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OUR VIEW: 'Dust Bowl' excludes much of our region

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opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
OUR VIEW: 'Dust Bowl' excludes much of our region
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PBS this week debuted the new Ken Burns documentary, which tackles the American Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Burns is a veteran documentary maker and has hit a few of his series out of the park. We especially liked his "Baseball" and "The War." We're not so sure about "The Dust Bowl."


The program does a fine job of chronicling the Dirty '30s, an era that is almost unbelievable today. The Dust Bowl occurred when a long drought hit middle America, which had been carelessly farmed by a generation that just didn't know any better. The result was a desert-like landscape from Texas to the Dakotas, at the same time as the Great Depression.

Burns spends much time focusing on the area around the Oklahoma panhandle. His movie showcases rare video footage, interviews and photos, mostly from that region.

Frankly, we're both jealous and disappointed Burns didn't spend more time focusing on the northern plains.

South Dakota suffered greatly during the 1930s, and we can't help but recall four years ago, when The Daily Republic published a series called The Great Depression.

The gist of our series was that while many people at that time were worried about the recession that gripped America during 2008, most didn't realize just how bad things got during the 1930s.

We interviewed some great storytellers.

One was Grace Satterlee, who has since died. She told us that "There wasn't anything. ... You about starved. You didn't have anything. You ate the same food day after day -- that's all you had."

She remembered how her family's crops wouldn't grow, how her family's well went dry and how grasshoppers swarmed like bees around buildings.

Sadly, she remembered how Christmas was "just a day."

Yes, the Dust Bowl occurred here in South Dakota, too. And for some of our most treasured residents, it still is vividly memorable, even after all of these years.

We wish Burns would have paid more attention to other states and regions that suffered through the Dust Bowl years. For the sake of fully educating today's population, a more thorough approach would have been best.