A Treeless Windswept Continent of Grass and No Rivers


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After the opening credits of Lorentz The Plow That Broke the Plains, the first words of narration describe a land of desolation with no natural water sources.  An area fit for only the lone cattle rancher,  at least until the “The Train brought Plowmen”.  In Koppes review of  the Worster text Dust Bowl, he highlights how Worster describes the wrestling of land away from the cattle ranchers as farmers began to populate the Great Plains.  Both the Koppes review and the Lorentz documentary do a good job highlighting the transformation of the Great Plains from a windy grasslands to a desolate dust bowl.

Briefly before World War I, Lorentz described farming in the Great Plains as “Plowing at one’s own peril”, but his tone quickly heightens with enthusiasm as wheat and grain prices began to soar.   “Wheat Will Win The War,” filled the headlines of American Newspapers and the incorporation of Tractors and other gas powered machinery only increased the rate of wheat production.  As Molly described in her post, “The plowmen waged war on the lands, as enemies waged war on the allies,” it makes sense that the wheat boom took off in the fashion that it did.  Lorentz does a good job in foreshadowing the farming conditions subject to the loose and dry soil of the plains.  Periodically throughout the documentary Lorentz can be heard repeating, “High Winds and Sun, High Winds and Sun,” describing the unchanging conditions of the plains because no matter how little farming the land is subject too, there will always be high wind and blistering sun.

Koppes review of the Worster text highlights many of the highs and lows of Great Plains living in the early 20th Century.  “The bison and Indians sometimes broke the grass cover, but it was quickly revegetated,” grass is the glue that holds the earth together in the dry and arid conditions of the Great Plains.  As for the surge of farmers, Koppes highlights the Worster term “Sodbusters” because they did just that, breaking up the sod and unrooting acres upon acres of grass.  Vegetation in the Great Plains can be subjected to subsistent farming, but can’t in an uncontrolled and unregulated farming culture driven by New Deal agricultural reform.  As described by Koppes, Dust Bowl, is a passionate book written by a native of the Great Plains.  Koppes does a good job providing us with an overview of the Worster text that helps us understand why wheat production became a major surplus in the American economy and how the Great Plains became 400,000,000 acres of dusty vacant land.

Overall the Lorentz documentary provides vivid video footage from the height of the Wheat Farming boom to the dust storms stirred up by the high winds common to the Great Plains.  The Koppes text provides a good review for the Worster text, which can be used to understand why and how farmers overused the Great Plains.  The Great Plains farming and tales of the Dust Bowl tie up the gilded age and are a prime example of why regulation/monitoring of particular ventures, in this case plain’s farming, are byproducts of Gilded Age disasters.