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Dust Storms: Part Two, 1861-1880

by James C. Malin

August 1946 (Vol. 14 No. 3), pages 265 to 296
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.

FOR the decade 1850-1860, on-the-spot accounts of the weather were available for Kansas only as far west as Topeka and Emporia. For the decade of the 1860s the Junction City Union spoke for the farthest west, but for the decade of the 1870s middle Kansas was represented by several newspapers as far west as the 100th meridian, the traditional eastern boundary of the short-grass plains. This broader local coverage makes a major difference in the ability of the historian to reconstruct the behavior of the weather, and for the very end of the period the federal weather bureau's dust-storm record provided for the first time a perspective on the whole Trans-Mississippi area.

The record-making general drought of 1860 left an unfortunate aftermath by creating a haunting doubt in the minds of many people, even those who possessed a strong faith, that subsequent drought periods might lengthen interminably into another 1860. In consequence, the boomers took an extreme position, that the drought of 1860 could never recur. The result was a distortion of the climatic history in which droughts were denied, and the country was misrepresented to be like the East. On account of this mistaken point of view Kansas people were retarded in making adjustment to the fact of climatic differences and in recognizing that in this difference of the grassland from the Eastern forest land lay their greatest asset.

In his Junction City Union, G. W. Martin kept up a campaign of criticism of all who doubted Kansas. An editorial of April 11, 1863, ran:

It will not rain in Kansas to suit every body, is one great difficulty. Some farmers are complaining because it is getting too dry, while others say rain is not wanted. . . . Thus it goes; all a want of confidence engendered by the year of famine. It will rain in due season.

Again on September 2, 1865, he reminded his readers that "it hasn't rained for ten or twelve days. Folks should commence growling," and on April 28, 1866, he wrote:



We wish folks would stop to think how ridiculous it is to whine about drouth every time it goes a day longer than they think it ought to without rain. Let Kansas get over that old misfortune, by not keeping it alive forever. . . . Kansas stands second to no State in the Union agriculturally.

His patience was tried to the point of exasperation in 1870, resulting in an editorial on May 21:

There are a certain class in this country that do little else than croak from morning till night about "droughty Kansas." They prophesy a failure of crops whenever it is dry for a "straight" week. . . . The continual whinings of these croakers has become as big a bore in the ears of this community, as is Horace Greeley's "What I Know About Farming" to the practical farmers of the country.

In 1872 the Kansas Spirit declared:

Enough has already been written about the "dry year," 1860, both by those who exaggerated and those who denied its calamities, but we must berate the wicked folly of those who speak of that season as though it might be repeated, whenever dust flies for two or three successive days.

It was contended by the same paper that there could never be another year like 1860, unless the fall and winter previous were without rain,-a position which was well taken. [1]

Whenever a rain came, optimism mounted into over-optimism, which is illustrated by the Fort Scott Democrat, April 6, 1861: "After nearly two years of almost uninterrupted drouth, the windows of heaven have at last been opened-wide open. . . . The ground is thoroughly saturated. . . ." The editor did not realize that the years of deficiency in moisture could not be remedied by a few rains, that the restoration of the water table would require time, and that dust storms and crop damage returned easily until that was accomplished. The second issue of the Junction City Union, September 19, 1861, the farthest west newspaper in Kansas reported:

For the past week we have been blessed with a great variety of weather. Rain, and sunshine, calm, and blustering. Yesterday the air was filled with dust-to-day we have every indication of a quiet time among the elements; but, as the Englishman said, "things vary so in this blarsted country, you can't tell."

The next year the same paper, November 8, 1862, reported on prairie fires, which were even more destructive than in 1861:

As far as the eye can reach the earth presents one vast sheet of blackness -and the air is filled with ashes, floating in all directions, rendering everything exceedingly disagreeable.

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 267

The windy season of 1863 inspired the Junction City Union, April 11, 1863, to report: The air has been exceedingly restless for the past week. In fact, we have had, for that length of time, what would be considered a respectable tornado in any other country. If it continues another week, this section, at least, will be blowed away. From the South Platte region of Nebraska came word, in October, that there had been no rain for nearly a year and "clouds of dust and sand arise from what was once the bed of the river." A month later there was further comment that "The present season is said to be the dryest ever known on the plains. Owing to the drying up of the Platte river and its tributaries, large numbers of stock have died for the want of water above Fort Kearney." [2] The year 1864 and early 1865 was one of the historic drought periods. The Leavenworth Daily Times, February 24, 1864, reported cryptically: "Wind and dust, varied occasionally by dust and wind."[3] Three days later the Kansas Tribune, Lawrence, continued the story: Yesterday was windy, dusty, clear and cloudy, all in twelve hours. In the forenoon, the wind blew terribly, with a clear sky, except smoke and dust, in the afternoon, cloudy, smoky, light atmosphere, and but little wind. The spring climax seems to have been reached March 27, 1864, with a "total eclipse of daylight" as told by the Junction City Union, April 2: March, 1864, faded away amidst a variety of weather. Saturday [March 26 would have done honor to July; Sunday [March 27 morning a furious South wind, filling the air with dust, rendered it intolerably disagreeable. About four o'clock in the afternoon, black and threatening clouds rose in the West, the lightning flashed, and the wind even grew more furious. The clouds spread to the North and South, leaving but a faint glimmer of light in the East. The time-pieces were of course supposed to be at fault, and coal oil and tallow were brought into requisition. A slight shower of rain, the wind shifts to the North, the clouds disperse, the air smells sweet, and Old Sol again shines forth! Monday, ground covered with snow; Tuesday, ditto, and very cold. Wednesday, pleasant and warm; Thursday, heavy snow storm. The fall of 1864 continued the story of wind and dust accompanied by intense heat. September 1 was emphatically the most disagreeable day of the season. The heat was as oppressive as at any time previous. The wind blew steadily and terrifically all day, and the dust flew in blinding and impenetrable clouds. At one o'clock, P. M., the mercury indicated 110° in the shade, the highest


elevation it has attained this season. The wind was like the breath of a furnace. But whatever the cause of the elementary conflagration, it finds a precedent in the meteorological records of 1857 as well as of 1860. So we are told a On September 2 the performance was repeated and again, with temperatures still above 100°, on September 3. Rain did not come until late in the month and even then an editorial writer was hard to convince when on October 2 he wrote: "The mud was nearly overcome yesterday by the warm and welcome rays of the sun. It will soon `get up and dust.'" [4] In the spring of 1865 most of the newspapers claimed good rains, one said the most favorable since 1858, and crops were reported in fine condition. Nevertheless the Lawrence paper reported on April 26 that "The air was hot, and the dust flew in clouds," and confessed four days later that in spite of the rains the ground was none too wet, except in spots. [5] The weather record of the years 1866, 1867, 1868, the post-war boom years, is not as clear as it should be. The Junction City Union, April 14, 1866, recorded that "Ever since the first of the month it has been one incessant blow," and on April 28 rebuked those who "whine about drouth." The midsummer was wet. The following spring the Manhattan Radical, March 9, included in its boom article the explanation that "The climate of western Kansas, and of this locality in particular, is dry and healthy." The summer of 1867 was very wet, while in 1868 the Manhattan Independent, August 29, complained that the wind and rain had passed around and then returned with quite a sprinkle; "first with dust and next with water." Grasshoppers were always the accompaniment of drought on the plains, and the three seasons, 1866, 1867, and 1868, were years of visitations by the swarming air-borne variety. [6] In 1870 the winds and dust began operations early, the Junction City Union, February 19, commenting that "a great deal of Kansas is not located where it used to be. Some of it we have no doubt is located in South America, while some covers the British possessions." The drought and winds continued into May, the Topeka

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 269

Record declaring that the wind was the worst since 1855.[7] The crop failures in the western counties (present middle Kansas) were so serious that the legislature appropriated money for seed wheat and corn. [8] In the spring of 1871 "the wind blew so hard the houses became restless," and "Old Boreas has howled incessantly all the week the first half from the South and the last half from the North. . . ." The Abilene Chronicle argued that was what kept the Kansas atmosphere so pure. But the paper agreed on the wonderful crop prospects. [9] The fall of 1871 was dry and by mid-October little wheat had been planted, but the report in the spring of 1872 was optimistic about crop prospects. Also the irrepressible M. M. Murdock's Wichita Eagle became the medium for picturesque interpretation of south-central Kansas:

Some exchange speaks of the wind as just setting on its hind legs and howling. That would be a tame expression of its antics in this quarter of the moral vineyard. It not only sits on its hind legs to do that thing, but stands on its head, turns somersaults, and tears up the ground all over.

Referring to the reconciliation between the sections, the Blue and the Gray, after the Civil War, with comment on the first season of the Texas cattle trade to Wichita and the weather, the Eagle said:

The effect of the "late unpleasantness" may yet daily be witnessed upon our streets. Men of both sections have forgotten and forgiven all, but the winds are on it strong. At present advices the south [wind] stands three days ahead and real estate is going rapidly northward, as are, also, a hat now and then. Zephyrs are our strong point-they lift ten pound boulders and two year old mule colts off the ground-the squawking flocks overhead may be geese, may be jackasses.

A third paragraph on the weather read:

Real estate for sale at this office, by the acre or bushel. We have no disposition to infringe upon the business of our friends down street, but owing to the high winds and the open condition of our office, and not being ready for interment just yet, necessity compels to us [sic] dispose of the fine bottom land now spread over our type and presses. [10]

In defense of Kansas, the Marion County Record, of Marion, May 18, 1872, said:


What I consider 'the worst, and most disagreeable fault of the country [is the] high and disagreeable winds, some days filling faces, pockets and houses, with black dirt and dust. But I do not. see as it [is] any worse here than in other prairie countries. I have seen it just as bad in the valley of the Red River of the North, in Wisconsin, and Illinois, in Iowa, in Missouri and in Texas; and in Dakota much worse.

The year 1873 opened another period of prolonged severe drought, eight years of it, with only slight interruptions. The Wichita Eagle was more realistic than most of its contemporaries as well as more entertaining, as witness its comments of March 6 and 20, 1873.

Spring is now upon us and we are visited occasionally with one of those sweet, gentle, brow-cooling zephyrs for which this country has become so famous. Those of our new comers who have lost their domestic animals and fowls need not be alarmed, as the chances are that such stock will be blown back by the next wind.

Spring -- soft, amorous spring-with her murmuring, perennial streams, ambient zephyrs, choruses of feathered warblers, and resplendent, flashing sunlight flooding the rolling prairies' wide-spread green, is upon us.

"There's perfume upon every wind--
Music in every tree--
Dews for the moisture-loving flowers--
Sweets for the sucking bee;
The sick come forth for the healing south,
The young are gathering flowers,
And life is a tale of poetry
That is told by golden hours,"

Or would be were it not for this rampant wind that goes howling and tearing along with gravel and fence boards on its wing, singing a doleful requiem through the bare branches of the lonely cottonwoods that skirt yonder muddy current to the departed spirit of some breech-clouted murderer or hungry wolf. Poetry and pretty talk are out of the question until this wind ceases tearing the grass up by the roots.

Farther east, the Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, April 11, 1873, mourned that "The late rain has brought up `light covered wheat' before it is sprouted. Sorry to say that the zephyrs did the same thing before the rain." With the coming of fall the winds continued the soil movement, the Junction City Union, September 20, expressing a mock concern over the fate of its neighbor: "From the clouds of dust which have swept through this city the past week in the direction of Manhattan, it is supposed that by this time that unfortunate village is completely buried." But the female reporter for The Nationalist at that place had survived with humor enough to put her sentiments into bad verse:

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 271

The wind it blew,
The dust it flew,
And we didn't know what in the dickens to do;
So we raised our umbrella
And sat close to our feller:
But the dust filled our eyes, our ears and our smellers.
Everything looked a dusty yeller,
And our beau declared it beat Heller;
And we didn't find a thing to tell, or
We'd have told it, of course. [11]

In the meantime more dust was on its way northward from Junction City according to the Union of November 15.

Kansas weather may be compared to the zebra, the animal which, according to the showman, had "twenty-seven stripes across its back, and nary one alike." Monday was one of the loveliest November days which ever dawned on the earth; but on Tuesday-perhaps you noticed it-the wind blew frightfully. The streets were filled all day long with so dense a cloud of dust, that you couldn't see your cigar before your face; and so deep was the artificial darkness, that several men who owe this establishment, passed directly by the office door without seeing it. The Lawrence Journal, which is a standard authority on the subject of weather, says the wind blew seventy miles an hour in Lawrence, from which we conclude that its speed diminished about one-half after leaving this point.

Reports from as far west as the 100th meridian were rare in the 1870's, but the Union, November 22, 1873, relayed to its readers a sand storm and prairie fire story from Hays:

Monday was the big prairie fire day all over the country. At Hays City the gale got up what is called in that region a "sand storm," rendering it almost impossible to discern objects, and while this was at its h[e]ight, a prairie fire made for the town. . . . It was with the greatest difficulty that the people in face of the drifting, blinding sand, managed to keep the fire from entering and sweeping away the town.

The closing item of the year 1873 may be chosen appropriately from the new federal publication, the Monthly Weather Review, which in its December issue summarized the November dust situation for the plains country as a whole:

In the latter part of November, vast prairie fires occurred in the far West, and several dust storms, filling the air with fine and unpalpable particles, which are known to remain suspended in the air for many days, and sometimes are finally precipitated with water, forming the celebrated "black rain."

In our traditions about the disastrous year 1874 the grasshopper attack by air in August overshadows all else. The critical fact about this or other years of large scale grasshopper devastation is


that drought had already reduced vegetation to a minimum prior to the arrival of the insects, and their damage lay primarily in the taking of what was left by the drought and soil blowing. N. L. Prentice, substituting for G. W. Martin as editor of the Junction City Union, August 1, 1874, discussed ably the psychological effect of drought:

Misfortunes never come singly, and a "dry spell" brings with it any number of disasters and inconveniences. A drouth nourishes chinch bugs, sunstrokes, grass-hoppers and profanity.

One of the most troublesome things which follow in the wake of a "dry spell" is the feverish anxiety which springs up in the minds of men respecting the weather. We all know that looking for rain will not bring it, nor will gazing steadfastly at the barometer affect the movements of that instrument.. All our talk, speculation, and calculation of probabilities will not make one drop of rain water more or one grasshopper less. Yet for the last six weeks the useless employments we have mentioned have occupied most of the time of our adult citizens, and men have gone about with their eyes cocked at the brazen heavens after the manner of a goose going under a gate, while Hookey's barometer, the standard which tells the town when it isn't going to rain, is corralled like a bulletin board in war times.

As a matter of history we may say that at this writing the drouth which embraces the Kaw Valley from one end to the other continues without any signs of a "let up."

There have not been wanting during the week, however, signs of rain. On Saturday last a storm was predicted by the weather officers, and at night a huge cloud was visible in the north and northwest, which was illuminated by lightning. A heavy gale blew nearly all night, but not a drop of rain fell here. The storm passed to the north of Leavenworth, and is supposed to be the one which did such frightful damage at Pittsburg.

On Thursday morning the sky was overcast, and during the forenoon there came a solitary clap of thunder, when the clouds seemed to disappear as if on a given signal, and then the sun came out, the horizon assumed an ashy hue, and the hot, dreary south wind blew and blew, as it has done for weeks.

On Friday morning the sky was again clouded, and distant thunder was heard; but while there was evidently rain to the southward, but a few scattering drops fell here.

Saturday, the 25th ult., will be long remembered as one of the hottest days ever known since the settlement of Kansas. The mercury showed one hundred and ten degrees in some of the coolest places in town. The remarkable feature of the day was the south wind which seemed to come over a furnace, which penetrated into every nook and corner, and made articles of furniture in houses so hot as to almost burn the hand.

The grasshoppers seem determined to eat up what the drouth has left. The greatest ravages we have heard of have been between Wakefield and Clay Center. Passengers who came in on Thursday evening represent the country along the road as swarming with them. Bodies of them passed over this city

MALIN : DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 273

on Monday, but so far fields in this immediate vicinity have generally escaped their ravages.
LATER-The 'hoppers have "arriv."

A former resident, Charles Barnes, who had kept a diary in 1860, wrote the editor of the Manhattan Nationalist making a comparison between 1874 and 1860, arriving at the conclusion that 1874 was the worse. To this the editor replied that the slight difference in favor of 1860 for the summer months was offset in its overall effect by the fact that 1860 had been preceded by a drought through the last part of 1859, while 1874 had enjoyed ample moisture through the spring until June. The scanty vegetation, depleted further by prairie fires, invited fall dust storms in 1874. The Holton Express and News, November 13, 1874, was realistic: "The wind blew almost a hurricane, and such immense clouds of dust filled the air that very few people ventured out. . . . The wind was fearful, the dust intolerable." In 1874 the federal Monthly Weather Review began the publication of reports on the occurrence of prairie and forest fires, and, in 1878, on electric disturbances affecting the operation of the telegraphic communications. The record would have been improved had prairie and forest fires been reported separately. However, for the grass country proper there can be no mistake, and the monthly lists, with places and dates of occurrence, provide perspective on a condition which was general for the whole area. The spring of 1875 was typical of an abnormal period, the Junction City Union, March 27, reporting the big wind of March 25:

On Thursday last we had just a "bully" blow-a regular Kansas Zephyr. The dust wouldn't keep still; no, not for a minute. Even little stones that thought themselves big enough to get up and dust did get up, and went for everybody at a fearful rate. From morning until night everything about us seemed like a "howling wilderness." But we can't blow about our blows, for a friend at our elbow informs us that advices from Denver are to the effect that it has been blowing there in the same gentle style for the last thirty days. We are content.

The keynote for 1876 was sounded by Murdock in the Wichita Eagle, February 10: "We rise to say that this is a rising country, with a rising people, but the rise the wind took last Saturday [February 5] was a rise that arose above all things else. How it blew!" To the north of Wichita, the Salina Herald, February 12, commented on the peculiar atmospheric conditions of February 7:


Fogs are very rare in this country. . . . But a dense fog or something else that made the atmosphere murky, (it looked more like smoke than fog) hung over our city Monday night.

The next week's issue reported that a wind of February 18 "scattered the dust around loosely." Leavenworth reported, February 23, that the preceding day was the first in two weeks without dust, but that

SUNDAY [February 20] was undoubtedly the dustiest day that ever struck this portion of benighted Kansas, and the effects of it will not be obliterated for many a long day. The wind blew at the rate of about thirty miles per hour, driving the dust through cracks and window-casings, rendering cleanliness an impossibility. [12]

Two days later, February 25, the wind and dust resumed their domination. The Newton Kansan, February 24, 1876, took notice also of the "Kansas Zephyr" of February 20:

Last Sunday [February 20] the Kansas zephyr was again abroad in the land, and a reasonable quantity of the dry and dusty ]and was abroad in the zephyr. It resembled when in good view of the same, across a newly plowed field, or upon a well traveled road, the pictures of a simoon in the desert of Sahara, as depicted in the geographies. The Kansas zephyrs are a promiscuous and pleasant (?) thing, they are. Real estate takes its biggest rise during these times.

The principal storm of April occurred on the eighteenth and nineteenth. At Junction City, "The wind howled, and the earth moved from one place to another. A friend at our elbow says that if he was a preacher, he would never paint hell as being hot when he could have as an illustration such a day as Wednesday." [13]

The neighboring Manhattan editor was more impressed by Tuesday's performance, April 18.

Talk about the gentle zephyrs of Kansas wafting sweet perfume from unseen flowers and all that sort of thing, but the wafting on Tuesday last was "all in your eye." Whew ! how the dust did blow 1 It filled our ears, until we thought ourselves the possessor of more real estate than anyone in town; it got into our flaxen locks and our head seemed an acher of dirt and pain; it filled our eyes, and winking became a hazardous undertaking not to be thought of, and the dusky shades of night found us staring wildly into space; we inhaled it copiously, and our rebellious proboscis sneezed dissent; we gulped it down gritting our teeth the while, and at evening we realized fully, as we caught sight of our dusty phiz in the mirror, "Dust thou art," etc. [14]

The Wichita Eagle, May 18, paid its respects to the blow of May 14: "That horrible wind last Sunday was a wilter. How it blew. It took the starch out of everything . . . , even [the]

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 275

Sunday night sermon. . . ." On June 15 the same paper summed up the season: "We have been blest with more winds, and longer winded winds and windier winds this spring and summer than we ever heard tell of before."

In January, 1877, wind was the unwelcome guest:

Monday [January 15] morning the wind came up again with a force that was truly terrific. It howled, snorted, ripped and tore up the ground in a way that was more awful than funny. For a week past mails have been delayed everywhere. Notice is hereby given that our tune "Sunny Southern Kansas" has been laid up for repairs. [15]

By March 1 the situation had improved in middle Kansas, and the Salina Journal reminisced:

A few years ago, at this time of the year we were cursed with disagreeable, suffocating and provoking sand storms. Sometimes they would last for several days in succession. We firmly believe we shall have none of consequence this spring. The climate is surely improving.

On March 22 the same paper delivered itself of this:

The howling wolf in the canyon does not get up near so satisfactorily mournful music as the March breeze. Those in need of good articles of caterwauling or lugubrious dismalness are [r]espectfully recommended to the comptroller of the winds of the third month of the year. He will warrant his wares just as represented.

On the last day of August the Abilene Chronicle was on a crusade and the reader may exercise his judgment as to the meaning of the paragraph and the effectiveness of the remedy:

Tuesday was by all odds the most disagreeable day of the season for dust. Notwithstanding the fact that doors and windows were in some cases kept closed, and the occupants of the rooms thereby placed in danger of suffocation, it insinuated itself through cracks and keyholes in clouds. Abilene should have a street sprinkler when the campaign opens next spring, and thus escape the annoyance. We believe every business man would hail its advent with pleasure and give it substantial support.

The Salina Herald, September 1, commented also on the disagreeable dust of the last days of August, pointing especially to August 28. And on September 27, the Journal of the same place wrote: "For the past few days the gentle winds have enveloped the city with dust decorations. And some of this time it has been intensely hot. Imagine the pleasantness of the situation." In eastern Kansas the Leavenworth Times, September 23, had its word on the subject: "IMMENSE clouds of dust filled the air yesterday [September 22] while the thermometer was in the close neighborhood of 90, and the wind velocitating at the rate of thirty miles an hour."


In the spring of 1878 the Manhattan Nationalist, March 8, began commenting on dust, and on March 29 reported that "We are having our regular spring winds and dust now, and already mutterings about droughty Kansas are heard." The Wellington Press, March 14, was more informative, however: "A regular old fashioned dust storm visited this section Monday [March 11] afternoon. The wind fairly howled, and the heavens were darkened by the clouds of dust. A slight sprinkle of rain allayed the disturbance." This kind of a comment "a regular old fashioned dust storm," together with the comment of the Salina Journal, March l, on the previous year, are sufficiently realistic to provide guidance for interpreting many other less specific dust comments, and should serve as a warning that the plea of the Abilene Chronicle, August 31, 1877, for a street sprinkler was somewhat beside the point so far as the main issue was concerned. And for April, 1878, the Monthly Weather Review recorded one or more prairie fires in Kansas for every day of the month except the 7th, 9th, and 17th.

The late summer and fall of 1878 brought its quota of comment, the Abilene Gazette, August 9, saying that "a furious wind storm passed over the city last Friday [August 2] evening, filling the air so thick with dust that it was difficult to distinguish objects ten yards away." On October 25 the Abilene Chronicle reported that wind and dust had prevailed most of the week, "We are having very dry weather and no prospect for rain." A month later, November 28, the Salina Journal admitted that many farmers would have to replow their fall-sown fields and try again for a spring crop. The issue of February 27, 1879, was punctuated with these short sentences: "Prairie fires illumine the darkness"; "A smoky air last Monday night"; "Cool and windy Tuesday. Some dust." On March 6, came this paragraph of irritation:

During the past few days we have had several exhibitions of what dust can do when propelled by a gale. We had the disagreeable March winds, and saw with ample disgust the evolutions and gyrations of the dust. We have had enough of it, but will undoubtedly get much more of the same kind during this very disagreeable month.

The Monthly Weather Review for the early months of 1879 gave some perspective on the extent of the drought: In February it reported the most severe drought on record in the vicinity of Uvalde, Tex., where sheep and goats were dying of starvation and cold. In April Dallas, Tex., reported the most severe drought in thirty years and three weeks of high, dry winds. The list of prairie fires for March gave representation to every part of the West from the

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 277

Rio Grande to the Canadian line. The paragraph from the Salina Journal had not exaggerated what was in store for March. The Herald, March 1, of the same place, reported prairie fires all around the city and said that "real estate moved considerably this week." The next issue continued the story: "Monday the `Kansas Zephyr' had things all its own way," and the third issue of the month facetiously reported "Another `hardest' blow ever seen in Kansas," and followed this with the information that "Salina was tantalized with a small sprinkle of rain Thursday [March 13] afternoon. The wind and dust soon resumed full sway." The Journal, March 13, found encouragement in the wind:

People have just got through digging from the pores of the skin the dirt driven there by the furious dust storms which for several days since our last issue have been lifting this country "clean off its toes." Even sinners have stood some chance of being translated with such favoring gales.

The dust storms of March 13 and 22 were historic, a sort of climax, but not the end of the chapter for that unfortunate year. Three brief descriptions of the storm of March 13 are presented here. The account in the Wichita Herald, March 15, 1879, is given first:

A severe wind storm visited the city on Thursday evening which, at one time, gave rise to fears of an approaching tornado. A black, ugly looking cloud made its appearance in the North about half past six, and in an incredibly short space of time grew in size until it enveloped and darkened the city in a pall of blackness. No rain fell, but the wind blew fiercely and filled the air with sand and dust. To add to the unpleasantness of the hour the alarm of fire was sounded.
The thought that was suggested to every one by the first stroke of the bell was that a fire started in such a fierce gale could not but prove disastrous, and the streets were soon thronged by crowds of men rushing through darkness, wind, and dust to the scene of the fire, in order to arrest, if possible, the threatened danger. It proved to be, however, the burning prairie grass and straw stacks, in the suburbs to the North of the city. The wind storm was succeeded by continuous and icy winds from the North, which made the night one of great discomfort after the warm and pleasant day.

The Salina Journal, March 20, gives another western view:

The wind which held high carnival in this section last Thursday [March 131, filled the air with such clouds of dust that darkness of the "consistency of twilight" prevailed. Buildings across the street could not be distinguished. The title of all land about for a while was not worth a cotton hat-it was so "unsettled." It was of the nature of personal property, because it was not a "fixture" and very movable. The air was so filled with dust as to be stifling even within houses. Although the wind was almost a tornado, no serious damage was done in this immediate vicinity.


The third is from the Topeka Commonwealth, March 16, from the Washburn station of the weather bureau. A sudden change of the wind from the southwest to northwest occurred in the afternoon of March 13 accompanied by a drop of over 50 in temperature in a few hours and "brought clouds of dust and a little rain. The coming of this dust storm was indicated in the clouds several hours before it began to blow at the surface of the ground."

The dust storm of March 23, 1879, received this brief comment in the Newton Kansan, March 27: "The wind blew terribly, last Sunday, until about 3 o'clock p. m., and the country was a cloud of dust." The Washburn weather station report for the week ending March 28 gave it a somewhat more distinctive designation: "The most noticeable atmospheric phenomenon of the week, was the gale of wind from the southwest, which prevailed on the 23d, bringing clouds of dust." [16]

April brought relief to parts of Kansas, the Salina Journal, April 10, 1879, urging "Courage, farmers! We are more scared than hurt. The wheat will come out much better than people have supposed." Later, mud, oceans of mud were reported. [17] But the Manhattan Nationalist, April 25, had a somewhat different story:

The wind made the bleeding soil of Kansas sift through a pine board on Monday [April 21]. The poor housekeeper that had just shaken carpets and cleaned windows, sighed mournfully as they [sic] saw the sand heaps on windowpane and floor.

Cottonwood Falls reported a rain April 23 with the explanation that "With the exception of a few `dry showers' this was the first `wet' rain for several months." [18]

The June issue of the Monthly Weather Review contained an innovation, the first systematic reporting of dust and sand storms for the whole country. For some unexplained reason the writer has never found mention of this fact in any of the literature on weather problems of the Great Plains, and it is undoubtedly important to know that such records exist.

From near the 100th meridian, the Kinsley Republican, July 19, commented also on "dry rain": "It rained a good deal of dirt and a little-very little rain Wednesday [July 16]. The Kansas zephyr was also, at the same time on a boisterous old drunk and made things howl for an hour or two."

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 279

In 1879 there was little settlement as far west as Dodge City, a fact which lends a particular interest to the paragraph in the Ford County Globe, September 16, 1879:

For a week past a thick smoke has pervaded the horizon in all directions, causing the morning sun to look like a red-hot canon ball, and the moon ditto. The days are sultry, but the nights quite cool. The continued dry weather has rendered the roads and the plains as well extremely dusty. Clouds of dust may be seen of an evening suspended in the air near the ground looking like mist.

The year 1879 was bad, but 1880 was worse. It was the Kinsley Graphic that made the appeal "Come west, come west, young man, and learn to cuss the country like old settlers," but admitted that "It's awful hard to grow up with this country." [19] The "poem" of the year was Mother Shipton's prophesy, allegedly first published in England in 1488 and republished in 1641, and which the Dodge City Times branded a hoax, saying it was first published in 1862. [20] At any rate, it became the most popular bit of verse in circulation in the plains country in 1880, but there has been no determination of who revived it as a portent of disaster at this particular time.

Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of an eye.
Water shall yet more wonders do;
Now strange, yet shall be true.
The world upside down shall be,
And gold be found at root of tree.
Through hills man shall ride,
And no horse or ass be at his side.
Under water men shall walk;
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green.
Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found, and found
In a land that's not now known.
Fire and water shall wonders do;
England shall at last admit a Jew.
The world to an end shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty-one.

The Monthly Weather Review for March reported that on March 4 there was a severe electrical storm at Dodge City: "telegraphic


instruments could be worked without battery at times, the air was filled with floating sand. . . ." Reports of dust storms appeared in the newspapers for the same period, February 27 to March 4. [21] The Salina Herald, March 6, said that the dust storm of March 2 reminded old settlers of ten years earlier. The "Late fall plowing and late sowed wheat [are] drying up and soil [is] blowing away." [22] The outstanding dust storm of March, 1880, and probably of the whole year, or period, was that of March 26-27, appearing in the Western plains March 26 and reaching the Mississippi river March 27. The Monthly Weather Review reported it as follows:

The following notes are of interest respecting the unusually heavy wind storms of the 26th and 27th; La Cruces, N. M., 26th, very violent sand storm, filling the air with dust. Omaha, Neb., 26th, very sudden and violent west wind, overturning buildings; 27th, heavy wind still continued, three houses blown down-many unroofed; dummy trains could not cross railroad bridge during the day. Leavenworth, Kan., 27th, blinding dust-storm almost obscuring the sun at 10 a. m. Ft. Gibson, Ind-Ter., 27th, violent wind-storm, blowing down flag-staff at Post and injuring buildings slightly; Ft. Davis, Tex., violent sand-storm; Corsicana, Tex., 26th, severe wind-storm, doing considerable injury; St. Louis, 27th, wind S W 60 miles at 8 a. m., and several times during the day reached a velocity of 48 miles; Keokuk, Iowa, 27th, violent wind-storms, S W 37 miles; Davenport and Dubuque, Iowa, and Springfield, Ill., 27th, violent thunder-storms with heavy wind, remarkable fall in the barometer; Milwaukee, Wis., 27th, wind 40 miles E and barometer lowest on record, much damage to city property and shipping; Knoxville, Tenn., 27th, violent S W wind, blowing down saw-mill killing one man; Morristown, Dak., 27th, high wind-storm unroofing buildings; Louisville, Ill., 27th, most violent wind-storm in many years; New Corydon, Ind., 27th, very violent gale, estimated velocity 60 miles; Muscatine, Iowa, 27th, worst storm of wind and rain that has ever visited this section, barometer remarkably low; Lawrence, Kan., 27th, violent wind storm maximum velocity 70 miles from 3 to 5 a. m.; Wellington, Kan., 27th, severe N W gale, much damage to buildings; Cedar Vale, Kan., 26th and 27th, violent gale, much damage to fences, trees and buildings; Ashley, Mo., 27th, high wind, blowing down trees and fences; Pierce City, Mo., 27th, 2 a. m., high wind from N W., blowing down much fencing; Geneva, Neb., 26th, violent windstorm from the west; Howard, Neb., 27th, most violent wind storm for many years, dust gathered in drifts from 1 to 21/2 feet in depth; Ringgold, Ohio, 27th, heavy wind and hail storm, Professor Nipher [St. Louis, Mo.] reports this storm as the "most remarkable phenomena of the month. It covered the entire state [Missouri], except the extreme southern part. The atmosphere was filled, during the whole day, with a fine grayish dust, which, in the western part of the State and in eastern Kansas, was so dense as to obscure the light of the sun and

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 281

to render objects invisible at a distance of from 100 to 300 yards. The wind was very high, coming in most cases, from the west and northwest."

In western Kansas, the Ellis County Star, Hays, April 1, reported that "the oldest inhabitant says Friday last [March 26] was `the dirtiest day' he ever saw in Kansas" and that "the heavy wind storm of last Friday and Saturday prevailed over the greater part of the western half of the state." The Sentinel of the same place commented that the elements had combined against the wickedness of Dodge City and blew the Lady Gay dance hall to flinders.

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 2, had only this to say:

Last Friday evening was the most breezy of the season. It was unsafe for small men with loose fitting clothes to be on the streets. McCanless did not dare to leave his premises without first lariating himself to some immovable article of furniture inside, and then when the breeze struck him he was seen to fly about after the manner of a Chinese kite. The barber has struck a bonanza in the way of sandbanks, which he has discovered in the ears of his customers who were out on that evening. Several persons had so much gravel blown into their eyes, that after the manner of unfeeling characters in novels, they now regard everything with a stony gaze.

The comments of the Wichita papers offer an interesting contrast in the journalism of the period. The Beacon, March 31, told that "a heavy gale blew all day Saturday, and judging from the appearance of the atmosphere west of us there must have been considerable activity in sand. The city was saved an infliction by the rain during the previous night." The Eagle, April 1, had this to say:

The storm that held sway in this locality last Friday, was a wonderful one and created no little apprehension, being accompanied with singular phenomena. The wind was fierce and the atmosphere was blindingly full of sand and dust, giving it the appearance of a yellowish impenetrable fog. Although like storms are experienced nearly every spring, it is seldom they gather such force as the one mentioned. The atmosphere was intensely charged with electricity, so that the telegraph wires were worked with difficulty. The sun shone with a sickly, ashy light, being at times obscured by the heavy, dusty atmosphere, which rendered objects invisible at the distance of a few rods. The storm prevailed throughout the State and over Nebraska and Colorado. Light frames were blown over in places, as two or three were in this town. A boy was killed by lightning in Topeka. These storms generally occur about the equinox and are not dangerous but exceedingly disagreeable.

One of the most significant statements in the above paragraph was the admission that "like storms," only less severe, were "experienced nearly every spring." The same issue reported a Santa Fe train eastbound from Trinidad as running two and a half hours late on account of wind, sand and rain.

The Hutchinson News, April 1, paragraph was short:


The sand storm so much enjoyed by our people on Friday and Saturday last was general. It extended as far east as Kansas City and west, no doubt, to the mountains.

The Salina Journal of the same date ran these paragraphs:

Another windy, dusty, trying, headache-producing, vexatious, disgusting, terrific, upsetting, tearing, rearing, careering, bumping, sign-lifting, chimney absorbing, lung slaying, garment destroying, eye blinding, and rip-roaring storms, last Monday.
The gale which prevailed here last Saturday [March 271 seems to have been an installment which came up from the south over a large area of country, and which occasioned much damage in certain parts of the State. It was furious, and in this locality summoned all the dust between here and Kingdom come to the august presence of the Salinaites. The buildings seemed on the point of being lifted from their foundations and the day was uncommonly dark from the clouds of dust.

The Topeka Daily Capital, March 30, carried a local from Valley Falls:

The storm was followed all day Saturday [March 271 by a perfect gale from the northwest that filled the air with what we supposed to be dust from the region beyond the rain belt, so as to almost obscure the same [sun?].

The Topeka State Journal, March 27, recounted the violence of the storm, enumerated the damage, and described the peculiarities of the electrical displays:

This has been a funny day. A perfect gale of western wind has kept everything that's loose constantly rattling since eight o'clock, and the sky has been overcast with a muddy looking haze.

The Commonwealth, March 28, was the Topeka paper that gave the most explicit news about the event:

The storm which prevailed from about five o'clock Friday evening [March 261 until far into the night, with intervals of calm, was one of the most severe with which we have been visited. The rain fell in torrents, quickly making miniature rivers of the gutters and overtasking the capacity of house-eaves. The wind blew from the south, at the commencement of the storm, but the truthful citizen will not state in what direction it came from, at any hour thereafter. The force of the wind was unusually great, too, as it demolished strongly supported signs, tore up tin roofs and up-rooted trees which have withstood the blasts of winter, the viciousness of the hoodlums and the ordinary zephyers of Kansas Springs, Summers and Winters. The new walls of buildings in process of erection have suffered somewhat, but no serious damage has been done to these. The south end of the Rolling Mills was blown in and a portion of the roof was torn off. This wall has been much weakened by weather and the careless use to which the building has been left, and such a catastrophe, considering its exposure, is not to be greatly wondered at. Among the trees which suffered from the severity of the storm is

MALIN : DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 283

one of the old Cottonwoods in front of Dr. Lewis' residence on Quinsy street, near Sixth Avenue.
Everybody remarked the curious state of the atmosphere yesterday, and no one had a solution for it. It reminded one of the dusts of the Desert, as Western Kansas was in the olden time, and others spoke of it as similar to the appearance of the skies in winter, just before "the heaviest snow fell." There was a duller and more leaden color than the average language would explain, and no one could say what it portended. There were anxious fears for a cyclone, though it was hardly expected.

A reader, E. W. Metzger, Meriden, offered an explanation of the "curious condition," published March 30:

In your Sunday issue you referred to the "curious condition" of the atmosphere, on the day previous, during the severe wind storm then prevailing; that many persons noted the appearance, but that no one had a solution for it. Will say, having occasion to go on foot a short distance over the prairie, while the wind was blowing apparently at its greatest velocity, I unexpectedly made the discovery of the cause. The dry prairie grass, near the ground, was found to be freely charged, as it were, with infinitesimal particles of dry grass, and the continued severe agitation of the grass stalks and blades by the wind disengaged these particles from their resting places, lifting them upward into the air, thereby producing the effect described. During a residence of twenty-two years in Kansas, I have witnessed the same condition several times, but not in such eminent degree, owing, perhaps, to the condition of the grass, at the times. My theory for the production of these particles, is that in the absence of snow during the winter season, the dry grass blades, especially the edges, break into these dusty fragments, and find lodgings beneath the tops of the grass, and remains there unless disturbed by the wind. Soaking rains have no destroying effect on these particles, neither has snow, but had they been completely covered by snow, during the wind, no such condition of the atmosphere would have occurred at the time mentioned.

Prof. F. H. Snow reported on March for the Lawrence weather station:

A noteworthy feature of the weather was the violent wind of the 27th, which filled the air to a considerable height with extremely fine dust particles, obscuring the sun after 10 a. m., as by a fog, and giving a strange unearthly hue to the dim transmitted light. [23]

On the last day of the month The Commonwealth recorded that "another very disagreeable wind prevailed yesterday, circulating clouds of dust, which nearly blinded those who were on the streets."

From the extreme northeastern corner of the state the Kansas Chief, Troy, April l, noticed the peculiarities of the storm:

But the most singular phenomenon was in the air, which was filled with a dense haze, something like that of Indian summer, but without odor. It somewhat resembled the dust that arises from the river sand-bars and fills


the air during the dry and windy days of summer, and we have seen it stated that it was a sand-storm from the western plains.

The Leavenworth Times, March 28, gave the dust storm particular attention: The rain was general throughout the State, and if no preventing Providence interferes the wheat crop is assured.

A strange phenomenon, following on the heels of the rain storm, came yesterday evening, a heavy cloud which obscured the sun, and made the city cloudy during the day. The cloud was not noticed by many at first, but after a while one said to another, "What's the matter with the weather? What kind of a day is this?" and so on until investigation became necessary. Theories at first were plentiful. The phenomenon was new to the officers of the signal service, and they said the gloomy appearance of the atmosphere was due to the action of the elements in condensing vapor which had arisen from the earth during the warm period. Others thought another heavy storm was approaching which would do immense damage.
One went so far as to say Mother Shipton's prophecy as being verified, and that the dimming of the sun was but the forerunner of the trouble that is to come in 1881.
The facts are that there has been a great disturbance among the elements, somewhere.
Theories of a scientific nature were brought out during the afternoon regarding the phenomenon.
Every gentleman or lady who has read Bulwer's description of the day proceeding the destruction of Pompeii in 79, spoke of the day as a counterpart of that described. The sun dimmed, the air filled with glimmering particles and colors changed. This was the case yesterday, wherever one looked the object seen was seen as through a blue glass, and ever and anon those who were on the streets would wipe an eye and look again. .
A reporter found that the difference in the colors emanated from natural causes, and went to work early to discover them. He in the court house found some of the officers dusting their windows which is unusual after a heavy rain. In the city clerk's office he glanced at a window sill and asked permission to see if it was clean. Mr. Hoyt, who was present, said he had dusted the window sills, half an hour before and had taken his lunch from one of them. That sill was found to be covered with fine dust; permission being granted the reporter, with Mr. Hoyt's assistance gathered nearly a teaspoonful of very fine black sand, which had been blown in the window during the half hour. In the city Treasurer's office nearly the same amount of the same kind of sand was found, and secured. At the reporter's home a quantity of the same kind of sand was found. Later in the evening, in company with Dr. R. J. Brown, the reporter saw the sand bar opposite the city, and its usual light face was covered almost with black. The storm continued until a late hour last night with no sign of abatement.
Why it came is a question that can only be discussed by scientists. There is a theory, that the winds sometimes, lift sands or vegetable matter that has been changed by fire, into the upper currents of the atmosphere and they

MALIN : DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 285

being in a warmer current, rise above the colder storm clouds and after being freed by condensation, drop into the first vacuum offered, i. e., if a storm reaches Leavenworth from the northwest, sand may be gathered by the wind ahead and lifted above the rain cloud and carried into a higher current only to fall again when near a vacuum. This might hold good in local storms, but in the instance referred to, the sand found is so totally unlike that found in Kansas that there will be a chance for considerable discussion.


One of the favorable theories advanced regarding the phenomenon, is, that the sand cloud is nothing more or less than the shattered fragments of a meteor or other orb which has gone to pieces ages ago, and flying through space has so far been ground to atoms that only an impalpable dust reaches the earth's atmosphere. When the question becomes general among the scientists there will be much difference of opinion as to where the storm came from. . . .

A reader, writing from WaKeeney, to the Times, printed April 2:

I notice in yesterday's Times that the sand storm which occurred on last Saturday in the eastern part of this state is still a mystery and unaccounted for by scientists. If said scientists had been in this section of country on last Friday afternoon, I think it would not be a difficult matter for them to solve the mystery.
On Friday morning, and until about 3 o'clock P. M., the wind blew a perfect gale from the southwest, when all of a sudden it veered to the west, then a little north of west, blowing up such an immense cloud of black dust, sand, etc., that it was impossible to see an object distinctly across the street. It blew at this rate a constant cloud of dust for about three hours. Of course all this dust being raised into the air had to fall to the ground somewhere; consequently, your shower of black sand.

The Kansas City (Mo.) Journal, March 28, had a story of unusual interest, which the Leavenworth Times reprinted March 30:

Many persons were interested in the singular phenomenon presented yesterday of the air filled with floating sand-a sand fog, in fact-that obscured even houses a few blocks away. These storms are rare in this locality, but more frequent on the plains, and usually attended with great electric influences, in fact, what are called electric storms. On inquiry at the telegraph office we learned several facts connected with it.
A "sand storm" had prevailed over the plains of Kansas and Nebraska since Wednesday last. The cause of its presence here is no doubt due to the upper currents of the great storm of Friday night, the storm being below the sand, the former having disappeared, the sand settled down into the lower atmosphere.
The telegraph operators tell us that the usual electric phenomena was present all day yesterday, the air being so charged with electricity that their instruments could be worked with very little and at times without any battery. The air being positively charged and the earth negatively, the ground wire was all that was necessary to operate the instruments.


The theory is 'held by some to be that it is the contact of the sand particles with each other that produces the electricity, while others contend that it is the peculiar electrical condition of the atmosphere that gives rise to the phenomena of sand in suspension in it.
The same electrical phenomena occur and telegraph instruments are affected in the same way in high latitudes during the presence of the aurora borealis, and is often experienced as far south as this locality during extraordinary manifestations of the aurora.
It was interesting yesterday to note the effect on different people. Many were really alarmed and attributed the strange aspect of the atmosphere to the advance warning of a terrible storm, although so far as the wires were working west there was no intelligence of any storm approaching, but all over the country there was the same absence of threatening weather that we had at Kansas City.
Such sand storms as that of yesterday, or electric storms, as they are also called, while rare here, are not so on the great plains of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado. They are not attended with any danger, or anything but inconvenience.
The vast plains of the interior continent to the west and southwest of us, give rise to many curious and novel atmospheric phenomena, familiar to the plainsman, but rarely of a force great enough or enduring enough to reach this locality. The experience of yesterday is one of them, and the hot winds of the late summer or early autumn, which many of our citizens remember, are another.
We shall not to-day attempt the discussion of these phenomena from a scientific point of view, our purpose only being to explain the nature of such an occurrence as that of yesterday, from the fact that so many of our people were alarmed in consequence and seemed to regard it as the forerunner of something more severe. We are now, and have been for more than two weeks, in the period of the year when the electric forces of the earth and the sun are abnormally active, and we must look for more than ordinary manifestations and disturbances, and which possibly may last for a few days longer. But we need not find cause for apprehension for this unexpected visit of what is common to more western portions of the country. Our people have never seen what their neighbors on the great plains call a sand storm and what the telegraph people call an electric storm, and are that much wiser than they have been.

In the Monthly Weather Review for April, 1880, two pages were devoted to listing dust storms over the Trans-Mississippi West. The Wellington, Kan., station reported on the drought period April 2-27, 1880, that there were "numerous gales, accompanied with sand and dust. . . ." [24] Professor Snow's report from the Lawrence station stated:

The sky was clearer, the air drier, and the wind higher than in any previous April of our thirteen years' record. The temperature exceeded the av-

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 287

erage, while the rain fall was but little more than half the April mean. The violent wind and low barometer of the 18th are worthy of special note. [25]

Between the time of the major storms of March 26-27 and April 18, there were several that local newspapers described as being severe or even worse. A selection of them is arranged in sequence from east to west. The facetious description of the Atchison Daily Champion, April 14, was reprinted in the Junction City Union, April 17, 1880, with its own additions:

All this week the Kansas zephyrs have been circulating freely and playfully but perhaps a little too much for the taste of the newcomer. Like a bear's bug it was a little too familiar. Their freaks is thus graphically described by the Atchison Champion:
It blew ostensibly from the south, but you could leave orders for it anywhere and it would call around for you like an omnibus. It pursued you up street or down, and followed you round corners and into alleys, and came shrieking after as you went up stairs, and slammed the door after you and then howled through the transom like a cabbage-eared coon dog. It chased the dust with ceaseless fury; shook the very daylights out of the signs, and ran under the wooden sidewalks like a rat and sifted up through the cracks.
Occasionally the noise died out and there was a suspicious quietude that boded trouble. It was like the silence of a small boy in a pantry who knows a shelf whereon the preserves lie; it was the Kansas zephyr just stopping to spit on its hands, and when rested up a little, oh, my, how she did come, rattling, roaring, screaming, and shaking things. This lasted all day and all night, until it became a burden, and the brain grew sick and tired of the fierce uproar. Out on the open prairie it was inconceivably worse than in the sheltered streets of the town. Travelers were fairly overwhelmed by the flying earth from the ploughed fields, and come into town looking like animated dirt heaps. The electrical influence of the gale was also noticeable, telegraphic communication being rendered slow and difficult.

The Marion County Record, Marion, April 2, wrote: "There was hardly a house in town, Tuesday [March 30], that you couldn't write your name in the dust that covered the floor and even the beds." Another paragraph in the same paper gave more details.

The "oldest inhabitant" scarcely remembers two such days as last Saturday [March 27 and Tuesday [March 30. On the former day a perfect gale blew from the north, and on Tuesday returned from the south with increased velocity. The air was filled with dust, continuously, the sun was almost obscured, and everything on and above the earth presented a sickly; indescribable melancholy appearance.

At Manhattan, The Nationalist, April 16, printed these locals: "On account of the dust, Saturday and Monday [April 10, 12] were bad days for the farmers' usual visits to town," and "We don't suppose any one knows it, but we had a real Kansas blowout the


first three days of this week [April 11, 12, 13]." On April 23 The Nationalist said: "Mrs. F. R. Holden [of Ogden] had nearly finished her spring cleaning, but, last week, after the sand storm of Tuesday and Wednesday [April 13, 14], she swept over eleven pounds of dust from her kitchen and hall. As the dust is about equally distributed, she thinks that, from the whole house, not less than 190 pounds may be swept."

At Salina, the Journal, April 8, in a country local gave emphasis to March 30, Tuesday: it "was the worst sand storm of the season--I verily believe the worst we have seen for the past nine years of our experience with Kansas zephyrs. Yet when these warm still days come we forget there ever was such a storm." A paragraph the next week said about its quota:

"Such dust storms. Monday and Tuesday [April 12, 13] will certainly go down into history as the dustiest. And what a gale that was Tuesday night! Who was there that didn't pass a sleepless night?" Another paragraph in the same issue reported:
Heavy prairie fires seemed to rage in the West during the high wind of Monday night, also on Tuesday night. It is strange that we hear no tales of disastrous destruction, which certainly must have occurred. On yesterday morning the air in town was laden with the black dust of burning grass.

The locals of the Ellsworth Reporter, April 15, emphasized a little different dating: "Tuesday [April 13] night the wind blowed a strong gale." "The sun was almost eclipsed by a sand storm in the east, yesterday morning [April 14]." The Wellington Press, April 15, reported from the south central part of the state that "The high winds combined with the `rise in real estate,' of the past few days, has somewhat interfered with work on the PRESS block."

Murdock's Wichita Eagle, April 15, registered "a slight disgust" with the environment, although this was the week before the big April storm:

The probability is that the individuals in this valley are scarce who would have the temerity to assert that the Eagle has ever proven remiss in blowing for Kansas. But we come now to acknowledge that the blowing she has done for herself the past week has nipped our blowing pretensions in the bud. It may as well be asserted here and now that Kansas as a paradise has her failings, not the least of which is her everlasting spring winds. If there is a man, woman or child in Sedgwick county whose eyes are not filled with dust and their minds with disgust, he, she, or it must be an idiot or awful pious. From everlasting to everlasting this wind for a week has just sat down on its hind legs and howled and screeched and snorted until you couldn't tell your grandfather from a jackass rabbit. And its sand backs up its blow with oceans of grit to spare. We saw a preacher standing on the corner the other

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 289

day with his back up, his coat-tails over his head, and his chapeau sailing heavenward, spitting mud out of his mouth and looking unutterable things. He dug the sand out of his eyes and the gravel out of his hair, and said nothing. It wouldn't have been right. But we know what he thought. As for our poor women, weighted down with bar lead and trace-chains as their skirts are, their only protection from rude gaze is the dust, which fills up the eyes of the men so that they can't see a rod further than a blind mule. Dust, grit, and sand everywhere-in your victuals, up your nose, down your back, between your toes. The chickens have quit eating gravel-they absorb sand enough every night to run their gizzards all next day. Out of doors people communicate by signs. When they would talk they must retire to some room without windows or a crack, pull out their ear plugs and wash their mouths. The sun looks down through fathoms of real estate in a sickly way, but the only clouds descried are of sand, old rags, paper and brick bats. We haven't done the subject justice, but we didn't expect to when we started out, but it blows, you bet.

The Kinsley Graphic, April 3, wrote of two gales Friday and Saturday and said "there was some dust Monday [March 29] as the lady who got lost in broad daylight and tried to get into a neighbor's house, thinking it her own, will testify." The developments of two weeks later were explained April 17:

The stormy and hazy appearance of the atmosphere Monday and Tuesday [April 12, 13, was well adapted to create a feeling of uneasiness and foreboding of something terrible near at hand in the mind of the tenderfoot. But the old settler knew that it was only a blow, and that the air was filled with sand and dust.

The big April storm centered on April 18, and comment on it is arranged here from west to east. The Topeka Capital news service collected items from the western counties, printed in the issue of April 21: Nettleton, Edwards county, reported "Awful dry; great wind and dust storm . . . no corn planted." From Belle Plaine, Sumner county, April 20, the sequence was "four days of a wind storm, but no rain. Yesterday the wind reached its height, and blowed everything moveable out of the country. It tore up onions, peas and beets; and this morning we found ice in the water tub 3/8 of an inch thick." At Naomi, Mitchell county, "Still we get no rain, and the wind continues to blow night and day, with clouds of dust filling the air almost constantly. We have had but two days in the past week that could be called still." At Great Bend, "we had another of those dreaded sand and dust storms that have been so frequent this spring. It was accompanied by a strong, hot, dry southwesterly wind, that seemed almost sufficient to wither any chance vegetation."


At Wichita the Beacon and Murdock's Eagle were outspoken, picturesque, and entertaining:

The gale, which blew all day Sunday [April 1.81, resulted in more or less damage to property in this city. Considerable havoc was created among the signs. This is not to be regretted for the way they are hung is a nuisance, and a constant menace to life and limb. . . . The atmosphere was filled with blinding dust which hung like clouds suspended over the valley. It was certainly the worst day we have experienced in Kansas. . . . It is a pity that the city ordinance cannot be enforced on the wind for the proper observance of the Sabbath.

This month of April has made its mark already, in the history of Kansas, though but half gone. It will be used as a standard of comparison, hereafter, for all that is outrageous, violent and vexatious. For a week the wind has howled and raged with r[h]ythm, but without reason or use, so far as we can see. We can apprehend no possible grounds for its capers, save that it had made up its mind to make its twenty thousand miles this month, and to do it had to "git up and dust." Eight to ten thousand miles a month is the ordinary pace of a Kansas zephyr. It has been, the past week, the great apostle of communism. What was the farm, in fee simple, of John Smith, is to-day to be found equally distributed among his neighbors within a radius of 100 miles, and the real estate of the Arkansas valley, is now owned in common, one man has no more claim over it than another. The valley is still the "Happy Valley," though it was not still last Sunday. We can see but one good result, and that is, this summer the doctors will starve to death, since the whole country has been deoderized thoroughly, and epidemics will be impossible.-Wichita Beacon, April 21, 1880.

Being conscious of the probability that the spirit of Dante sweeps through the sombre shadows of his own Inferno, and that Milton is likely testing the composition of the lurid tints of those plutonian realms which he created and lighted with the fires of his own genius, and, believing that there is no one left upon these confines gifted with the requisite inspiration to fitly portray the streak of gentle racket which opened out upon the devoted heads of this guileless community last Sunday, between the waxes and wanes of the orbs, and which kept it up till sinners prayed who never prayed before, we have half a notion to attempt it ourselves. It blowed l In the primary sense of that old Saxon word, "may we be blowed" if it didn't. Heretofore we have had occasion to allude to some of the more ordinary stamps of zephyrs with which our valley is favored, such for instance as makes that gentle being, your wife, look as though, fresh from the hands of her Creator, she had been whirled down to you from Heaven in a self-adjusting cyclone, when, in fact, she had only been out for a call, or that other equal common variety which knocks you on the head with gravel, fills your hair, hide and gizzard with sand, follows you home, blows the lids off the cooking stove, slams all the doors to at once, and then sits on its hind legs and howls through your windows all night like a lop-eared hound; or, that little less common variety which buds in the "spring time, gentle Annie," and blows for two days from the south and as many from the north with a vigor that wilts the leaves on the trees, turns the hair on the old cow the wrong way, upsets the hired girl into the slop

MALIN: DUST STORMS, 1861-1880 291

bucket, picks the feathers off the chickens before they are scalded; in short, the kind to which we so briefly, but touchingly, alluded last week. But all these blows, in comparison to the blow last Sunday, are only a soft south breathing from a bank of violets. It was as though all things on earth and in air, animate and inanimate, fast at one end or both, had gone mad and turned loose with tons of sand and the din of threshing machines to the acre thrown in for good measure. Those who did not see it will never understand it. A preacher out on the Cowskin was holding forth on the last estate of the finally impenitent. He had got into the fire of his peroration and the smoke was ascending forever and forever when forever out went the gable end of his meeting-house. The outside and inside pressure had proved too much. Stopping short, he looked up through the hole in the roof and then into the faces of his frenzied audience, and earnestly remarked, "My dear sinners, why waste further words to describe that awful place when you can get a better idea of it by simply sticking your heads out of doors."
And he was correct~ Wichita Eagle, April 22, 1880.
These are halcyon hours for the wall-eyed croaker. With a retching grunt he lifts a groan from his internal regions that sounds like the knell of all hope. Heavens, how he sighs when he gets in his drouthy corollary: Just like it was in 18601 The same kind of winds, same kind of sudden dews, same kind of clouds, and the wild goose bone turned suddenly down on Easter Sunday. Yes, bound to have a drouth I Colts come in without tails, pigs without ears, calves with three horns, eggs produce double chickens, and a starving famine is imminent. Anybody that can't see it must be an idiot. The chintz bugs don't fly, the frogs have deserted their nests, the Pacific vapors are condensed on the range and Gulf winds meet no counter currents and of course no rain can fall 1 The wheat is now beyond hope, the oats already rotted in the ground, and the corn can't sprout, so what's the use?
Well, sure enough, what is the use? Let's all take "cold pizen," or which is just as bad, throw up in disgust, sacrifice our property, and go to the mountains to hunt gold and die of starvation. In the meantime rain will come in due season, things will grow and bloom and Sedgwick county will harvest one million bushels of wheat and two million bushels of corn this summer and fall, and don't you forget it.
P. S.-- To make good the predictions of the EAGLE, as we go to press the heavens are overcast, it's black all around, and pouring down in the middle.Ibid., April 29.

The Brookville correspondent of the Salina Journal, April 22, 1880, pretended to be encouraged because:

Kansas is herself again. The wind blows and the dust and sand flies, but no rain descends. A newcomer asked one of our fellow townsmen if it always blew this way in Kansas. He replied that there were perhaps two or three days during the year that it did not. He guessed it.

The Eureka correspondent of the Salina Herald, April 24, thought the storm of April 18 the worst in ten years, and another community reporter agreed it was the worst ever known in Kansas, "the dust and dirt in some houses was nearly an inch deep." The


Salina Journal, April 22, thought "The kind of rain storms we are having are very monotonous," and

never before within the memory of the oldest inhabitant was there just such a "blow" as that of last Sunday [April 181. It was positively the most disagreeable day that we ever experienced, and nine-tenths of the people formed the same opinion. If "walking" bad been a popular way of travel, we believe the whole Salina population would have joined in an exodus. The wind howled all day, bringing with it clouds of dust, and not a corner of the best built house was free of a deposit of dirt. Houses shook and trembled as a reed in the wind, and people wondered if anything would be left of them in 24 hours. May such a day never intrude its ugly presence in this country again.

On the same days that Kansas was having its big dust storm the country east was having tornadoes and other destructive wind storms. Some Kansas papers gave little or no attention to Kansas storms-they were not news to local readers-but printed long accounts of Eastern destruction. The Journal just quoted contained this paragraph on April 22:

Wonderful what a quieting effect the news of the terrific storm on Sunday in Missouri and Illinois had upon so many disheartened people hereabouts. It turned out that the wind blew elsewhere, than in Western Kansas.

The Salina Herald, April 24, met the issue in this fashion:

Although Kansas does not claim immunity from high winds, this state does claim to be as free from wind storms as other states, east or west. While our plains are not a portion of the garden of Eden, they are far from being a desert. We have a good country, subject to only such draw-backs as are found in other states newly settled. Kansas is a good state.

The McPherson Freeman, April 23, admitted that:

Sunday was a fearful day of wind and clouds of dust. We went for "the oldest inhabitant," and interviewed him. He had never seen the like. The air was filled with dust, and the appearance was that of an approaching storm.

The Marion County Record, April 23, conceded that it could have been worse

The youngest inhabitant will scarcely live long enough to forget the wind that visited this section early Sunday [April 181 morning, and remained all day long-a constant tempest from sunrise till sunset. It was, so far as one could see through the dust, almost wholly unaccompanied by clouds, and yet the wind blew almost with the force of a hurricane. Dense clouds of dust obscured the sun, giving to the day a wierd, gloomy, yellow appearance, which no pen can describe. The beating winds drove the powdered dust through every crevice, until one could write his name upon the furniture in most of the houses. It was a storm simply indescribable. But those of our people who were discouraged by it, and who, as is too customary on such occasions,

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at once begun to deride Kansas, should be thankful that it was no worse than it was, and not as bad as elsewhere.

From Chase and Greenwood counties, in the midst of the bluestem-pasture country, the reports were similar: "More real estate left Rock creek last Sunday than was ever known before," and in the Prairie Hill community "The air was so full of dust that you could not see an object as large as a house one quarter of a mile distant. The wind changed from the south to the northwest in the evening and ice was formed one half inch in thickness. . . ." At Elmdale the "dirt is drifted like snow," and at Madison, "dirt drifted from fields like snow-but darker." [26]

The Troy Kansas Chief, in two successive issues, April 22, 29, 1880, paid its respects to the dust storm and its effects in the following paragraphs:

Sunday afternoon, this part of the country was visited with another rainstorm, accompanied with some hail, which was heavy in some parts. This was succeeded by one of those singular sand-storms from the west, like the one several weeks ago. At night the wind shifted to the northwest, and blew a fearful gale all night, and so cold that ice was frozen to the thickness of half an inch or more.
The prospects in a large proportion of Western and Southwestern Kansas are very discouraging. They have had no rain for months; the wheat is about ruined, and unless they have good rains soon, it will be useless to put in corn. The recent fine rains that we have had, extended back but a very short distance. Persons who have been in Marshall County, say that the dust is drifted like snow in Winter, and that it is almost unbearable. Even as far east as Brown and Nemaha, we learn that the wheat crop will be very light. The sand-storms we have been having, had not far to come, after all.

For some time after the big storm of April 18, the wind and dust continued. The Ford County Globe, Dodge City, reported on April 20, "Another fine shower of sand this a. m." The dust continued into May. The Marion County Record, May 14, related how trains were delayed four hours on account of sand storms near the Kansas-Colorado line. The Larned Chronoscope of the same date complained:

What an atrocious and irritating affliction are our periodical dust storms l To give the Kansas dust-storms their due, when our meteorological affairs are in their normal condition, they are generally followed by a refreshing shower, but this season it is only followed by another "dry-storm."

A letter written at Hugo, Colo., described the conditions in that area for the Ellsworth Reporter, April 29, 1880, which visualizes


somewhat the drought conditions on the High Plains livestock country:

Kansas people would have us believe that the Great American Desert spoken of by geographers is a mythe but I am fully convinced of its existence and I think if any one who would 'stop here for a week would never doubt of its existence.
We are located on Sand creek which is one of the branches of the Smoky. There is some water running above the sand part of the distance but considerable of it running under the surface. There are a few small cottonwoods along its banks which is the only timber in sight. The country is mostly composed of sand hills with a little sage brush, wild cactus and very thin grass. The only green thing in sight is the wild cactus. The sand hills look as if they might burn over were there grass enough upon them to get up a prairie fire, which I should very much doubt. There are some stock ranches in the vicinity, although none near town and I do not see what stock would find to eat on the barren fields.
On a clear morning we see the everlasting snow clad summit of Pikes Peak, which is reported to be one hundred miles away. . . .

A Reno county review of the situation in that county will serve appropriately to close this phase of the story:

This part of the Arkansas valley is having a remarkably dry and dusty time so far this spring. We have had no rain to speak of since early in November, and the result is that with an unusual amount of very strong wind, real estate has been changing hands at an exceedingly rapid rate, and, that too, with little regard to title deeds or fair consideration. Some are discouraged and are trying to get away, but the most of us are still hopeful and determined. I am not sure but an occasional bad season is a good thing to cull out and drive away the faint hearted and grumbling class of community who lack perseverance and fortitude. The country can spare such very well. [27]

During the two decades under review the records are explicit evidence that both kinds of dust storms were recurrent: Dust carried along the surface by the driving force of the wind, and dust lifted into the upper layers of the atmosphere by turbulence of the air mass and carried some distance before it descended as a dustfall. The descriptions selected for use have been quoted in full to place before the reader all the facts and to remove doubt that these conclusions are a matter of actual records and not interpretations of the records by the writer. Some of the descriptions standing alone would not seem conclusive, and might be open to different interpretations, but the accumulation of them by different writers dealing with the same event or similar events makes the meaning positive. The description by one newspaper supplies one aspect, while the

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comment of a second fills in other details, possibly only one of the group will mention the prevalence of dust, and finally several years later other writers will refer to the earlier event as a standard of measurement of severity of dust storms. This occurred explicitly with respect to the descriptions of 1860, 1870 and less explicitly with respect to others. Although the dust mentioned in some instances could be settled by a street sprinkler this record provides conclusive evidence that such an interpretation could not explain more than a few [28] The completeness of coverage of the storms of 1879 and 1880 by both the federal weather bureau records and the local press, and the admissions, repeated many times, that these were a regular thing, all combine to remove any doubt of the substantial correctness of the interpretations presented here.

A further conclusion should be made explicit. The descriptions included in this paper with a few designated exceptions are drawn from eastern and middle Kansas sources. The storms themselves, as distinguished from the source of the descriptions, occurred in eastern and middle Kansas. Eastern Kansas of the 1940's is a sound and stable agricultural section devoted to corn, dairying and mixed farming. Middle Kansas is the heart of the hard winter wheat region. Neither of these sections should be confused with the propaganda about the alleged "Dust Bowl." No informed person would contend that a dust menace threatened with destruction a sound agriculture in these sections. Farmers learned how to handle the soil and the conclusion seems legitimate that there has been less severe soil blowing in these parts of Kansas in the twentieth century than occurred prior to 1881, the period reviewed thus far in these articles.

With respect to the origin of the dust present in these dust storms, it is clear that part of it was derived from eastern and middle Kansas, practically all of it involved in the first type of dust storm, where the soil material was driven along the surface. Part of the dust material had its origin west of the 100th meridian in the plains and in the deserts west of the Rocky Mountains, and this is particularly the case with respect to the second type of storm. The descriptions of 1880 were most conclusive as to how some of the dust clouds came in from high elevations and in many cases their approach was evident before they arrived.

The problem of frequency and severity of the second type of dust storm presents some difficulties, but the date of 1880 is particu-


larly important as a basing point for a discussion of the subject. The apparent increase in frequency to the present (1946) may mean that the dust menace was becoming progressively worse, or it may mean only that the records are more complete. In 1880 middle Kansas was only partly settled and comparatively speaking only a minor proportion of the grass cover was broken by the plow. The west third of the state of Kansas, and similarly for the country to the north and south, the plains country west of the 100th meridian, was scarcely touched by agricultural settlement. The slaughter of the buffalo had just run its course in the early 1870's, and the overstocking of the short-grass country with range cattle and sheep did not occur until the decade of the 1880's. The extent to which the dust material of these storms originated west of the 100th meridian is conclusive in demonstrating the fact that the desert and the plains were always subject to wind erosion wherever and whenever the circumstances were such that the vegetational cover was weakened by drought, prairie fires and animals sufficiently to expose the dry top soil to the action of the winds, especially during the windy periods of spring and fall. The aspect that is more difficult to deal with is that of severity of the dust storms. Meteorologists to the present day (1946) have not devised any quantitative method of measuring severity. Prior to 1880, with systematic and an even approximation of standardized weather reporting nonexistent, the best descriptions leave much to be desired. It may be that overgrazing of the grasslands and the establishing of agriculture west of the 100th meridian did add to both frequency and severity-it may be, but it has not been proved. As in the case of eastern and middle Kansas, about which the record is so much more positive, it may be that where handled with efficiency commensurate with knowledge of the problem the dust menace is no more frequent or more severe in that region either. These are matters about which no one is in a position to be dogmatic. On one aspect of the problem, however, the writer is certain, both the relative frequency and severity of the dust storms were grossly misrepresented during the drought period of the 1930's, and the public and the scientific world are badly misinformed about the whole subject.

(A Third and Concluding Article Will Follow Dealing With "Dust Storms, 1881-1901")


DR. JAMES C. MALIN, associate editor of The Kansas Historical Quarterly, is professor of history at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He is the author of John Brown And the Legend of Fifty-Six (Philadelphia (The American Philosophical Society, 1942), Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas (University of Kansas. 1944). and other books.

1. Reprinted in the Wichita Eagle, April 26, 1872.
2. Leavenworth Daily Times, October 24, November 25, 1863.
3. Leavenworth Daily Conservative, September 2, 1864.
4. Ibid., September 3, 4. 13, 27, October 2, 1864; Junction City Union, September 3, October 1, 1864.
5. Kansas Daily Tribune, April 26, 30, 1865.
6. Junction City Union, September 1, 1866, August 15, 29, 1868; Manhattan Independent, September 7, 1867, August 8, 22, 29, 1868.
7. Junction City Union, February 26, May 21, 1870; Abilene Chronicle, May 12, copying from Topeka Record of May 7, 1870.
8. For distribution, see Junction City Union, March 18, 1871.
9. Junction City Union, April 8, 15, 22, 29, 1871; Abilene Chronicle, February 16, March 2, 9, 23, May 25, 1871; Manhattan Nationalist, April 14, June 30, 1871.
10. Wichita Eagle, April 26, 1872.
11. Manhattan Nationalist, October 81, 1873.
12. Leavenworth Daily Commercial, February 23, 1876.
13. Junction City Union, April 22, 1876. 14. Manhattan Nationalist, April 21, 1876.
15. Wichita Eagle, January 18, 1877.
16. Topeka Commonwealth, March 30, 1879.
17. Salina Journal, April 10, 17, 24, 1879.
18. Chase County Leader, April 24. 1879.
19. Kinsley Graphic, March 13, April 24, 1880.
20. The Kansas Chief, Troy, published it May 6, 1880; Dodge City Times, June 30, 1881.
21. Salina Journal, March 4, 1880; Abilene Chronicle, March 5, 1880.
22. Abilene Chronicle, March 26, 1880.
23. Topeka Commonwealth, April 2. 1880.
24. Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Second Quarterly Report for 1882, pp. 95, 96.
25. Topeka Commonwealth, May 5. 1880.
26. Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, April 22, 1880; Topeka Capital, April 20. 1880.
27. The Stock, Farm and Home Weekly, Kansas City, May 1, 1880.
28. See especially the Atchison Champion article, April 14, 1880 (quoted on p. 287). which emphasized that the storm was worse on the open prairie than within the city.