Anderson Family History

South Dakota Dirty Thirties

The name “dirty thirties” was proper and fitting for what the weather was like during the drought. Dust storms would arise with regularity. Sometimes there would be so much dust in the air that it would block out the sun and make it necessary to turn on lights in the middle of the day.

Dust blew and drifted like black snow, covering fence lines entirely so you could walk right over the fences. Thistle tumbleweeds blew up against them and the wind and dust would rapidly drift and completely obliterate the fences. In order to keep the blowing dust out of our living quarters, Mom would soak towels in water, roll them up, and place them on the window ledges and the cracks where the windows overlapped. This helped to keep some of the dust out, but it was an endless task to keep our home dust-free.

When rains did come, the water from the down-spouts from the roof gutters had to be diverted until they ran clear before directing the water to replenish the cisterns. If the first rainwater ran into the cistern, it would be full of dirty muddy water. The rain storms were very welcome to help ease the drought, but this also brought tornadoes to the region.

I remember one storm that took all the shingles off the south side of the large roof on the store and house. We had gone to the basement for shelter when the storm hit and I remember being wrapped in a quilt while Mom held me. We went to the basement many times because of storms, but the roof was the only time I remember major damage.

Many of the farms had building damage during some of these storms. Barns and outbuildings were destroyed on several of the community farmsteads. One of the most memorable damaged buildings that I remember was the destruction at the Mission Covenant church two miles west and one mile south of Center, South Dakota. The large steeple was ripped from the structure and ended up inside the roofless sanctuary. Dad had driven over to see the damage as soon as word was received of the destruction, and I got to go along. The church was rebuilt, only this time without the high pointed steeple, and still stands there, steeple-less, on the prairie.

By Allan Anderson, 2005.

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