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Praying for Rain in June


North Dakotans suffered greatly in the drought season of 1936, as a dry springtime turned into a frightfully hot summer – the hottest summer ever experienced in the state. On this date in 1936, Governor Walter Welford embarked upon a “talking tour” to examine crop conditions in the dry zones. He gave a speech in Crosby at 2:00 in the afternoon and another talk in Williston that evening. What he saw was unprecedented – a drought so severe as to become legendary. Normal spring rains had not fallen, and the parched soil panted for moisture.

Governor Welford traveled to Fryburg and to Beach in the southwest the next day and met more farmers and ranchers suffering from the drought. Alarmed, the Governor issued a statewide proclamation, asking all citizens to set aside Sunday, June 7th, “as a day of general prayer for rain throughout North Dakota.”

“For the past two months,” the governor said, “our great State has suffered from the effects of a severe drought, and our crops, our pastures and our meadows are facing destruction from a lack of moisture.”

“Our farmers” Welford continued, “are . . . confronted with the necessity of disposing of their livestock” for lack of hay or pasturage.

Welford therefore called for prayer meetings on that Sunday to raise a “State-wide plea for Divine help.” “Only Providence, the Governor declared, could avert ‘another tragedy of tremendous proportions.’”

The Saturday forecast was for cooler temperatures and “unsettled” weather. Hope filled the horizon for the next day. “From border to border,” wrote the New York Times, “churches were filled for the prayer meetings.” North Dakotans gathered on that day and “knelt en masse to pray for rain.”

And the heavens did deliver on that Sunday, with a newspaper headline announcing: “Rain Falls In West As Farmers Pray.” Almost an inch of rainfall came at Williston, while Devils Lake had sixteen-hundredths. Bismarck had a trace of precipitation.

Governor Welford’s prayer proclamation in a presidential election year showed that drought-stricken farmers could not look to politicians or weathermen for assistance in the worst drought in history – the only hope was in looking to the heavens as they endured the fearsomely-dry summer of 1936.

Today’s Dakota Datebook has been written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Welford on Talking Tour Through State,” Bismarck Tribune, June 4, 1936, p. 1.

“Rain Falls In West As Farmers Pray,” New York Times, June 8, 1936, p. 26.

“Forecast of Weather Over the Nation and Abroad,” New York Times, June 5, 1936, p. 43.

“North Dakotans To Pray For Rain,” Bismarck Tribune, June 6, 1936, p. 10.

“Drought, Fires Tense Crop Problem,” San Antonio Light, June 6, 1936, p. 3.

“Governors Ask Residents to Pray for Rain,” Carroll [IA] Daily Herald, June 5, 1936, p. 1.

“Record Breaking N.D. Heat Continues, Bismarck Tribune, July 7, 1936, p. 1.

“Drought Is Found The Nation’s Worst,” New York Times, August 6, 1936, p. 9.

C.F. Talman, “Heat Wave Makes Weather History,” New York Times, July 19, 1936, p. E6.

“The Hottest Ever Known Is 136 in 1922: All Heat Records Broken In many States in Hottest Hot Spell Ever Recorded,” Evening Tribune [Albert Lea, MN], July 21, 1936, p. 9.