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 blowing.
“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 the baby.
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
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 with sand.
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.
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.
Cox - May 8, 2013 column
West Texas | Texas
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