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1934 Drought Telegram


The Great Depression of the 1930s brought disastrous droughts to North Dakota. In 1934 the state was suffering its sixth year in a row with below average precipitation. The U.S. Weather Bureau called the drought the “worst on record.” 1934 saw 9.5 inches moisture, almost 8 inches below average.

Because the drought had been going on so long, the topsoil and sub-soil moisture was severely deficient. When the normal spring rains did not fall, “dust storms of unprecedented severity” raged frequently “during April and May, and crops deteriorated.” Some people called the dust storms “dry blizzards,” for the springtime winds whipped the tiny soil particles through the air like snow in the worst winter tempests.

On this date in that drought year, Cass County Commissioners met in the county courthouse in Fargo and wrote a desperate plea for help, sending the following telegram to their Congressmen in Washington, D.C.:

“TELEGRAM. The drought condition in all of Cass County is daily getting most serious and the western part of the county is already dried out as completely as it is in any part of the drought area. Some fields have been blown out in every township in the county and if we do not get rain within ten days the crop will be a total loss. We urgently request that you use your influence to have Congress take immediate action. In particular we urge that provision be made to buy up the cattle that are in poor condition."

In Bismarck, desperate citizens wrote a political resolution stating that North Dakota was “passing through a period of economic depression . . . drought . . . low prices for farm products . . . general unemployment . . . and destitution, the equal of which” had never before been experienced in the state.

Senator Gerald P. Nye, accordingly, tried to get help to those stricken by drought, proposing 800 million dollars in funding for relief. Harry Hopkins, Federal Relief Administrator, urged drought victims to move to wetter areas where they could produce enough to make a living.

Some Dakotans left, but most stayed and endured the drought that did not leave until the 1930s were over.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Joseph B. Kincer, “Present Drought Worst On Record,” New York Times , June 24, 1934, p. E7.“Dust Storms Due To Soil Erosion,” New York Times , May 14, 1934, p. 5.“Nonpartisans Here Organize Group To Support Thoresen,” Bismarck Tribune , May 10, 1934, p. 3.“Help Of Congress Sought In Drought,” New York Times , May 20, 1934, p. 15.“Drought Victims Urged To Migrate,” New York Times , June 8, 1934, p. 3.