the territory in giving freely of his time to relief work. Also he dramatized the situation by a poem:


Cover thy Sun, O God!
     Oh! cover it with thy hand!
For it scorcheth man, and it scorcheth beast,
     And it burneth up the land
It glowers and simmers: a Sun in its name,
But a hell in its wasting, its fierceness and flame!

An oven it gloweth at morn;
     A furnace it *glareth at noon!
It roasteth the clouds, and it baketh the air,
Till the heavens turn brass in its terrible glare,
And the zephyrs smite† like a simoon!

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1850-1860 143

Then, cover thy Sun, O God!
     O! cover it with thy hand,
That its fearful heat‡ may no longer curse
     This parched and perishing land!
That this demon-like Sun no longer may glare
On thy desolate ones in their silent despair!

The cattle vainly roam
     In search of spring and stream;
But nothing they find, though fainting and blind,
     Save dust and the Sun's red gleam;
For the springs are dry, and the streams are bare,
And all moisture is burnt from the fiery air!

Rain! rain! O God, send rain!
     For the vault above is brass;
And the earth below lies sore with woe,
     With neither corn nor grass;
And the very eyes of the cattle look
Like globes of crimson glass!

Rain for the land, O God!
     O! send thy pleaders rain!
Let not their piteous cries come up
     Before thy Throne in vain!
Speak to thy clouds, O God!
     And bid them seek the sea,
And charge thine Ocean, Lord, to send
     Its waters up to thee,
That thou mayest send them back again
To earth, in showers of welcome rain!

Rain, Lord! for the mourners, rain!
     Rain!-Rain for the wretched and lost!
Let them hear the sound of thy coming rain,
     Like the tramp of a mighty host!
Let not thy people plead in vain!
Rain, Lord! O! send thy people rain!
For rain the Earth would climb to Thee!
For rain the Heavens would seek the Sea! [15]

     The people who settled Kansas came mostly from the Ohio valley and the Middle Atlantic states, a forest country, where corn culture provided the core of their agricultural system. [16] Corn required a substantial amount of rainfall. In entering Kansas it became evident that they were dealing with a climate in which, because of low rainfall, corn was a marginal crop. Except for the eastern part of


the state, the region was subhumid for corn, and for the other crops which were usually associated with the corn economy. It became traditional on that kind of a standard of measurement, to refer to the low rainfall areas of the west as subhumid. It was to require some years to reorient thinking in relation to the geographical environment and to arrive at the realization that grass was the normal vegetation, and that the country was not subhumid for grass, nor for agricultural crops of similar water requirements such as hard wheat and the sorghums. These people who were entering the grassland did not submit to the idea of geographical determinism or climatic determinism. They thought it possible to find new ways of living in this country that behaved so strangely. With Hyatt, they prayed for rain:

Rain for the land, O God!
O ! send thy pleaders rain!

     They prayed, but they acted also upon the ancient Irish proverb that even God needs encouragement. They pointed out the need of better tillage methods, and of different crops, pointing to the possibilities of wheat, sorghum and other crops.

     They stayed, and by learning to capitalize upon the differences between the grass and forest environment, achieved eventually a good measure of understanding of the mysteries of the grassland.

(A Second Article Will Follow Dealing With "Dust Storms, 1861-1880," And a Third, "Dust Storms, 1881-1901")

DR. JAMES C. MALIN, associate editor of The Kansas Historical Quarterly, is professor of history at the University of KansaS, Lawrence. He is the author of John Brown And the Legend of Fifty-Six (Philadelphia, The American Philosophical Society. 1942), Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas (University of Kansas, 1944), and other books.

1. Lela Barnes, "Journal of Isaac McCoy For the Exploring Expedition of 1830." The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. V (1936), pp. 364-372.
2. Sister Mary Paul Fitzgerald, Beacon on the Plains (Leavenworth, 1939) pp. 83, 92; A. T. Donohue, A History of the Early Jesuit Missions in Kansas" (MS. Ph. D. thesis, University of Kansas, 1931); J. W. Dyer, Waterville Telegraph, reprinted in the Weekly Champion & Press, Atchison, February 19, 1870; Robert Wilson, letter dated January 14, 1861, Topeka State Record, January 26, 1861.
3. St. Joseph Gazette, September 20, 1854.
4. Ibid.
5. Julia Louisa (Mrs. Charles H.) Lovejoy, "Letters From Kanzas [to the Independent Democrat, Concord, N. H.]," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. XI, pp. 38, 39.
6. "Letters of John and Sarah Everett," April 28, July 27, 1855, in ibid., v. VIII, pp. 8. 9. 13. 14.
7. Kansas Free State, Lawrence, May 14, 1855.
8. Everett letters, in Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. VIII, pp. 144-147.
9. Dyer, loc. cit.; Kansas City (Mo.) Western Journal of Commerce, May 29, 1858; Emporia Kansas News, July 3, 24, November 6, 27, 1858.
10. Ibid., September 18, October 9, 23, 1858.
11. Emporia News, May 5, 1860.
12. Lawrence Republican, May 10. 17, 1860.
13. Kansas City (Mo.) Western Journal of Commerce, June 14, 21, 1860; Lawrence Republican, June 28, 1860.
14. "G. W. Martin Papers," in the Manuscripts division of the Kansas State Historical Society.
15. The poem was printed first in the Lawrence Republican, September 13, 1860. Subsequently three words were changed and it is the revised version that is printed here. The original words are indicated: *gleameth, †strike, ‡heats.
16. Topeka State Record, June 16. 1860, called corn "that never-failing staple of a new country," and the Lawrence Republican, August 23, 1860, referred to its position as "the staple commodity of the country generally."

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