It is not surprising that some draw parallels between the recent drought and the historical droughts of the 1930’s. The “dust bowl,” a near ten-year period of extended drought conditions and massive dust storms, is part of American agricultural history as well as Kiowa County history.
“When the worse ones came we covered all of the furniture with sheets,” said Helen Hayse, a lifelong Mullinville resident and historian who celebrated her 91st birthday last month. “Lots of times we would put sheets over the windows to keep the dust out. If it got really bad we would wet them. I remember one; I don’t know if it was the worse one, but it was like a flood. The dust was as high as I could see, and the dust was piled all the way to the ground.”
Massive rolling topsoil-clouds would engulf farmsteads across Kiowa County and western Kansas. If the storms were in the evening, residents wouldn’t see it coming, sometimes waking up choking on inches of dust blown through an open window.
When storms came through in the daytime they were an awesome sight, sometimes blacking out the sun.
“It would get so dark we had to light the kerosene lamps even in the middle of the day,” said Hayse, an elementary school student at the time. “It would kind of roll in like fog, with wind behind it.”
Hayse said she remembers some of the worse days, like the day she was kept at school for fear of an approaching dust storm and the time she watched her mother and a neighbor play bridge by lamplight, in the middle of the afternoon.
But she said she remembers it as just part of day-to-day life.
“It was like a blizzard, you never knew how bad is was going to get or how long it was going to last. It was just part of life, we just endured it.”