From Dell Rapids' Attic - History
Many South Dakotans, along with the rest of the nation, experienced hard times during the late 1920s and 1930s. The Stock Market crash in 1929 led to the failure of many banks and businesses which resulted in widespread unemployment. At the same time, the worst drought the state had ever seen led to many crop failures from the lack of rain.
To make matters worse, parts of South Dakota saw swarms of grasshoppers and beetles land upon the fields and gardens eating whatever did manage to grow. And, when the winds began to blow, so did the top-soil. Since there were no roots to hold it back, dust storms called “Black Blizzards” resulted. It is reported that dust ruined crops, covered farm machinery in the fields, piled up against buildings and killed livestock. Many people had to leave their farms. It was reported that in 1935, only 69,000 acres of farmland were harvested in South Dakota. Five years earlier in 1930, 17,800,000 acres had been harvested. The winters were also exceptionally cold.
Two dust storms blew into the Dell Rapids area in 1933. One was in June and the other was the following November. The effects of these storms to the community were felt as described in this Dell Rapids Tribune article dated November 16, 1933:
Dust Storm Hits This Community
The worst dust storm that we have ever witnessed in this part of the country swept over a large territory Sunday. The hard wind started quite early in the morning and by 9 o’clock air was filed with dust. This grew worse until we had midnight darkness, the worst being shortly after noon.
A person could hardly see across the street, and in the house it was impossible to see anything without lights. Those who were out in cars turned on lights. Even then, they could see but a very short distance because the dust was so dense. It gradually got better in the latter part of the afternoon, but there was dust in the air even at 6 o’clock.
The most serious damage done here in town was at the John W. Stull home in the east part of the city. The large barn was shoved partly off the foundation and turned some. A large stack of Sudan grass was mostly blown away. Fodder in shocks, and that standing in the field, was carried away. This means quite a loss to Mr. Stull as feed is scarce this fall, and he has cattle and a lot of horses and mules that he uses in his road work. This, in addition to the damage to the barn and smaller buildings, is considerable.
In the business places there was a lot to do the next morning in cleaning up the goods, getting the dust off the shelves, counters, etc. But the housewife thinks she has the hardest time, as the whole house was the dustiest she has ever witnessed, and that means a lot of hard work.
Dr. L.L. Dunn, who was at Big Stone Lake fishing, says the dust was so dense they did not try to get anywhere, but just got in the car, turned on the lights, and waited until the storm let up some. That seemed a long time.
In many places, windows were broken, chimneys were torn off, barns were wrecked, fences were torn out of the ground, windmills crashed, and hay, corn, fodder, etc. was carried away.
All agree that never before has this bad a dust storm ever been witnessed. J. H. Becktold of Sioux Falls, voluntary U.S. weather observer, says, “There has been nothing to compare with it in my 41 years in South Dakota. It covered the entire middle west.”
It is believed that winter grain crops suffered severe loss, the wind tearing the seed from the dry ground. The lack of moisture in the ground caused the soil in fields to be so dry the hard wind just picked it up and carried it along as dust.
In 1933, Roberta DeVaney was in her teens. In 2005, DeVaney recalled the events of the November 12, 1933 black blizzard “as though it were yesterday.” She does not recall “blizzard-like winds.” She remembers that “it wasn’t so much the strong winds as it was that eerie ‘just settling down over us a menacing happening.’ The wind did not come blowing in huge clouds of dust – it was just more like a happening.”
DeVaney recalls that the dust came from the south. “The south had already experienced severe drought. The fine dust settled like driven snow does, along fence lines. Sometimes it buried houses so deep they had to be dug out.”
DeVaney said, “The Sunday black blizzard was looked upon with great trepidation and foreboding – coming on a Sunday. It was regarded by many as if ‘God was trying to tell us something.’ At this ‘point of my life’ and ‘point in time’ perhaps those drought and depression years and their necessity for sacrifice did put disaster and discomfort in perspective.”
1933 wasn’t the only year when dust storms created havoc for the city of Dell Rapids. During the spring of 1934, two more dust storms hit the community in one week, and another one struck the town the following June.