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Kansas Memory has been created by the Kansas State Historical Society to share its historical collections via the Internet. Read more.

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Environment - Natural resources - Conservation of natural resources - Soil

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A living example of our problem in soil conservation

A living example of our problem in soil conservation
Creator: Works Progress Administration Indian Program
Date: 1935
This image, part of the New Deal Indian Program scrapbook compiled by the Works Progress Administration, depicts a gully created by severe erosion. Erosion such as this depleted the soil of its nutrients and decreased fertility, and blowing soil contributed to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.


Chapter IV: Destructive effects of undesirable tendencies, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee

Chapter IV: Destructive effects of undesirable tendencies, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee
Creator: Great Plains Committee
Date: December, 1936
This report was created by the Great Plains Committee, which had been called by President Roosevelt to investigate the effects of drought and wind erosion in the southwestern United States. Chapter IV of the report, titled "Destructive Effects of Undesirable Tendencies," outlines some of the major problems in this region, composed of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. These problems included the decreasing amount of range land, soil erosion, and the depletion of ground water. A large part of the chapter deals with relief efforts and homestead rehabilitation. It also contains illustrations and tables that provide comparative data on the situation in each of these states.


Checks on erosion and floods

Checks on erosion and floods
Date: Between 1930 and 1937
This unidentified newspaper clipping illustrates and explains four useful techniques for combating drought and soil erosion: planting vegetation on steep slopes, strip cropping, contour plowing, and check dams.


Curbing the wind

Curbing the wind
Creator: Aicher, L. C.
Date: 1935
The twenty-ninth biennial report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture includes this short article by L. C. Aicher, superintendent of the Fort Hays Experiment Station in Hays, Kansas. In the article ("Curbing the Wind" in Twenty-Ninth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the Years 1933 to 1934"), Aicher describes the most effective techniques for preventing wind erosion, stating that "the secret in preventing soil from blowing is to keep the surface in a roughened condition." He also gives directions about the best methods for listing land and caring for fallow fields.


Day by day Kansas is rapidly washing away

Day by day Kansas is rapidly washing away
Creator: Topeka Capital
Date: December 4, 1932
This brief article discusses the importance of decreasing water erosion, which has washed away approximately ninety percent of the productive soil in eastern Kansas. Two remedies which are suggested are terracing and the planting of blue grass sod (which will bind the soil together). Scientists at Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University) were experimenting with these two techniques.


Drifts of dust

Drifts of dust
Creator: Stovall Studio
Date: 1935
This image illustrates drifts of dust in Ford County deposited during the raging storms that swept the area during the Dust Bowl. The drifts have grown large enough to smother the farm machinery, which has fallen into disuse since the drought. The photograph was taken by Stovall Studio, dodge City, Kansas, and is labeled #10.


Dust Bowl soil is now same as Chinese desert

Dust Bowl soil is now same as Chinese desert
Creator: Hubbard, J. R.
Date: August 9, 1936
This article in the Topeka Capital discusses some of the causes of soil erosion and diminished soil moisture, as well as ways to counteract these forces. Both WPA engineers and scientists at the Hays Engineering Station have been measuring soil moisture and developing techniques to counteract the negative effects of the farming trends in use since World War I.


H.A. Kinney to Governor Walter Huxman

H.A. Kinney to Governor Walter Huxman
Creator: Emergency Dust Bowl Committee
Date: April 23, 1937
Secretary of the Emergency Dust Bowl Committee H. A. Kinney of Liberal (Seward County) sends Governor Walter Huxman of Topeka (Shawnee County) a copy of a telegram the committee sent President Franklin Roosevelt. The telegram appeals to the federal government for assistance in stopping the removal of top soil in the drought stricken areas of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The telegram advises that the present program of management by individual farmers is inadequate. H. A. Kinney was also Secretary of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce.


Keep our soil home

Keep our soil home
Date: 1950s
This anonymously written pamphlet was printed at the Monitor, Leonardville, Kansas. The author urges readers to study the problems that the proposed construction of the Tuttle Creek dam might create and to take action by writing their Congressman. The author urges an approach of small retention dams on tributaries of the Big Blue River rather than one large dam. A number of residents of the area organized to oppose the construction of the Tuttle Creek dam. This pamphlet is one example of that opposition.


Lister cultivator at work

Lister cultivator at work
Date: Between 1910 and 1929
A photograph showing a farmer engaged in preparing his fields with a horse-drawn lister to help conserve water in the furrows and to prevent the topsoil from blowing away. Although this photograph is undated, such listing practices were used during the 1940s and 1950s to prevent a recurrence of the Dust Bowl.


Sheet erosion in Ford County, Kansas

Sheet erosion in Ford County, Kansas
Creator: McLean, B. C.
Date: 1940
This photograph, taken for the Soil Conservation Service, depicts sheet erosion on the farm of Robert Jones near Ford, Kansas. This type of erosion is caused by cultivating up and down a slope from left to right. According to an annotation on the back of the photograph, this damage occurred after a heavy rainstorm. Note that the right portion of the field had been contour plowed and consequently remained undamaged.


Shelterbelt, Reno County, Kansas

Shelterbelt, Reno County, Kansas
Date: 1939
A view of two men standing by a shelterbelt near the town of Sylvia in Reno County, Kansas. Shelterbelts, which consist of various heights of trees and shrubs, were planted in the late 1930s to prevent blowing soil caused by severe drought and soil erosion.


Shelterbelt project in Reno County

Shelterbelt project in Reno County
Creator: Stoeckeler, Joseph
Date: 1944
This photograph, taken by Joseph Stoeckeler in 1944, is of a shelterbelt in northwest Reno County, Kansas, constructed in 1937. Shelterbelts, planted in the late 1930s, consisted of various heights of trees and shrubs that served as windbreaks to protect newly-planted crops (such as wheat) by helping to prevent the soil in which they were planted from blowing away in the wind.


Southwest is not lost

Southwest is not lost
Creator: Kansas City Times
Date: February 25, 1937
In this brief article, Harry Umberger, chairman of the Kansas wind erosion committee, contradicts reports circulating in New York City that the Southwest will never be able to produce wheat again. He goes on to describe the reasons for blowing soil and the steps that must be taken to make farming the Dust Bowl a profitable -- yet environmentally stable -- enterprise.


Summary forward, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee

Summary forward, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee
Creator: Great Plains Committee
Date: December 1936
This report was created by the Great Plains Committee, which had been called by the President to investigate the effects of drought and wind erosion in the southwestern United States. For the purposes of the committee, the Great Plains was defined as the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The forward to the report, included here, states the purpose of the report and the steps that must be taken to solve this problem, both on the federal level and the state level. These steps include the development of water resources, government purchase of range lands, control of erosion, community organization, and legislation regarding tenancy, leasing, and delinquency.


Terracing. A farm economy

Terracing. A farm economy
Date: Between 1932 and 1938
This article from an unidentified newspaper describes the problems that can occur if fields drain too rapidly and lose valuable moisture. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the rapid runoff of water "depletes our soils over twenty times as fast as growing crops." Terraces can prevent these losses by conserving water. The article encourages farmers to terrace their fields and even suggests that the formation of terracing clubs (essentially "co-ops") would divide the costs of terracing equipment among all the members. It also includes images of farmland prior to and after terracing.


The Tuttle Creek story

The Tuttle Creek story
Creator: Blue Valley Film Committee
Date: Between 1954 and 1956
The people of the Blue River Valley in Kansas produced this short film as part of their campaign against the construction of a dam and reservoir on the Big Blue River in the Flint Hills of Northeast Kansas, north of Manhattan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a series of flood control projects in the Missouri River basin beginning in the late 1930s. The Pick-Sloan plan authorized by Congress in the Flood Control Act of 1944 called for a series of large dams and levees on rivers in the basin. The film argues that the large flood control measures proposed by the Corps of Engineers are unnecessary and ineffectual and flood prevention methods through small retention dams in individual watersheds are less invasive and more effective. Despite heavy local opposition, construction of the Tuttle Creek dam began in 1952 and it became fully operational by July 1962. The dam displaced 3000 people and ten towns including Stockdale, Randolph, Winkler, Cleburne, Irving, Blue Rapids, Shroyer, Garrison, Barrett, and Bigelow.


To battle dust

To battle dust
Creator: Topeka Journal
Date: March 16, 1936
This article from the Topeka Journal discusses farmers' efforts to reverse the effects of blowing soil in western Kansas. Farmers in the Dust Bowl would receive a federal allotment to fund the listing of between 1 and 2 million acres of land. The allotment was expected to be 20 to 40 cents per acre of land that was listed.


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