Hard Times

...Ike Osteen grew up in a dugout. A dugout is just that - a home dug into the hide of the prairie. The floor was dirt. Above ground, the walls were plank boards, with no insulation on the inside and black tarpaper on the outside. Every spring, Ike's mother poured boiling water over the walls to kill fresh-hatched bugs. The family heated the dugout with cow chips, which burned in an old stove and left a turd smell slow to dissipate. The toilet was outside, a hole in the ground. Water was hauled in from a deeper hole in the ground.

Timothy Egan

Some of our grandfathers knew this time. More of our great-grandfathers certainly knew it. If they were born here, they might have lived down the road from Ike, in another dugout, even before the dust began to blow.

The Worst Hard Time
details life in the corners of Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas, the place we know as the Dust Bowl, during a time some people still remember as the Dirty 30's. It was a time when:

Even the entertainment could be traumatic ... People would gather at makeshift rodeo stands near Boise City [OK] on Saturday afternoons to watch the cow dip. Cattle were herded into a chute and down into a vat of water. Once they hit the water, they were drowned by two cowboys, on either side of the vat, who held their heads down while the beeves bucked. Some of the children didn’t like it–an amusement ride with a sudden death at the end.

It's a hard but fascinating read. You cringe with every new field of buffalo grass ripped up and turned over for the wheat bonanza. It's like watching that little blonde co-ed in all the slasher movies running into the woods to find her boyfriend. Don't do it, don't do it. You mutter it at the pages of the book, knowing full well that they did it anyway and the land blew away. It's too late to stop it now.

More than that, however, it paints a picture of the people who lived there, and how they survived or how they didn't. How they helped each other, how they hurt each other. How they knew not what they did.

Woody Guthrie was born in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. He left too, but he didn't leave it behind.

I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again,
Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains,
In the month called April, county called Gray,
And here's what all of the people there say:

CHORUS: So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,
And I got to be driftin' along.

A dust storm hit, an' it hit like thunder;
It dusted us over, an' it covered us under;
Blocked out the traffic an' blocked out the sun,
Straight for home all the people did run,


We talked of the end of the world, and then
We'd sing a song an' then sing it again.
We'd sit for an hour an' not say a word,
And then these words would be heard:


Sweethearts sat in the dark and sparked,
They hugged and kissed in that dusty old dark.
They sighed and cried, hugged and kissed,
Instead of marriage, they talked like this:


Now, the telephone rang, an' it jumped off the wall,
That was the preacher, a-makin' his call.
He said, "Kind friend, this may the end;
An' you got your last chance of salvation of sin!"

The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,
An' that dusty old dust storm blowed so black.
Preacher could not read a word of his text,
An' he folded his specs, an' he took up collection,

So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,
And I got to be driftin' along