TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Music
Music

Books by
Clay Coppedge


Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Woody Guthrie
and
the End of the World

by Clay Coppedge

One day in the 1930s in Pampa, Texas, when it looked like the world was about to end, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about it. The world didn't end, so Woody moved to California and kept writing songs.

The end of the world, as Guthrie perceived it that day, came in the form of one of the worst dust storms in American history. The storm had its origins in the Dakotas where a high-pressure system was challenged by a hard-charging cold front from Yukon country. The wind howled like a hammer and picked up tons of Dakota dirt and propelled it southward, where many more tons of dirt, exposed by the plow to the wind, was carried south, toward Oklahoma and Texas.

The day the storm hit Texas started off like a picture from one of the newspaper and magazine advertisements for the region that drew many people to the plains in the first place, back when the rains came and the grass grew and stitched the land together, before it was all plowed up. On that beautiful spring morning, April 14, 1935, people who had endured so much might have thought the worst was over. They were wrong; the worst was on its way.

The plains, from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border, had been blasted by wind and dirt for five years at this point, and most people who had settled the region during wetter years were gone now to California and other climes judged to be friendlier than the wind and dust-ravaged Great Plains. Collectively, the hard-scrabble Dust Bowl refugees were referred to as Okies and were immortalized in John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath."

And in Woody Guthrie's music.

Guthrie had moved with his father to Pampa from Oklahoma six years prior to the storm, after his mother was institutionalized. Woody dropped out of Pampa High School but he was a voracious reader of everything from the classics to philosophy. An uncle taught him how to play guitar while he worked at Harris Drug Store in Pampa as a soda jerk. From time-to-time Woody started making up tunes to go with his poetry. Some of the tunes were pretty good. They lyrics weren't bad either.

Texas Panhandle dust storm,  April 1935
The dust storm of April 1935
Photo courtesy Louise George

On an April day that started off so bright and turned so dark so suddenly, Woody Guthrie and some friends huddled in a room around a single light bulb with only faint wisps of light penetrating the dust. It was, Guthrie thought, like the Red Sea closing in on the Israelites.

"This is it," one of the people in the room with Guthrie said. "The end of the world."

Of all the storms that blasted the plains in the 1930s, the one that swept down from the Dakotas that day was the worst of them all. More than 300,000 tons of topsoil formed a rolling cloud of dust that turned night into day, turned an idyllic Sunday morning in April into something that made even these hard veterans of the storms think the end of the world had indeed arrived. News accounts of the storm gave the time and place its enduring name: the Dust Bowl.

As the dusty, choking darkness of what came to be called Black Sunday rolled through Pampa, Guthrie started humming a tune about leaving these hard times behind. "Dusty Old Dust (So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh)" came from that storm. It's one of Woody Guthrie's best-known songs, perhaps second only to "This Land is Your Land."

The song was prophetic. Woody soon joined that line of refugees escaping the plains with little more than the clothes they wore and lungs full of dust. He did some hard traveling and wrote songs by the thousands, eventually earning a recording contract and a large measure of commercial success. But he never forgot that he had been of those Dust Bowl refugees, and the experience figured one way or another into many of his best-known songs.

Others have told and written about the Dust Bowl over the years, but Woody Guthrie gave it a soundtrack.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" May 15, 2022 column



More on Dust Storms

  • Dust Storm in the Texas Panhandle, April 1935 Ola Covey. As told to Louise George
  • Dust Storms by Mike Cox
  • Dust Bowl was deadly by Delbert Trew
  • Amarillo in thick of Dust Bowl by Delbert Trew



  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Last Town Crier 4-8-22
  • Rough Riding on the Butterfield Trail 3-6-22
  • The Snow-Capped Mountains of Lubbock 2-6-22
  • Not so great escapes 1-8-22
  • Titanic in Texas 12-5-21

    more »



  • Related Topics:
    Music
    Texas Disasters
    People
    Columns


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved