Apr 7, 2015


USDA Public Domain
The current drought in California is a tough deal.  We feel sorry for our friends in the Golden State and hope that it begins to rain soon.

The dust bowl in the 1930's was a very tough time.  My great grand parents and grand parents were all in western South Dakota.  The combination of drought, grasshoppers, and the depression caused economic ruin for all of them.  Most people lost their ranches and farms to the bank.  Prices for everything plummeted. Many people left, while most stayed.

South Dakota 1936


Memories of the drought and grasshoppers in western South Dakota by my Grandfather John and  Pearl Hullinger, exerpted from Memories and Milestones 



"We did fairly well for three years, when the grasshoppers invaded us and with prices dropping in 1929, finances began to pinch in 1931. We thought we bought the land cheap at $12.00 per acre, but land got cheaper and cheaper. In 1932, hogs dropped to $2.00 a hundred, fat steers to $5.00 to $6.00, top cows, $2.80, and wheat, top 37 cents, and Durham, 29 cents. This was good wheat, 61 to 63 lbs. Shriveled wheat was 13 cents and barley, 11 cents, so I bought 500 bushels of barley and ground a mixture of wheat and barley and fed out some hogs and cattle. I think they did as well as selling grain at that price, but I still could not meet expenses, interest, and taxes, so I deeded the land back to the original owner and rented our present ranch one-half section plus some hayland and pasture in 1933.

In 1932, there was a good crop in spite of hoppers, with lots of rain, and we raised 6,000 bushels of wheat, but no price. I had bought the first tractor in 1931. John and Lyle Hulce and I bought a combine, together, in 1932, and we had quite a time paying for them. It took every cent we could stir up but got them paid for in 1935. Cream was selling for 10 to 11 cents a pound for butterfat and eggs, 8 to 10 cents. We hoped to buy groceries with this. All this time I was carrying mail to McClure, every other day. Jack was born May 9, 1931, and is probably tired of hearing that that was the year we were first bothered with grasshoppers. They had come to other places the year before and I learned that they would not eat cane if they could get anything else, so I tried to plant cane all those years and have kept on since.

1933-34, The Grasshopper Years

There was no crop in 1933. Hay was scarce, but we got enough together to winter the cattle. Carolyn was born December 13, 1933.

The year 1934 started off dry and stayed dry, and the grasshoppers ate everything in sight and ate the rhubarb roots and winter onions down in the ground. They chewed the fence posts and paint off houses. All dams went dry and we had to drive the cattle to a well a mile and a half north of our place and pump water by hand for the cattle, which had increased to about 115 head by this time. By July, one could see no way to carry on. All over the northwest it was bad, so cattle were being shipped into Sioux Falls too thin to butcher. The market got so bad that cattle would not pay for shipping.

Governor Tom Berry saw the situation and went to Washington, D. C., and got legislation passed for the government to buy cattle in the drouth areas and ship them to where there was feed.

Pigs got so cheap that the feeders did not want them, so the government bought them at $3.00 a head and slaughtered them. They would weigh approximately up to 100 pounds.

Roosevelt was president and you still hear remarks about killing little pigs. But there was no feed and what happens to a fat pig anyway. Of course it was a relief project for farmers, as well as W. P. A. and C. C. C. I worked some in 1933 and 1934 on W. P. A., building dams and fixing roads.

I sold 78 head of cattle to the government for $15 to $20 for cows, $10 to $15 for yearlings, and $4 to $8 for calves. Some that were too thin were slaughtered and burned. Better ones were killed and given away to needy people.

Many cattle were shipped to Arkansas and Missouri from here. The 78 head I sold consisted of mixed cows, yearlings and calves. I got $835 for the bunch. They were good cattle, Roan Durham, and it was many years before we built up as good a herd. Only one calf was so bad it had to be killed.

I kept 35 head of good cows, thinking I could find feed enough to get them through the winter. I planted some Sudan grass but it was so dry it never came up until about the first of September. We had a light rain, and it came up a good stand in the lister rows where it had lain all summer with not enough moisture to sprout or rot the seed. Grasshoppers ate everything that tried to grow, so fall came with still no feed for 35 cows. I went to the eastern part of the state and drove for over a week before I found someone to winter them. I finally divided them among three farmers near Viborg, S. Dak. I gave one-third of the cows and any calves born there for wintering them from November 15th to May Ist. They were to be divided in the spring so the farmers would share in any losses. I got by with no loss but some who paid cash by the month had big losses. I shipped to Parker, S. Dak., and drove them on foot in the rain to the Viborg neighborhood, a twenty-two mile hike, but one man met me and helped part of the way.

When spring came it was still dry until April Ist, when we got a lot of rain and a fairly good crop. After dividing the cattle, I came home with the same number that I took down (after the calves were divided). The grasshoppers had plenty of foliage to eat and with the cane there was enough left for the winter and to carry over for 1936, which was another 1934 but with the carryover wintered very well. Doris was born August 6, 1935, and Virginia, November 4, 1936. That was a cold hard winter with most every one working on relief. Horses were selling better those years, so I sold a few and lost two from eating thistles and roots, so I was about out of horses. I got down to one team, so again I broke horses and mules for the use of them.

1937 seemed to see the last real damage from grasshoppers and we had good crops for several years."

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