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The Dust Bowl:
The Western Frontier is Forever Lost to the World
Agnes Opara
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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The wide and open frontier was once recognized as a peaceful land that held the Native American population. Earlier years encompassed times of exploration and escape. During this period, America was on the verge of a drastic formation (colonization) on the mere basis of all the "discoveries" that had induced many nations to explore America's grounds more fervently. The growing perseverance of westward expansion helped to further depress the amount of space originally allotted to the western frontier. The greatest reason for the depletion of the western frontier was the misuse of the land by greedy people. Their ignorance and blatant disregard for the earth ruined the land and virtually instilled the same destructive patterns into today's world. Farming techniques began to change and tilling the dirt with machines practically destroyed the land. Wars with countries overseas left some other countries, like Britain, in dire need of food reserves from America. The drastic demand and encouragement from the government to produce more goods rose. The high demand left many farmers searching for bigger lands with better soil for farming. In the words of Donald Worster: "the agricultural entrepreneur stood for the idea that the land's true and only end was to become a commodity" (214). Wheat was one of the most common consumer needs, and as with any business, higher demand causes higher prices and higher income. Worster also confirms that these demands helped to destroy the land: "depressed livestock prices and favorable federal wheat support programs were responsible for this frenzy" (217). Tilling of the land became even more prevalent during this period. Farmers during this period managed to tear up the vegetation on 5,260,000 acres of land in the Southern Plains alone; all for "wheat money." The westward expansion became a golden investment rather than an exploration of pure freedom. The westward expansion and the toiling of the lands left many of the once grassy areas lacking in natural vegetation. Anglo-farmers called for more diverse and extended uses for the trees that had inhabited the frontier. The depletion of shade left the land exposed to evaporation, which eventually led to a drought known as the Dust Bowl.

The Dust Bowl was the result of what was mentioned by Worster as, "The Great Plow Up" (214). Time Magazine, during this period, had reported that wheat operators alone had torn up the sod on 6.4 million acres of marginal grassland in both Montana and Colorado (Worster 217). The drought of the Dust Bowl was a cry out from the land, a cry out from the ancestors of the American Indians who had lost hold of the land. The Anglo-Americans did not see this devastation in that way and the westward movement still continued for hope of better, healthier lands. Many of the deserts recognized today, can be connected to the western frontier and they are now mere resultants of the toiling and destructive uprooting of natural vegetation. Believing that they were improving the nation by bringing forth an expansion of civilization, these foreign settlers encaged the frontier with human-made materials. As Jack Forbes suggests: "the outer wave [of White settlement] the meeting point between savagery and civilization" (Forbes qtd. In Turner 204). The westward movement still continued unfailingly, furthering the thoughts of brighter futures and swelled pockets for the farmers and the trades' people.

The drastic consumption of the open frontier is what concerned one author in particular, Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner's essay, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," refers to the European explorers by saying, "Our early history is the study of the European germs developing in an American environment" (57). The Europeans did resemble the infestation of germs on an exposed wound. The American Indian population suffered the wrath of the European plague. Forced off of their land to accommodate the illegal aliens (Europeans), the Native Americans were pushed into devastating wars before they were finally placed on reservations. Under President Andrew Jackson, such events as the Trail of Tears were employed upon the Native Americans. This one act was even committed against the ruling of the Supreme Courts. President Andrew Jackson had a plan for the construction of the land of America and it did not include the American Indians and many people agreed with him. Dying from illnesses quite foreign to them, the American Indians suffered horrendously under their new conditions. Promises of nutritional provisions and sufficient medical care were ignored, leaving the American Indians in utter despair. The American Indians still fought to preserve their land but the wars proved useless.

Civilization came at the price of lost lives, race prejudices, trees and grasses. Houses and business establishments were built in place of masses of land filled with old trees and the creatures that crept within. Many American Indians had lost their lives for this land. The French-Indian War helped greatly in the obstruction of the land and in increasing the masses of death. The British and the French helped to spark the lackadaisical notion of prospering economically off of the land. This wild idea has still exposed itself in the eyes of agricultural entrepreneurs today. That is why there is a strain to group together conservationalists. Many animals have become endangered and exposed to lands filled with mass populations of people. Exposure of creatures that were once masked by the forests and prairies often left danger of infestations of animals in many neighboring towns. One town in particular became heavily infested with deer. Deer were running rampant through residential areas and to resolve this problem, open hunting season was declared. The author, Jack Forbes, mentions, "The frontier was the advance-guard of Anglo-American conquest (204)." During the formation of the United States, Andrew Jackson had a goal in mind of securing the American borders from encroaching enemies by buying off land from the British, the French, and the Spanish. The lands became a place of business. Heads of nations were buying and selling land as if it were not a breeding ground of life, as the American Indians had seen it. The expansion of the frontier did not stop once a certain piece of land was conquered it grew to preposterous amounts. According to Francis J. Grund: "It appears then that the universal disposition of Americans to emigrate to the western wilderness, in order to enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature, is the actual result of an expansive power" (Grund qtd. in Turner 58). Families grew and the expansion continued like a raging epidemic. The Gold Rush also encouraged the further diminishment of the western frontier. The Irish and the Germans, all partook in the race for gold. Lands became more and more corrupted with the westward expansion of the pioneer and the ever-growing industry of manufacturing.

The westward movement punished the land. Still today farmers and builders tear down the land to make room for "civilization" and corrupt the earth with pollution and chemical waste. Trees have become virtually endangered due to the excess of consummation. The Tropical Rainforest is a prime example of human ignorance and indignation towards the land. Pollution is now at an all time high all over the country and that too is killing the land. The chopping down of trees and pollution from human carelessness has endangered the animals and the vegetation of the Tropical Rain Forest. Smog from factories and chemical waste have left what is left of the frontier in a most decrepit state. Many of the animals that live there now are in danger of extinction due to the maltreatment of the land. The western frontier is lost to heavy artillery used for farming and to all those who believe that the western frontier is a deviation from progressive America. Turner disrobed the American saying, "The wilderness masters the colonist…It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin," (57). The digging of oil, the discovery of gold; greed has made Americans lose touch with nature and themselves.

The Native Americans are today given reparations for the lands stolen from them, but no amount of money can fix the damage done to the peaceful essence of open, free land that the frontier was once regarded with. This land that was wild and free, in essence was their home. The land is now a mere caricature of what it truly was. The American Indians are now scattered across America and all they have left are memories of their ancestral home. The Anglo- American included the fur-traders, cattleman, miners, pioneer farmers, equipped farmers, and urban dwellers, and all had a part in placing the western frontier into virtual turmoil. The actions of the yesteryears have left strong repercussions in the present. These Americans were successful in their endeavors and now at present, Americans feel that what was good for their forefathers is good for them and they still explore different ways of making profit off of the land. In bettering our lives and heightening the standards of civilization, the western frontier has become forever lost to the world.

Works Cited

Forbes, Jack D. "Frontiers in American History and the Role of the Frontier Historian." Ethnohistory. Duke UP, 1968. 203-35.

Turner, Frederick Jackson.  "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." The Great Plains: Writing Across the Disciplines. Ed. Brad Gambill, et al. Ft. Worth: Harcourt Custom Publishers, 2001.  55-77.

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