Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
From Empire to Dust Bowl
It was just a coincidence that I read Timothy Egan’s book about the Dust Bowl called The Worst Hard Time right after finishing Empire of the Summer Moon : Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history by Samuel Gwynne, but I’m glad I did. They are both histories of the same piece of land; mostly the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, with one picking right up where the other left off.
Empire of the Summer Moon details the battles between the southern Plains Indians and the new white settlers, but does not report much on why the new settlers were coming or U.S. public policy that encouraged the movement West. You just see more coming and witness the subduing of the Native Americans, which was aided most by the wholesale killing of the bison that roamed the plains and supported the southern Plains Indian culture for centuries.
In The Worst Hard Time you learn that white settlers were drawn West by false claims made by railroad companies and others hoping to get rich along with the U.S. government giving away land to those willing to relocate. Many of the first settlers see the hopelessness of farming in that area of the country and leave, causing the railroads to lure people from other countries like Russia to settle in the area. A couple of good years of rain, guaranteed prices for wheat during World War I and people were plowing up the buffalo grass of the plains at an alarming rate. When dry years returned and the price of wheat dropped, the land was left unplanted, subject to the strong winds of the Plains. The great storms of the Dust Bowl were a man-made natural disaster.
It was stunning to think that in just 40 short years from when the last group of Comanches agreed to settle on their reservation land, their ancestral lands that they had lived on for centuries were destroyed.
Empire of the Summer Moon