Abstract

Rainmaking flourished on the Great Plains during the 1890s drought. A complicated hybrid of sincere belief in science and confidence games, Plains peoples' willingness to place tentative faith in the practice reflected larger insecurities about the advisability of practicing agriculture in a marginal environment and their ability to succeed in the face of periodic, intense, drought. An extension of older weather modification theories—such as rain follows the plow—rainmaking facilitated hope and empowered believers. Doubters, meanwhile, participated under the guise of entertainment, a harmless diversion that allowed them to delay any absolute judgment regarding the legitimacy of the practice. Suspension between skepticism and belief in rainmaking, in effect, allowed faith in the region, even during conditions of devastating drought, to remain alive. A supposed panacea for the Plains' most significant environmental insufficiency, rainmaking resurfaced beyond the 1890s whenever the rains stopped. Hope, like moisture, was in constant demand.

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