Dust Bowl Migration: Causes, Challenges, and California Settlement

During the late 1920s, there was an increased number of farmers who practiced mainly arable farming in the south west plains of the United States. The increase in their number led to too much cultivation in the region thus leading to soil exhaustion. Before the settlement of the farmers in the region, the area was mainly covered by grass that prevented soil erosion. Sooner after the settlement of the farmers in the area, the virgin land which was in most of the time undisturbed was cultivated and different kinds of crops were planted.

After some time, the soil became weak and was unable to hold any more water and other nutrients thus leading to soil erosion. By then the soil conservation methods was unknown to many farmers and therefore they could not practice it. Towards the end of 1920s there was a drought in the region which stretched for almost seven years. Sooner after the end of the drought at around 1930s, there was the emergence of stormy wind which then blew away the top soil causing a blanket of dust all over the region.

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The dust was later named “Dust Bowl”. These two natural catastrophes affected negatively on the fate of farmers and their families.

Most of their crops dried up and others were blown away by the ravaging winds. Having experienced these rough conditions, the south west residents of whom most of them came from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Missouri packed up their belongings and set up for a journey towards California.

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This journey was from then regarded as the “Dust Bowl Migration”. The rough natural disasters in the south west were infact not the only nightmare for the farmers. Other factors also contributed to their departure. During the twentieth century, there was introduction of mechanized and improved methods of farming.

These methods could not be adapted as quickly by the south west farmers due to their low income and the fact that most of them were poor. The residents preferred to use their old and cheap farming methods which in most cases resulted in low production and the methods were tedious, slow and costly. Immediately after the world war one, the residents of south west were faced with more trouble. During this period, there was a decline in the cost of Agricultural products e. g. cotton and wheat. Further more there was an increase in the rate of soil erosion, crop pests and above all more machinery was introduced.

Introduction of Agricultural machinery led to the cultivation of large scale farms by the rich thus producing more crops which was then flooded in the market . This increased the surplus for Agricultural products in the market and their prices dropped tremendously. The south west farmers were the most hit by the drop in the market price since their inputs to the farms were more expensive and the drop in the price of Agricultural products could not earn them any profit. Most of them then abandoned farming and looked for other options of survival. Gregory, James in his book.

“American Exodus: The Bowl Migration and Okie. ” Stated that, “between 1910 and 1930s the number of farmers and Agricultural workers in the south west declined by 341,000. That was followed by the loss of at least 800,000 more in the next two decades. By 1950, Oklahoma had lost 55% of its Agricultural labor for Arkansas 52%, Texas 51% and Missouri 47%. ” Though there has been a powerful link of the Dust Bowl migration to the poor Agricultural and farming methods, there are other more factors which resulted to this migration. This is because not all the residents who left were actually farmers.

The migration process did not also take place at once but it was characterized by movement of people in different phases. Each migration process had been studied to have had its own cause of shift. In the 1930s for example, there was the migration of the south westerners into California. Apart from running away from the poor living conditions, the migrants mainly went in search of opportunities as farming had proved unprofitable and conditions could not allow for more farming practices. Infact most people in America during that period were heading to California which had been nicknamed ‘West’.

The region according to most Americans had many opportunities and therefore it was a place in which one could settle and start a new life quit easily. In the real sense, the state of California had attracted many external migrants due to its abundant resources, fabulous climate and above all, its beauty. That is the reason why most of the American middle class citizens had preferred living in the state as compared to other states. There were also various advertisements during that time which were encouraging people to settle in the west. In his book Gregory, James states that, “come to California to find the ‘good life’, Americans were told.

And come they did, from every state, doubling the population every two decades. The wave Crested between 1920 and 1930 as more than two and half million newcomers poured into the state, proportionately the largest peace-time migration in American history. ” By responding to this, most of the cities in California were jammed with new comers. South westerners were not left behind and they responded promptly. Most of those who lived in the south west and along the border of California especially the residents of Missouri are the ones who migrated to the west in large numbers.

The residents from the rest of the south west states e. g. Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma had also followed suit. Gregory, James in his book also did illustrate that, “By 1910, 103,241 south westerners, two thirds of them Missourians, were already living in California. More than 300,000 others joined them during the big surge of the 1910s and 1920s. ” Infact most of the migrants from the south west were all not very poor. Some of them had been very successful farmers who just wanted to seek more opportunities in the west and to explore new avenues. In 1920s there were so many problems in the south west plains.

The economic as well as Agricultural problems had hit the area hard. There were also few or no opportunities at all. Most of the residents succumbed to these pressures and they had no other alternative except to quit the area. The reduction in the cost of farm produce and the exhaustive cultivation of land had affected the residents so badly that they preferred to quit their farming practices and seek for other employment opportunities probably in California. Others did not completely abandon their farms completely; they preferred working in the west and investing in their farms back home.

In the 20th century, most of the south west migrants who had entered California settled mainly in Los Angeles. The rest especially the poor ones went to seek for employment opportunities in the Agricultural farms where large scale plantation of cotton was being practiced. The experience they had in farming and especially cotton farming helped them in securing jobs in these plantations. Infact various campaigns including the use of adverts for jobs in cotton fields was carried out in the south west in order to attract more migrants to the fields .

Other cotton plantations had even promised the migrants free ride to the farms incase anybody was interested while others went out to hunt for migrants who had experience in cotton farming so that they can manage and run the cotton fields for them. These new arrays of opportunities attracted so many residents from the south west and most of them migrated with their families and belongings to the west. Though, many of the south west settlers had seen most of the opportunities in California and they had opted to settle there, they found life not as smooth as they had been expecting.

Infact the difficulties they encountered was almost the same as the ones they were running from. The California way of life could not be matched to that of south west. In California, most of the farms were mainly large scale, their farming methods were mechanized and most of the crops that were grown in the region were new to most south westerners. Many of the migrant farmers preferred picking cotton since they had experience on how to carry out the whole procedure. Though they were expecting their lives to improve in the cotton fields, the migrant farmers did not actually get what they were expecting.

The amount they were paid made life even harder for them since they were paid in respect to the amount of cotton that an individual was able to pick. Their daily earnings therefore mostly ranged between 75 to 1 cents. From these earnings, they had to buy food from very expensive shops leave alone gathering for their day to day needs plus those of their children. As the number of migrant farmers continued to jam these large farms, most of them had no other place to live.

They therefore erected shanties along the road sides in the region to the dislike of the inhabitants who then raised the issue to the police asking them to disperse the migrants. The migrants were then beaten and assaulted and their properties were destroyed and houses razed. This was not actually what the migrants were looking for. Most of the migrants expected to settle and to own a land in California but to their surprise; most of the land were owned and run by big companies and cooperatives . The migrants soon lost hope on their ambitions of soon owning a piece of land in the west.

They then migrated to seek other opportunities in bigger towns where they build their shelters by use of wood and timber remains. Though it was difficult to live without lights and water in the town, the migrants could survive without both. They used dirty water which contracted them with contagious diseases for example there was an outbreak of cholera, typhoid and malaria. Though the lives of the migrant farmers was not in any way smooth, they had no other option other than to adapt to the way of life in California. Over the years their lives started improving bit by bit.

Infact they started building proper houses which replaced the shanties they had erected. They also made sure their children received education just like the rest of the settlers. They were soon starting to appreciate and to fit into their new environment and becoming part of it. Even though the migrants were trying to fit into their new environment, the original settlers still discriminated them. They faced different kinds of discrimination especially when they were looking for employment. Those who were already employed were also discriminated in terms of poor working conditions, poor remunerations and also odd working hours.

The locals had also nick named the migrants “Okies” and they seemed not to understand that the migrant farmers were actually their fellow countrymen who were faced with calamities beyond their control. By 1930, the number of migrants who headed to the west had increased drastically as compared to those who had migrated in the 1920s. Infact almost 400,000 migrants from the south west entered California during this period as compared to 300,000 who had settled in the same state ten years earlier . The behavioral characteristics between these two groups were very much distinct.

The earlier group seemed very much composed and they appeared to have had a reason for leaving their former homes and settling in the west. The later group on the other hand appeared to contrast with the first group. This group mainly consisted of very poor people who seemed desperate and exhausted. Their migration was not majorly caused by the opportunities and the attractions in the west but they were forced by situations which were totally out of their control. In the early 1940s, most parts of the south west region had been completely deserted. This caused more trouble as many other sectors that were still running were totally paralyzed.

These sectors included that of transport, construction and mining. The occurrence of these events in the region at the same time impacted negatively on the growth and development of the region. The rate of joblessness rose drastically and it was recorded to be at all time high as compared to other regions. Those who had majored mainly in self employment and especially in Agriculture were crippled by the loss of value in their Agricultural products leave alone the impact of the natural disasters. South west plains could experience a drought stretching and covering a very large part of the plains.

The rain could disappear in the region not for months but for years. This left no option for the farmers especially those who had planted cotton and wheat as they had to abandon the whole practice. Infact cotton production in Oklahoma and Texas was severely hit. Also the dust storms which were mainly known as Dust Bowl also contributed to the high rate of crop destruction . The Dust Bowl carried the top fertile soil in the cultivated land leaving the bottom and the infertile soil. This affected the growth of crops and their productions in general.

The areas which were majorly hit by the Dust Bowl disaster were Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Those who practiced farming in these regions encountered a high percentage of large scale destructions. The drought and the Dust Bowl were not really the only reasons that lead to the Dust Bowl migration. There were many more factors that led to the migration for instance the low cost of the Agricultural products, floods in other parts of the region and also the presence of crop pests. Infact most farmers at this time were being advised to sell off their lands so as to support themselves.

Most of the farmers complied with the request and they sold off their land at a very cheap price. The Agricultural products therefore started reducing in the market because those who bought land from the residents did not want to participate in any farming. This led to economic distress in the region and the surrounding urban communities as the rate of depression rose steadily. Studies indicate that during the period of depression, the south west region was the most hit due to the high rate of unemployment. Findings showed that almost 23% of the south west residents were either jobless or did not engage in any meaningful occupation .

The problem of unemployment was worsened by the limited amount of resources that existed in the south west. Though the government and the relief Aid organizations stepped in, there was very little they could do since the government did not have enough funds to sustain the residents as the country had just experienced depression . On the other hand, the relief food swindled very quickly due to the poor management of the relief organization thus contributing to the suspension of all the relief programs in the south west.

The south west states were also allocated very minimal amount of aid as compared to other states since their income per capita was very low. Such minimal allocation could not meet all the necessary requirements for the south west residents. Therefore most of the south west residents suffered severely from the effects of unemployment in the early and late 1930s. Infact most of the residents had a hard time in obtaining their daily bread. The residents could not bear such situation anymore and therefore most of local rural residents decided to migrate to the nearby urban towns where they erected shanties for which they called their home.

The shanties stretched over a large area and it was home to almost 2,500 people. Most of these people did some odd jobs in the surrounding towns and some of them assisted in the distribution of food aid. Conclusion: The settlement of the migrants in California had an impact in the economic development of the state. The large number of migrants who had settled in the state, led to a high rate of unemployment in the region and almost 30% of all the California’s population remained without jobs. This increased the government concern in identifying ways of improving the state and creating more jobs.

It took almost 5 years for the government to carry out rescue initiatives in the state. By the year 1937, more jobs had been created as more factories and other employment sectors were set out. This helped to raise the G. D. P. of the state by almost 40% . Most of this were mainly tax from the working population and not actually from the wealthy individuals as it was earlier was. Those migrants who had settled in Los Angeles did not find life there any smooth either. Their social culture in most of the time clashed with the people of Los Angeles.

The migrants were majorly rural based and could not easily match or afford the quality of life in the town. To make matters worse the town was just recovering from the effects of depression like most other towns and therefore the rate of unemployment was very high. All in all, the migrant farmers had to adapt to the way of life in California as it was going to be their new homes and with time most of them really adapted and life had to go on. Bibliography: Carstensen, V. , Kaye, W. F. and Wunder J. R. 1999. Americans View Their Dust Bowl Experience.

University Press of Colorado. Collins, H. 1941. America’s Own Refugees: Our 4,000,000 Homeless Migrants. Princeton N. J. Princeton University Press. Goodrich, C. 1936. Migration and Economic Opportunity: The Report of the Study of Population Redistribution. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press. Gregory, J. N. 1991. American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. New York. Oxford University Press. Ryan, P. E. 1940. Migration and social Welfare: An Approach to the Problem of the Nonsettled Person in the community.

New York. Russell Sage Foundation. Shindo, J. C. Autumn 2000. The Dust Bowl Myth. The Wilson Quarterly, vol. 24 Skotnes, A. , and Benmayor R. 1994. Migration and Identity. New York. Oxford University Press. Stein, W. J. 1974. California and the Dust Bowl Migration. West Port C. T. Greenwood Press. Tolnay, S. E. 2003. The African American “Great Migration” and Beyond. Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 29. White, P. , Connell, J. and King, R. 1995. Writing across Worlds: Literature and Migration. New York. Routledge.

Updated: Nov 20, 2023
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Dust Bowl Migration: Causes, Challenges, and California Settlement. (2016, Aug 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/dust-bowl-migration-essay

Dust Bowl Migration: Causes, Challenges, and California Settlement essay
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