Memoirs – Personal – Sandstorms



Sandstorms and Crash of the Stock Market (Depression)



I had avoided watching Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl series – it was too close to “home”.  However, I have been watching it recently and feel I need to add my two cents from my experiences of my home of Olustee, Oklahoma.  While we were not in the epicenter of the dust bowl, we were on the fringe.  It was terrible in Olustee and it lasted for years.

My Mother, Letitia Browder Dickey, called Lettie, was the fourth child of eleven children (10 survived) of the Reverend David Levi Lincoln Waterman Dickey and Lula Ora Echols.  She was born June 2, 1894 in a half-dugout in what was then Greer County Texas .  Later it became Indian Territory, then Oklahoma Territory before, in 1907, it became the new state of Oklahoma.


My Father, William Lester Howard, was born on the Howard Conasauga River plantation near Conasauga, Polk County, Tennessee on December 24, 1892.  He was one of five children of James Porter and Emily Myrtle (Browder) Howard.  His mother died in 1895 because of complications of childbirth.

In 1912, Grandpa Howard visited his cousin James Hardin in Olustee, Oklahoma, liked the country, bought a half section (320 acres) of land 5 ½ miles south of Olustee located on Boggy Creek, as well as a two-story house.  He returned to Tennessee and sent his two oldest sons, Walter, aged 22 and Dad, aged 19, to Oklahoma to plant the crop and operate the farm until he could sell all of his Tennessee property and move the rest of the family in the fall.  Today it is hard to imagine the responsibility that these two sons were given.  Five years before this area was Indian Territory and didn’t become a state until 1907.  It was still in its infancy and a pioneer territory.

As to the depression, we were suffered as did everyone across the United States.

The crash of the stock market in 1929, coupled with the dust bowl, left people desperate.  My family also suffered but not quite as badly as many, due to an incredible happenstance.  Dad’s partner in a business venture, bought him out – in cash.  This happened several days before the crash.  For some unknown reason that Dad was not able to explain, instead of depositing it into the bank account, he put the cash into a safe deposit box – safe from the crash.

Later, dad used this cash to set up a grocery store thereby insulating the family from the worst.  When Dad died many years later, there were thousands of dollars of unpaid bills owed to him by friends and neighbors who had not been able to pay for food during those hard times.  He had supported them.  Most of those bills were paid many years later.

Sometime about 1939 or 1940, Carolyn and I returned from school during a terrible sandstorm.  We could not see in front of us.  Walking in the middle of the road, we found that mother had reached the limit of her patience with the horrible sandstorms that happened so often in those days.  She told her children to not bother her and behave.  She then closed herself in the dining room and vented her frustrations by writing the following poem:

Booger of the Plains [i]

With a horrifying, sickening bellow, it roars across the plain;

Devastating, devouring, enveloping, (this monster of sinister aim)

Steadily advancing and shrieking; screaming with hate, every note

While its dun-colored form crawls along, belching great billows of smoke.


Nothing escapes the anger of this monster, which writhes and rolls;

It suddenly pounces and strangles; it eagerly chokes and enfolds.

Nothing’s too small for its presence; nothing’s so large, it can’t fill;

Nothing’s secure from its vengeance; everything sways to its will.


Fearsome, encroaching, engulfing; this monstrous creature of harm;

There is no “haven of refuge” from a loathsome, relentless sandstorm.

[i] Booger is another term for boogey man, an imaginary evil spirit or being, used to frighten children.