By April 1935, it would soon be only 46 years from the first land run in the Oklahoma Territory, and only 28 years since the Panhandle had been divided into three counties and statehood the following fall. The state and nation were gripped by a Fiscal Depression only a war would end, and much of the central Plains were being assailed by a drought and dust storms, but then came April 14, 1935, the first and the worst of the black dusters. Some stories are recounted here from Norma Gene Young’s “Black Sunday”.

Taken from The Cimarron News, issue of April 18, 1935)

SUNDAY’S DUSTER BLACKEST YET

Boise City experienced a true variety of weather during the past week. Skies cleared to give Boise City and vicinity a set of blue skies Friday and Saturday. The latter day drew probably the greatest crowd to gather in the local county seat in months, and trading was reported brisk in many stores.

Sunday brought forth a real summer day. Churches increased attendance and drug stores did a rushing business. Many found time to go on outings during the day and therefore hangs another tale.

Shortly after the two funerals in Boise City and Kenton had been conducted, a large black cloud was noticed in the north, coming at a very rapid rate and sending dust in rolling billows before the wind. At Kenton hundreds of birds were noticed flying before the storm, seeking shelter.

The storm struck Boise City at 5:15, and Kenton about 5:20. Instantly bright afternoon turned into the darkest night and visibility was reduced to zero. Local citizens insist it was the most dense dust they ever experienced here in years or even decades. Visibility was limited inside houses with lights turned on in the face of the fog, while outside all traffic was absolutely paralyzed.

The funeral procession taking the body of Mrs. Lucas to Texhoma for burial was six miles out of Boise City when the storm struck. Cars were forced to stop and remain beside the road for an hour or more, returning to Boise City after the storm had let up slightly.

Ben Hood, piloting his plane for an hour or more in the vicinity, finally alighted to refuel. While that process was going on, the storm was noticed, and Hood, assisted by Kenneth Ogston, Earl Cosgrove, Woodson Wadley, A. B. Fincher, and Roy Butterbaugh, managed to get the plane into the hangar as the storm hit. Thefive were marooned in the hangar for two hours.

O. A. Haskins, rushing home from the Jack Booth residence to his own house in the northeast part of the city, got to within 100 feet of his house when it struck. Haskins was 20 minutes feeling his way inside with the aid of a long pole.

J.J.Speer,farmer of Griggs,was compelled to feel his way on hands and knees for a distance of one and a half miles, along the banks of a ditch, while in search of his son, who he believed to be lost. The Speer boy, 13, had taken refuge in a neighbor’s home in the storm.

Robert E. Gieger and H. G. Eisenhard, Denver Associated Press men, were in the vicinity Sunday and managed to snap some excellent shots of the gathering storm. The two were then caught in it and forced to wait two hours before returning to town.

Ike Cochran, living on the Joe Brown place 25 miles northwest of Boise City, had two horses and a cow become frightened and run off a cliff, killing all three animals.

*****

(Additional information taken from the same issue of The News:)

The two funerals that day were: in Kenton for William Henry Guy, born April 3, 1851; and in Boise City, double funeral services for Mrs. L. C. Lucas, born June 6, 1854, and her great-granddaughter, Ruth Nell Shaw, year-old daughter of Charles and Hazel Shaw.

And very fitting for that season: A 500-foot roll of gummed tape [to seal windows] was available at The Cimarron News office for 35 cents a roll.

BILLY J. COX

Stratford, Texas

It was a nice Sunday afternoon, and we had spent the day visiting at the home of my uncle, Ben Cox, in Boise City. Late in the afternoon we left to return to our home in the Griggs community in southeast Cimarron County. We had not gone far when my dad noticed this ugly dark cloud in the north. It looked like it was rolling or boiling and moving fast. Dad said, “I believe we had better go back to Boise City and wait until the storm passes.”

We went back to my uncle’s house, and were there only a short time when the dust storm hit. Everything turned to dust, and it became so dark that you could hold your hand in front of your face and not see it. This was very frightening for me, a child of three years old. Later, it cleared enough so we were able to return home.

That storm was one of many that we lived through in the next few years, but none was as severe or frightening as this one.

I remember that we always had a sand pile to play in. We just never knew where it might be the next day. When the wind changed, the sand pile moved.

We had an earthen cellar which my sisters and I hated because we had seen a snake down there. When a really bad looking storm was coming, Dad would try to get all of us in the cellar. We would resist so much that finally he would say, “Heck, we will just go back to the house and blow away!”

MATTIE LETHA

SANDERS ELMS

Boise City

My dad, W. D. Sanders, brothers, Wesley and Bill, and Aunt SallieEJ la Sanders and I attended the funerals of Grandmother Lucas and her great-granddaughter, the young child of Charles and Hazel Shaw, at the Methodist Church in Boise City that horrible day, April 14, 1935.

We left town after the funeral procession had departed for Texhoma for the burial. My dad decided we should go home by Highway 64, since the weather did not look good and we would be on pavement by taking that path.

We reached the curve on 64 just out of town when the storm hit us. We could not see a thing—our hands in front of our faces, nor where the car windows were. It was black! We could not have told the time even if we’d had watches. After some time passed we edged down the road and saw a dim light. Following it we reached the Strasburg place. Some say Mr. Strasburg came along and took us to the house. But all I remember is that we got there.

I’ll never forget. Hot bread had just been taken from the oven when we arrived at the house. It smelled so good, and with butter smeared on it, it was wonderful. I’m sure we were hungry.

By midnight we were able to drive on home, where my mother, two sisters, and two brothers were. The boys had whooping cough, and Mother was afraid the dust would be bad for them, so she wet comforts and hung them in the two windows of the room and made everybody get into the bedroom and shut the door.

The funeral procession stopped at the Keyes intersection when the storm hit. Mr. Elms, James’ dad, was a pallbearer. They do not remember how he got home, but the burial of Mrs. Lucas did not take place until the next day.

James, his mother and sister left Boise City after the funeral and had turned east off Highway 287 when they had to stop. Later, as they edged on toward the farm, they began to hit bumps, and decided they had turned into a field and were going across lister ridges. After it became lighter they realized the bumps were where sand had blown in mounds across the road.

I was 14 years old at the time, and do not remember being frightened, since we had driven to school at Boise City in many dust storms. But the length of time that it was so dark will always be in my memory—as well as that hot bread and butter!

ARTHUR HARRYMAN Keyes, Oklahoma

On April 14,1935, I had gone to the pasture after cattle. I saw the black cloud north of me. For a little bit I thought rain but I looked toward the house and Mama was motioning and yelling for me to get home.

I made it to the corral, then ran for the house. The wind hit! Thistles and jackrabbits about knocked me down. By the time I got inside it was so black you couldn’t see anything.

About a month later, a neighbor came over and told Dad he was leaving the county, and he could have the quarter of land north of our house and $500 mortgage for $100, taxes, and interest. He couldn’t raise the money.

In the fall of ’35 Dad was working on WPA for us to eat. I dropped out of school and herded cattle as far north as Colorado, about 10 miles.

In August of ’36 the government bought our cattle. Dad kept two head, I think. They paid $6 to $8 for calves, $10 cows, $12 bulls. Most of them were shot and buried at the stockyard.

CLAUDE M. HATHAWAY Springfield, Colorado

Yes, 1 remember Sunday, April 14,1935, very vividly. We were living in a half-dugout in Baca County, Colorado, six miles west and five south of Campo.

My sister, Juanita Witten, and her husband, Roy, and their three-month-old son from Boise City were visiting us for the week-end. It was a beautiful sunny day. After dinner we were out in the yard playing croquet.

About four o’clock we saw a really dark cloud rolling in from the north. There were flocks of birds flying ahead of it. We hurried into the house, and in a few seconds it covered the sun and was darker than any night I had ever seen. The coal oil lamp was lit so we would be able to see across the room. Mother soaked some bed sheets in water and we hung them over the windows to keep some of the dirt from coming in on us. We had seen dust storms before, but nothing compared to this.

I have a picture of that fateful day, and it doesn’t look any better today than it did then. I sincerely hope the younger generations who don’t believe the stories we tell about the Dust Bowl days of the dirty thirties never have to witness any of them.