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1935 A.D.:  A Giant Dust Storm Is Delivered To The U.S. Capitol's Doorstep



Hugh Bennett, a pillar and innovator of soil conservation, upon which we all deeply depend!


   Land differs, and the farming techniques vary accordingly.  Farming a soil well requires that the farmer know his soil's needs.  If you don't honor this truth, if you don't nurture and manage the soil you farm, then the land begins to deplete over time.  It becomes nutrient starved, leached out, too vulnerable to wind or water erosion, unable to grow various types of crops that it once could.  It may become especially prone to certain crop diseases, and parasites or insects.  Land will 'work' for mankind, but like any worker you cannot abuse it for long and expect the good work to continue!    

  This has been acknowledged since ancient days in a few certain places.  For instance, when ancient Israel entered the promised land, God dealt with this by commanding the Israelites to allow their lands to receive regular lay fallow every seventh year so that the land could regain its strength.  It's explained in Leviticus chapter 25 and 26.  During that 7th year, they could eat whatever 'volunteer' crops that the land happened to produce from last years spilled seeds, etc., but you could not actually farm the land or bulk harvest its volunteer crop.  It was for each farmer's own sustenance, and for their farmhands and servants and slaves, and for the animals. 

  And every 50 years there was a Jubilee year, and the land had to lay fallow for two years then.  On the 49th year it lay fallow because that was one of the 7th years.  And the next year, the 50th or Jubilee year, the land again lay fallow, recuperating, restrengthening, being enrichened by the roots of weeds and flowers or bushes or trees, and by the work of bacteria and fungus and other soil microbials. 

  To compensate for this lost production God (in Leviticus 25 and 26) promised to send crops of such excellent abundance on every 6th year and especially every 48th year that the people would be able to store enough to live for the next two years or three years, depending if it was a normal 7th year or one preceding a Jubilee (which occurs once every 50 years, and where 2 years are set aside instead of the usual 1.)  And apparently He did, though the Israelite farmers eventually began to disobey God concerning this matter.  

  Their disrespect to the land that nourished them - their failure to give the farm land its rests - was a serious violation in God's eyes and He had the prophets tell them that it was one of the reasons they were to spend 70 years as captives in Babylonia during much of the 6th century B.C.; they were receiving one year of captivity for each of the years of rest that they had denied the land.  He had warned them almost 900 years earlier, in the days of Moses, that He would do this if they were to ignore His laws about giving the land its rest and about disobeying other matters of the Mosaic Covenant law.  And eventually it happened...the Israelites spent one year as captives in Babylon for each year that the Israelites had ignored His rules concerning how to farm!  They were there up to 70 years!!  (There were successive waves of deportation) It was about violation of the land and about disrespecting God's laws...and also about other types of sin that the people also engaged in heavily at that time.  But violation of the farming laws were specifically listed.   

So, this is just a little background about thoughts that our Holy Father has expressed about farming.  We are to use the Earth, we humans have authority to rule over the Earth, but we are to be respecters of it as well, and good stewards and wardens over the land.  The Earth is never to be worshipped.  It is just part of a marvelous creation that our Father made through His Son Jesus Christ, and He will have Jesus rule over it in authority at some future point in time.  But the Earth will also be destroyed before all is done, and a new Earth will be made.  The Earth is a wonderful resource that the Father provided to mankind and His other wonderful creatures.  And as for men, men are of dust.  We come from dust, we return to dust. We are dust with a soul given to us by our Maker, the Spirit of God in us as well.  We are, on one level, merely dust.  But...speaking of dust!

  In the 1930's there were parts of the American midwest that had been farmed in ways not right for that type of land for long enough that it was being badly damaged.  And throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as other neighboring states, farmers were putting in vast tracts of new farmland. The dirt was torn up, and no real thought given to protecting it in the long term.  The old plant life was much destroyed, and so when droughts came there was little left to hold down the dirt when great winds came, or to soak up what little rain did come along whenever it rained.  And the climate was changing...this recently tilled and planted farm ground on the semi-arid plains had changed the moisture patterns.  There were most likely much larger weather forces at work as well, but because our 1930's meteorological knowledge was at no where near the level it is today, we may never fully know just what those other factors may have been.  

  For the affected midwest farmers the weather began to be their enemy; their farms, their crops, and their top soil were failing dramatically.  In fact, America as a whole seemed to be in a state of punishment at God's seemed that we were being humbled as a nation in many respects related to the blessings of God.  Our economy had tanked in 1928.  Some felt that that may have been partly caused by the moral 'free for all' referred to as the 'Roaring 20's '.  But as for farmers, it just seemed that the weather was opposed to them.  Many worked their tails off to get their farms in operation only to be driven out of the luckless land almost as refugees. 

  Sand storms began to be ever more common as vast tracts of dry land were left denuded of even their natural native vegetation.  And these were no small sand storms!  As the early years of the 1930's rolled by, the sand storms began to become ...well, ....Biblical in their proportions!  Towering walls of sand several hundred feet high rolled across the land, driven by 40 to 60 mph winds.  The sky would grow so dark that a person's hand could not be seen at arm's length in the middle of the day.  Animals suffocated, metallic objects were scoured, wooden objects eroded away.  Weeds would blow along the ground until they stopped against fences, and then sand would deposit in the weeds until it was a dune of sand even higher than the fence.  Animals could just walk right over the fence.  Some people lost their eyesight when caught out in these storms.  A few died.  Tractors were buried, exposed window glass was sand blasted to the point of being almost opaque. 



The dust storms of the Arab lands may be more famed, but Americas 1930's dust storms were deadly serious!



  Mothers worked for hours to rid their houses of the fine sand, only to have another storm come and drive it in through every smallest crack or hole in their home, or under the door.  Sand was in your eyes, in your food, in what you drank.  Cars sometimes stopped running, or the drivers in these storms often had to stop because they could no longer see the road.  If one driver thought it wisest to stop so that they didn't hit someone, and the driver behind them thought it wisest to keep driving so that they would not be rear ended, then there were wrecks between stopped cars and moving cars.  Those could be fatal as well.  Some storms lasted long enough that farmers found it advisable to stretch ropes between their farm buildings so that they could find their way around to do their chores during long lasting storms.  And of course parents feared for their children whenever the children were coming home from school at a time when these big storms appeared.





To both man and beast the days were hard, sometimes deadly!


  During this period of time a portion of the center of the United States came to be referred to as the 'Dust Bowl'.  Millions of American farmers and ranchers were being devastated, but at that time America had few - almost no - programs in place to help these genuinely distressed and needy families.  And, in the bigger picture, this was a problem facing a great deal of the world and likely to continue on and worsen; people all over the planet, but especially in mechanized America, were farming very destructively, and a planet that was heavily depended upon by all life was being ravaged and devastated by this.  People that engage in sustenance farming the world over have proven that you can care for and maintain the land as you farm it.  But large scale farming had essentially dropped those practices from their thinking.  Land can be farmed sustainably and productively even on the large scale, but this was not happening.  God's world was being handled with ignorance and disregard (though perhaps unintended) and the ramifications were truly severe.  There needed to be a change.  And it could not come soon enough for America's midwestern residents!



  For every crisis God can provide an answer if he wishes.  A man was already on the scene in those years of the early and mid 1930's who had a part of the answer for the suffering soil.  His life had long been focused on this very sort of problem; Hugh Bennett was a man of the soil....a soil and erosion expert.  And he may have been God's chosen instrument in averting a gargantuan natural disaster in our nation, and even the world.  That man was a native North Carolinian, from near the town of Wadesboro, named Hugh Hammond Bennett.

  He was born in 1881 to a father that had a 1200 acre plantation, so from earliest days Hugh learned about farming land as he worked on the family farm.  His father was a big proponent of farming in ways that prevented erosion.  Once when they were marking out terrace style plowing paths for the plowmen Hugh asked his father why they had to do all of that seemingly unnecessary work just to plow.  His father explained to him how a terraced farm didn't let the water wash the soil away as easily.  The lesson stuck!!  His father was also frugal and very efficiency oriented.  When he died there was reportedly no debts against the plantation.  Debt free!!  Not bad.

  Hugh and his siblings learned persistence early and had to work hard in their early lives, but they had a tight loving family.  School was about 7 miles off.  Hugh and two other brothers often rode a mule to school.  But during portions of the farming season they might have to walk, since the mule would be needed.  In our day if you made your young children walk 7 miles to school the all-wise ironfisted state would probably come and snatch your children away with haughty contempt...and maybe jail you.  But these kids just learned to forge ahead and do what you needed to do to acheive your goals. 

  Hugh grew up and went to college, studied chemistry and geology, but ran out of money.  So he took a break and worked for a pharmacist to earn money for more school.  He later found it to have been beneficial, attributed a lot of his people skills and business sense to this job.  He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1903.

  Graduating, he applied for jobs.  There was an opening for a chemist with the Department of Agriculture at about $1,000.00 year which he applied for, and he was selected.  But, they were delaying the filling of the position, and they asked him if he would be interested in taking a job in the meantime with one of their departments, the Bureau of Soils, on a soil sampling project.  Hugh was quite happy to do so.  It was July 1903, in Davidson County Tennessee, and he was embarking on his career.  He was about 23 years old. 

  The soil sampling job entailed taking samples from numerous United States locations, classifying the soil type and observing which sorts of plants grew well in it.  In this and later jobs he traveled to every U.S. state.  It was a vigorous outdoor job that involved seeing many new sights and places, and meeting people all around the nation.  But it was what he learned about soil types, conditions, and soil erosion during this time that became critically important.  And, though it was a junior position, Hugh Bennett was establishing the knowledge base that would one day see him recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on soils.

  One thing that they were seeing all around the nation was terrible - startlingly terrible - amounts of soil erosion.  As mentioned, mechanized farming was allowing people to turn over lots of new land, allowing them to increase the size of their farms tremendously if they wished.  But, there was little thought given to conserving topsoil.  Soil was viewed in much the same way that Americans had once viewed the passenger pigeon and the buffalo herds:  just something to exploit, and available in an almost unending supply anyway.  And so the effects of the rains and irrigation on the denuded dirt had caused the formation of large new tracts of washes and gullies and dirt canyons and caves, etc., all across the land.  There were tens upon tens of thousands of acres of ruined soil and destroyed farmland.  The scope of it grieved and appalled Hugh, who was raised up in the ways of nurturing the land that you farmed.

  But he and his work partner also made an important new observation.  One day, while out working, they noticed a hillside that was divided from top to bottom by a fence.  On one side the land was virgin, and the soil beneath all of the plant growth was thick and loamy and healthy.  But, on the other side it was farmed.  There the slope was not so steep that it had experienced channeling water erosion such as fast water runoff can cause.  There weren't gullies and washes.  But, there was a hard base clay or rock on both sides of the fence, and on the farmed side, they saw that there was almost no soil laying upon this base compared to the virgin side.  They realized that because of the lack of surface cover upon the dirt, the rains had simply washed away one thin sheet of soil after another until nearly all was gone.  Water had steadily dissolved it and carried it away as 'muddy water'.  And over time, this farmland had been gently ruined because it was left bare and exposed to this gently acting rain water. 

  They named it 'sheet erosion', and once they knew about it, and knew what to look for, they discovered that sheet erosion was doing less visible but just as injurious a type of damage to the soil as the more visibly obvious washlands received from the scouring and abrasive runoff of more rapidly moving water.  Hugh realized that the soil erosion situation was far worse in America than first supposed.  And he learned that ground cover - plants and leaves and grasses, etc. - prevented this damage.

  Hugh was deeply affected.  He realized that no one really was seeing the type of epic national farming disaster that haphazard farming methods were creating.  No one was alarmed at the massive loss of almost irreplaceable topsoil because no one was seeing that the problem was so widespread, and probably no one else had considered this problem of sheet erosion.

  In his deep concern he began to talk to the people in the Bureau of Soils about it, but they simply didn't share his fears.  They were in a phase where they were learning to understand soils and categorize soils, and catalogue the locations of the various types.  Hugh Bennett was about 20 years ahead of them, worrying about how to avert the looming wholesale destruction of American agriculture. 

  In his junior position he traveled, and he spoke to many of his great passion for the land and his fears concerning erosion.  And time went by.  He was assigned to far away countries to study their soil by the administrators he worked for.  He was close to a lone voice during these years, speaking of terrible dangers that no one else was able to see.  They apparently thought him a little mad pertaining to his passionately voiced erosion concerns, but his technical competence and knowledgability of soils was gaining acknowledgment.  So they let him do his good work where his unappreciated ideas would be far from their ears!

  As the 1920's passed, he was gaining in stature, and there was the barest beginnings of support for his ideas.  He was publishing his concerns in many different magazines, agricultural and otherwise.  He was working to warn not just experts but the public as well, and trying to gain the support of the farming community.  His message was basically that soil erosion was a burgeoning problem, and it was greatly closer to the point of calamity than most people could have guessed.

  In 1928 he wrote a pamphlet called "Soil Erosion:  A National Menace."  It was somewhat widely read within the field, and gained some notice for his cause.

  By 1929 he had persuaded a concerned Texas politician to help guide some funding his way.  He received a $160,000.00 appropriation from the Department of Agriculture to conduct soil research.  Even then that was not so very much, but he used it well. 

  In 1930 he addressed the American Society of Agronomy...perhaps the most influential group to hear him speak up until then.   

  As the 1930's unfolded, things began changing.  Hugh Bennett had obtained some funding from concerned entities.  The Soil Erosion Service was founded in 1933, and Hugh was chosen to head it up!!

  He assembled a team.  He gained the use of 150 CC camps, and with those workers he began to put on demonstration locations throughout the nation where erosion control methods were employed, such that local farmers could see how things might be done better, and how they might work to stop erosion on their own farms.  Tree planting was encouraged in a big way also.

  He was gathering information from soils and weather stations across the land.  A grim picture was starting to emerge.  The data was accumulating, and it was supporting Hugh's long held warnings.  But it was also the 1930's, the Great Depression, so no one was throwing money around to just anyone for just anything.  Belts were being tightened. 

  Hugh wanted a comprehensive national program to deal with what he saw as an imminant and terrible peril.  He believed national training and education of farmers needed to take place.  They needed to be told, no, even shown how to implement sound farming practices that would halt this monster of a problem, this large scale land erosion.  It would take slightly different methods and actions for the varying regions, and local farmers would hold much useful knowledge concerning those particulars.  And this issue needed to be treated like a coming catastrophe, not as something to roll your eyes at and perhaps get around to someday.

  Well, as described, the dust storms began in the early to mid 1930's.  In March of 1934 a giant midwest dust storm's plume ranged across the land, blown by winds, until it had made its way via a Northerly path to the state of New York, and further.  That raised some eyebrows.  Ships 300 miles out to sea reported heavy dust deposits on their surfaces.  That's around 1500 to 2000 miles from the sources of the soil, and suddenly people were beginning to see this as an American problem, not a midwest farmer's problem.  

  Then there came a day when Hugh Bennett had a golden once in a lifetime opportunity to address a U.S. Senate sub-commitee that had the power to see that an agency was created to deal with what Hugh knew was a mammoth problem.  But, money was tight.  Very tight.  Yet as the day for his presentation drew very near Hugh heard some encouraging news.  Another giant midwest storm was headed east.  Media communications were a little patchy, and Hugh couldn't obtain exact details, but it was beginning to look like the storm just might range as far as Washington D.C., and it was a dark heavy dust storm from the exact area that Hugh was speaking to the Senators about.  More excitingly, there seemed to be a chance that it would hit Washington on the very day that he was scheduled to speak to them...if it kept moving that far.

  On the day that he met with the Senate sub-committee the storm had still not come.  But Hugh Bennett arrived as scheduled and met with them, introducing himself and beginning to speak.  The group of influential Senators gave him its polite attention, but the subject was, well.....a little dry.  And Hugh was making it worse by trying to stretch things out, by going slow, by going over his facts and data and figures in a slow and methodical way.  They could not know that inside he was hoping desperately for some dramatic assistance from the weather - assistance that might or might not ever arrive, and which, if it did arrive, might not be on time.  Senators began to grow restless.  It seemed that perhaps it wouldn't be.

  But then, as he spoke on, the light that was coming through the windows began to change.  The room began to darken.  The storm was coming.  It was coming just as he gave what was surely the most important talk of his life to a group of men powerful enough to organize the sort of national level resistance that Hugh knew was necessary to confront this Leviathan of a looming ecological disaster.  Farmageddon!!  Just at the exact moment that he needed it, there came a towering, sun blocking, sick colored sky blocking monster of a storm.  Here is the description given, by a biographer of Bennett named Wellington Brink, of that insanely timely and dramatic moment: 

"The witness was not cheerful, but he was persistent, informed, and courageous. He told a grim story. He had been telling it all morning. Chapter by chapter, he annotated each dismal page with facts and figures from a reconnaissance he had just completed. . . . The witness did not hurry. He did not want to hurry. That extra ace he needed was not yet at hand. Well he realized that the hearing was beginning to drag. Out of one corner of his eye, he noted the polite stifling of a yawn, but Hugh Bennett continued deliberatively. . . . Bennett knew that a dust storm was on its way. He had newspaper items and weather reports to support this knowledge. But it seemed mighty slow arriving. If his delaying tactics were successful, the presence of the swirling dust—material evidence of what he was talking about—ought to serve as a clincher for his argument. Presently one of the senators remarked—off the record—'It is getting dark. Perhaps a rainstorm is brewing.' Another ventured, 'Maybe its dust.' 'I think you are correct,' Bennett agreed. 'Senator, it does look like dust.' The group gathered at a window. The dust storm for which Hugh Bennett had been waiting rolled in like a vast steel-town pall, thick and repulsive. The skies took on a copper color. The sun went into hiding. The air became heavy with grit. Government's most spectacular showman had laid the stage well. All day, step by step, he had built his drama, paced it slowly, risked possible failure with his interminable reports, while he prayed for Nature to hurry up a proper denouement. For once, Nature cooperated generously." 

  The Senators were as affected by this evidence as ever Hugh Bennett might have hoped.  They saw the threat, and saw it face to face with their own eyes.  Midwest soil, by the ton, in Washington D.C.  The purse strings were loosened.


  A photo labeled 1935 showing Washington D.C. 's Lincoln Memorial receiving dust from 1500 miles away!

  Hugh received his Soil Conservation Service, was made the head of it, and implemented the erosion control ideas that he had for so long wished to emplace.  In only a few years the soil responded.  Most effectively, he managed the organization of smaller local Soil Conservation Districts throughout the nation where local farmers could put local knowledge to work in ways that they had faith in.  American farmers, armed with these erosion management methods and tools, began to turn back the tide and to restore the land's vitality.

  For other nations, the lessons and the tools came cheaper.  As they went through their own phases of increasedly mechanized farming - the type which has the most potential to harm the land - they could avoid America's mistakes.  And a great many did just that, teaching their farmers the ways that would work sustainably.  And the world breathed just a little bit easier!

  God had allowed the rare and unlikely event of a Mid West dust storm reaching Washington D.C. (with its power mostly still intact) arriving at just the right place at just the right time to influence the particular assembled group of politically powerful people to see just how big of a problem their nation faced.  It was showmanship on the Deity level! 

  Let's face it....God controls all weather.  But this incidence of weather???  Doesn't it just about have to be designer weather?  This, I'm thinking, was God's weather!!  Yahweh, the Father of our Lord Jesus, preserved the United States from an even greater disaster than the one that they had already brought upon themselves.  That is mercy...undeserved mercy.  But very, very welcome mercy!!  Thank you, Almighty Father.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, and thank you, Holy Spirit!!     



Hugh Bennett quotes: 

  "We have been too wasteful too long in this country—indeed, over most of the world. We had so much good land in the beginning we thought the supply was limitless and inexhaustible."

"... land must be nurtured; not plundered and wasted."  



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