New museum exhibit takes visitors back to the days of the Dust Bowl

A new exhibit at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum shares the story of the Dust Bowl and the importance of soil science and conservation methods.

Joseph Hutton documented fields across South Dakota through photographs.
Joseph Hutton courtesy South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum

BROOKINGS, S.D. — There’s a new exhibit on display at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum, taking visitors back in time nearly 100 years for a closer look at life in the state during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

The exhibit shares the story of one of the first soil scientists in South Dakota, Joseph Hutton. You can now take a look at his life and the impact his research had on soil science practices in the state.

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Hutton documented the Dust Bowl by photographing farms across South Dakota.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

“Unlike other scientists, Joseph Hutton really believed that soil was the source of all life, and he was passionate about conserving it,” said Gwen McCausland, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. “He wanted it to be an endless resource through sustainability for farmers to be able to be prosperous.”

The display features Hutton’s personal research, poems he wrote, clips from his radio program and several photographs taken by Hutton.

“In the exhibit, you have these poems all around from him that really describe his interbeing and his deep connection with the soil and a deep connection to agriculture and the farmers,” said Tom E. Schumacher, Professor Emeritus SDSU. “It’s quite different from an exhibit that just shows numbers and pictures and so forth, you’ve got someone who is really involved.”


You can also walk through the farmhouse and get a look at what life was like for farm families during the 1920s and 1930s.

“We talk about life on the farm, not only the struggles within having little crops or the drought, but also about the locust,” said McCausland. “We also talk about how many families had to abandon their farms.”

This time period was tragic for South Dakota.

“The erosion and the Dust Bowl was actually more devastating in South Dakota than it was in the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma, but they received most of the media attention during that era,” said McCausland. “So when we wanted to showcase that this was very much a part of South Dakota’s history that people often forget and they think that the soil conservation is a new topic, and it’s not.”

Schumacher says it is unlikely that we will experience another Dust Bowl in South Dakota, unless we forget everything we have learned about soil science and conservation.

“Another ecological disaster could happen, out of the blue,” said Schumacher. “But, we have a lot of information and experiences that have been built up from that and the only way the Dust Bowl will happen again is if we just forget all about it and we ignore what we already know.”

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The exhibit features pieces from Huttons radio program.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

“If you don’t know what’s happened in the past or how people have worked to try to keep the soil going, we will have an ecological disaster, it’s almost guaranteed,” said Schumacher.

“I really want people to realize that what is being discussed about soil conservation is nothing new, but it is very important to know,” said McCausland.


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The exhibit touches on many topics surrounding the Dust Bowl in South Dakota.
Ariana Schumacher / Agweek

You can visit the exhibit for yourself Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. This exhibit will be on display at the museum until fall 2024.

Ariana is a reporter for Agweek based out of South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2022 with a double major in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, with a minor in Animal Science. She is currently a graduate student at SDSU, working towards her Masters of Mass Communications degree. She enjoys reporting on all things agriculture and sharing the stories that matter to both the producers and the consumers.

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