1917 and 1918,” one longtime resident recalled, “we had the worst
drought that we have any record of in West Texas. I don’t have to
describe it for the oldtimers.”
For those who didn’t go through it, he noted that the county seat
of Gail had fewer than
five inches of rain in 1917. Nearby Lamesa
measured only three inches of precipitation that year.
Lack of rain stunted crops and killed off thousands of head of cattle.
And when farm and ranch land on the plains gets dry, dust starts
“All through the fall, winter, and spring of 1917 and 1918 we would
have one sandstorm right after the other,” the early settler continued.
“It would blow out of the west all day, get calm about night, then
we would see a bank of dirt coming out of the north and it would
blow from that direction that night.”
The unrelenting rainlessness left his family several thousand dollars
in debt with no cattle and “not much of a way to make a living.”
They eventually recovered from the drought and so did the land,
but it took a while.
Nearly six decades later, he said, piles of “blow sand” built up
in pastures during the drought still could be seen. He hated sandstorms
and for the rest of his life, dreaded another drought like the one
Another Borden County
resident, Mrs. G.W. Burdett, remembered one of those sandstorms
from her childhood.
One afternoon while her father was off running errands, she and
her brother were playing on the back porch of their farmhouse, ostensibly
watching their younger sister. When the wind picked up, their mother
called for them to come inside, but being kids, they paid no attention
until “all at once, here came a big tumbleweed and a whirlwind full
Running inside to tell their mother what they had seen, they forgot
Her mother looked out a window and saw it was getting dark when
it shouldn’t. Grabbing the earpiece of their crank telephone to
interrupt a party line conversation, she blurted, “What is this?
Reckon it is the end of the world?”
Knowing that her family had only recently moved to West Texas, the
other two women on the line assured Mrs. Burdett’s mother that it
was only an approaching sandstorm, not the Apocalypse. Even so,
they added, she needed to close the house tight and light a lamp.
About then is when the already nervous woman counted only two of
her three children safely in the house. Rushing outside, she found
the baby in the washtub where her two older siblings had left her
in their excitement. The infant’s eyes and mouth had already filled
While their mother frantically cleaned up the rescued baby, the
other two children watched the duststorm from a window. Half flying
and half running, the chickens ran to the henhouse, tricked by the
sudden darkness into thinking they should be on the roost. Next
their Jersey cow came running up, convinced it must be milking time.
When her father finally made it home and the family sat down to
a late supper, they discovered all the food had sand in it.
“We did not live on the farm very long [after that] as the crops
were all blown out and rain did not come to help,” Mrs. Burdett
continued. Her father sold their land and the family left Borden
County for good. He was so happy to get a little money for his
worthless property he did not think to reserve mineral rights.
Years later, Mrs. Burdett picked up a copy of Life Magazine and
noticed a photograph taken in Gail.
In the background, she recognized the house they had once lived
in. Behind it stood evidence of one drought-proof “crop” – a field
of pumping oil wells.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May
8, 2013 column