Americans View Their Dust Bowl Experience

By John R. Wunder; Frances W. Kaye et al. | Go to book overview

“A GOD-FORSAKEN PLACE”
FOLK ESCHATOLOGY AND THE DUST BOWL

Brad Lookingbill

On an idyllic Sunday in April 1935, people from Lubbock, Texas, to Topeka, Kansas, went on picnics, planted gardens, visited neighbors, and attended church. Communities had been punished with depression and drought, yet on that spring day Plains men and women felt assured that peace and safety had returned. Suddenly in midafternoon the air turned cold, and people noticed then that the sky had become filled with birds, fleeing from some unseen force. Fifteen-year-old Ida Mae Norman, driving home from a Palm Sunday church service with her family, saw a thin strip of black on the horizon north of Guymon, Oklahoma. Seconds later, they were enveloped in a wall of dust. She later recalled: “I was so frightened. I thought the world had come to an end.” She feared that the foreboding dust storm might be a “signal for Armageddon.” 1

The teenage girl's fear reflected a common response to dramatic ecologic and economic shifts. From the Puritan's “Day of Doom” in colonial history to Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth in recent years, apocalyptic strains have echoed throughout American culture and remained malleable to particular historical circumstances. Premillennial dispensationalism, the eschatological form popular in the twentieth century, regards events not as harbingers of a progressive evolution into the Kingdom, as postmillennialism contended. Instead, individuals saw omens of disaster as increasing trials which would precede the imminent return of Christ in judgment and salvation. 2 This paradoxical faith, constructed within the social experience and from the religious traditions of grassroots Christian piety, per

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