Abstract

The literature on the Dust Bowl conveys the impression of widespread exodus from the Great Plains. But farm populations were often more resilient than the iconic photographs of the era suggest. While recent studies highlight that tenacity, less is known about the process of recovery and postwar growth. This paper offers a window on both. The evidence discussed here survives as a legacy of a long-lived, state-run agricultural statistics program in Kansas. The State Board of Agriculture conducted annual household surveys of farms between 1873 and 1981. Linked together over time, these farm-level surveys offer a detailed record of the residential and land-use histories of three communities, and they begin to illustrate how farm households met the challenges of the drought years and adjusted to the new agriculture in the post–World War II era.

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Notes

1. Vaclav Smil,
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, 2001); Vaclav Smil,
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(
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. For work that expands the Green Revolution’s meaning and chronology, see Jonathan Harwood,
Europe’s Green Revolution and Others Since: The Rise and Fall of Peasant-Friendly Plant Breeding
(
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:
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(
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:
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, 2008); Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode,
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(
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:
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(
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:
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2. On the continued resistance to changing technologies and methods, see, Ester Duflo, Michael Kremer, and Johnathan Robinson,
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American Economic Review
101
(Oct.
2011
):
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90
; Pramila Krishnan and Manasa Patnam,
“Neighbors and Extension Agents in Ethiopia: Who Matters More for Technology Adoption?”
American Journal of Agricultural Economics
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(Jan.
2014
):
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27
. On regional specialization, see, Joseph L. Anderson,
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(
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:
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, 2009); Paul K. Conkin,
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(
Lexington
:
University Press of Kentucky
, 2008). Anderson and Conkin suggest that much of the resistance to postwar technologies came from the older generation of farmers who had navigated the Depression years and found it hard to give up general farming. See Anderson, 38, 53, 113, 143; Conkin,
84
85
. For a discussion of why agriculture shrank so quickly in the South, see Jack Temple Kirby,
Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
, 1987). On why chemical agriculture was embraced so fervently in cotton growing, see Pete Daniel,
Toxic Drift: Pesticides and Health in the Post–World War II South
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
, 2005). Mary Neth describes the blend of traditional and commercial approaches in
Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900–1940
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
, 1995). Kendra Smith-Howard and Shane Hamilton emphasize how quickly the self-provisioning elements of farm production were stripped away as beef cattle, chicken, hog, and dairy cattle raising became more specialized. See Kendra Smith-Howard,
Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History since 1900
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
2014
),
38
,
73
; Shane Hamilton,
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(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
2008
),
140
43
.
3. Timothy Egan,
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
(
Boston
:
Houghton Mifflin Company
, 2006); Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, Geoff Cunfer, R. Douglas Hurt, and Julie Courtwright,
“Historians’ Reaction to the Documentary, The Dust Bowl,”
Agricultural History
88
(Spring
2014
):
262
88
. On levels of outmigration, see also, Kenneth M. Sylvester,
“Ecological Frontiers on the Grasslands of Kansas: Changes in Farm Scale and Crop Diversity,”
Journal of Economic History
69
(Dec.
2009
):
1041
62
, Appendix 1 and 2; and Jason Long and Henry Siu,
“Refugees from Dust and Shrinking Land: Tracking the Dust Bowl Migrants,”
Working Paper, 2014, https://sites.google.com/site/jasonmlongecon/papers/DustBowlMigration.pdf?attredirects=0&d=1 (Accessed August 10,
2015
).
4. State Board of Agriculture, Agricultural Statistical Rolls,
1873
1984
, Government Record Series (microfilm,
1918
1925
,
1930
,
1935
,
1937
1981
, and original bound volumes,
1926
1929
,
1931
1934
, and 1936), Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, KS (hereafter Agricultural Statistical Rolls, KSHS); State Board of Agriculture,
“Biennial Report,”
(
Topeka
:
Kansas State Board of Agriculture
,
1873
1976
); James Claude Malin,
Grassland Historical Studies: Natural Resources Utilization in a Background of Science and Technology
(Lawrence, KS, 1950); William N. Parker, Stephen J. DeCanio, and Joseph M. Trojanowski,
“Adjustments to Resource Depletion: The Case of American Agriculture—Kansas, 1874–1936,”
ICPSR 7594 (
Ann Arbor, MI
:
Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research
, 2000), http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR07594.v1 (Accessed Mar. 3, 2017). Susan Hautaniemi Leonard, Glenn D. Deane, and Myron P. Gutmann,
“Household and Farm Transitions in Environmental Context,”
Population and Environment 32
(June 2011):
287
317
; Kenneth M. Sylvester, Susan Hautaniemi. Leonard, Myron P. Gutmann, and Geoff Cunfer,
“Demography and Environment in Grassland Settlement: Using Linked Longitudinal and Cross-sectional Data to Explore Household and Agricultural Systems,”
History and Computing
14
(March 2002, publ. 2006):
31
60
. Other work that makes extensive use of these sources includes Royden Loewen,
Diaspora In the Countryside: Two Mennonite Communities and Mid-Twentieth-Century Rural Disjuncture
(
Urbana
:
University of Illinois Press
, 2007); and Geoff Cunfer,
On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment
(
College Station
:
Texas A&M University Press
,
2005
).
5. E. L. Van Meter,
“Land appraisal on Use Value Shifts Tax Mix,”
Lawrence Journal-World
, Oct. 21, 1976;
“Would Partially Shift Tax Base,”
Garden City Telegram
, May 28, 1976;
“Use-Value Plan in Land Appraisal May shrink Agricultural Activity,”
Lawrence Journal-World
, May 30, 1976; Agricultural Statistical Rolls, KSHS.
6. On the question of productivity in the economics literature, see, Jeremy Atack and Fred Bateman,
To Their Own Soil: Agriculture in the Antebellum North
(
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1987
); Jeremy Atack,
“Agricultural History
Talks to Jeremy Atack,”
Agricultural History
78
(Winter
2004
):
413
16
. On the destruction of agricultural census schedules, see, United States Bureau of the Census,
Annual Report of the Director of the Census to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1927
(
Washington, DC
:
Government Printing Office
, 1927); United States Congress,
List of Useless Papers in the Bureau of the Census
(
Washington, DC
:
Government Printing Office
, 1912); United States Congress,
Disposition of Useless Papers in the Bureau of the Census
(
Washington, DC
:
Government Printing Office
,
1925
).
7. For publications from the larger study using twenty-five townships, for the period prior to 1940, see, Kenneth M. Sylvester and Susan Hautaniemi Leonard,
“Revisiting Wealth on the American Frontier: The Distribution of Land in Kansas, 1875–1940,”
in Peter Baskerville and Kris Inwood, eds.,
Lives in Transition: Longitudinal Analysis from Historical Sources
(
Montreal and Kingston
:
McGill-Queen’s University Press
,
2015
),
165
86
; Kenneth M. Sylvester and Eric S. A. Rupley,
“Revising the Dust Bowl: High Above the Kansas Grasslands,”
Environmental History
17
(July
2012
):
603
33
; Kenneth M. Sylvester,
“Ecological Frontiers on the Grasslands of Kansas: Changes in Farm Scale and Crop Diversity,”
Journal of Economic History
69
(Dec.
2009
):
1040
61
; Kenneth M. Sylvester and Geoff P. Cunfer,
“An Unremembered Diversity: Mixed Husbandry and the American Grasslands,”
Agricultural History
83
(Summer
2009
):
352
83
. On vegetation zones, see, James C. Malin,
The Grassland of North America: Prolegomena to Its History
(
Lawrence, KS
,
1947
); James C. Malin,
Grassland Historical Studies
.
8. A search of the land patents on General Land Office Records website, http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/, revealed that only 2,565 acres were patented under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862. Most of the land grants in Washington Township were exercised under various assigned military bounty grants, dating back to legislation in 1855, or earlier, providing for the assignment of warrants reaching back to the Black Hawk War, the Seminole War, Cherokee Removal, the Creek War, War with Mexico, and the War of 1812. On movement back to the land, see Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmud Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, Gavin Wright,
Historical Statistics of the United States Millennial Edition Online
(
New York
:
Cambridge University Press
,
2006
), Table Da
1
13
.
9. United States Bureau of the Census,
Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Agriculture
, Vol.
1
, Farm Acreage and Farm Values, by Townships or Other Minor Civil Divisions (
Washington, DC
:
Government Printing Office
,
1932
),
217
,
220
,
227
. How to treat tenant farmers in agricultural census returns has been a recurring theme since Donald Winters raised it in his monograph,
Farmers without Farms: Agricultural Tenancy in Nineteenth-Century Iowa
(
Westport, CT
:
Greenwood Press
,
1978
).
10.
Soil Survey Geographic Database (SSURGO)
. Ford County, KS. See, http://sdmdataaccess.nrcs.usda.gov/ (Accessed Mar. 3, 2017).
11. For treatments that emphasize the maximum impact of early mechanization, see Deborah Kay Fitzgerald,
Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
, 2003). Others who emphasize the postwar impacts include, Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt
; Hamilton,
Trucking Country
; and Conkin,
Revolution Down on the Farm
. On the problems of general-purpose tractors, see, Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode,
“Reshaping the Landscape: The Impact and Diffusion of the Tractor in American Agriculture, 1910–1960,”
Journal of Economic History
61
(Sept.
2001
):
663
98
; Olmstead and Rhode,
Creating Abundance;
Robert C. Williams,
Fordson, Farmall, and Poppin’ Johnny: A History of the Farm Tractor and Its Impact on America
(
Urbana
:
University of Illinois Press
, 1987). For a discussion of the adoption of tractors in the 1920s, see George B. Ellenberg,
“Debating Farm Power: Draft Animals, Tractors, and the United States Department of Agriculture,”
Agricultural History
74
(Spring
2000
):
545
68
. For trends on the plains, see, Geoff Cunfer,
On the Great Plains
, Chpt. 5. For the Midwest, see, Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt
, Chpt 5. Sally H. Clarke,
Regulation and the Revolution in United States Farm Productivity
(
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1994
). Articulate discussions of postwar agricultural policy can be found in Conkin,
Revolution Down on the Farm
, Chpt. 6; and Bruce Gardner,
American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How it Flourished and What it Cost
(
Cambridge, MA
:
Harvard University Press
,
2002
).
12. Agricultural Statistical Rolls, Manuscripts,
1932
1942
,
1950
, KSHS.
13. David B. Danbom,
Born in the Country: A History of Rural America
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
2006
),
133
.
14. These demographic data about the Waugh family are based on responses in the 1940 US manuscript census. See,
1940
Census, https://1940census.archives.gov/. Weskan Township, Wallace County, Kansas, is located in enumeration district
101
9
. Alan Waugh is listed as the enumerator of the return for Weskan township dated Apr. 11,
1940
.
15. Agricultural Statistical Rolls, Weskan Township, Wallace County,
1942
1956
, KSHS.
16. Paul Conkin’s
Revolution Down on the Farm
and Bruce Gardner’s
American Agriculture
both argue that USDA programs favored wealthier farmers because subsidies were allocated on a per-acre basis, rather than income. Conkin sees the per-acre allocations as the biggest mistake of the postwar years because it closed off alternative ways of making a living for rural landowners. Geographer John Fraser Hart has emphasized the power of market forces, relying mainly on interviews of large corporate farm families, leaving the impression that policy is less important than technology and profitability. See John Fraser Hart,
The Changing Scale of American Agriculture
(
Charlottesville
:
University of Virginia Press
, 2003).
17. Kendra Smith-Howard points out that skim milk was often used to feed chickens, hogs, and calves in grade B milk areas distant from urban milksheds. See Smith-Howard,
Pure and Modern Milk
,
37
74
.