Black Sunday

Going back to my notebook of items received from Mildred Barby is an interesting article that has nothing to do with BRILES genealogy. However, it tells of an event that greatly impacted the western parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Black Sunday

Worst of Dust Bowl’s storms was 50 years ago

Guymon, Okla (AP) Rain comes grudgingly to the Oklahoma Panhandle, where farmers of the 980s coax startling grain and livestock production from the dry land.

But nature had the upper hand 50 years ago when Guymon was at the hub of a historical disaster that gave its name to a region and a decade — The Dust Bowl.

Among the hundreds of dust storms that raked western Oklahoma and parts of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas from 1933 to 1937, one stands out to those who stayed with their beloved land.

April 14, 1935, dawned as a warm, clear Palm Sunday, It became instead the day of the Black Blizzard — Black Sunday.

It was intense darkness. As dark as could be,” said Laurence Drake, 78, who was caught in the middle of an alfalfa field. “It scared us. We didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

The storm threw the farmers’ native abuse of the fragile plains back into their faces.

It definitely woke a lot of people up that we were misusing the land,” said Drake, who has spent a lifetime farming the Panhandle and working for soil and water conservation.

Settlers who squatted in the Panhandle before the turn of the century, when it was known as “No Man’s Land,” were joined by thousands more before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Over the decades, they plowed up the soil’s protective grass and, when the rains stopped, the wind began to lift the fine dirt.

“The one-way plow was the worst thing we could do,” Drake said.

By 1935, dust storms had become a familiar and costly inconvenience for farmers and ranchers. the Oklahoma Panhandle, a row of three block-shaped counties with an area about that of Connecticut, was rattled by a dust storm on average every five days in the worst of the “dirty ’30s.”

But April 1835 was the cruelest month. In a region that averaged 19 inches of rain a year, little or no rain fell that month. The Panhandle reported heavy to moderate dust on 20 of 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture weather bureau.

In the week before April 14, blinding dust forced schools to close. A southeastern Colorado store ran out of sponges, which people used as dust masks. IT took a 100-man search party to find tow Vanceville, Kan., youngsters who lost their way in the swirling dust on a hunt for Indian arrowheads.

On April 10, according to newspaper accounts, 36 truckloads of furniture were counted moving west out of Guymon. Some were farmers giving up on the land, identified in the parlance of the day as “exodusters.” Most were migrants passing through the devastated Dust Bowl on their way to California.

The term “Okie” eventually was applied to all displaced people making their way west. The aging jalopy burdened with possessions became an icon of the era, an image burned into the national consciousness by thousands of pictures made by federal photographs, by John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” and by the movie, starring Henry Fonda, a year later.

On Thursday, April 11, a minor league baseball game in Oklahoma City was suspended because of heavy dust. On Friday and Saturday the dust began to clear. By Sunday, Oklahomans were looking forward to a clear day and a break from the dust.

It was Laurence Drake’s 28th birthday. He and a helper were taking advantage of the good weather to work an irrigation canal running form the Cimarron River to a “little patch of alfalfa” on land his family had settled 50 years before.

“I looked up and noticed this terrible black cloud int he northwest,” said Drake, who still framers near Gate, where the Panhandle is attached to the rest of the state.

“About half the sky, I guess,” he recalled. “It looked like a terrible rainstorm.”

Racing an estimated 40 mph ahead of a cold front pressing down from Colorado and Kansas, the storm was upon the men in seconds. The darkness was complete except for static electricity arcing eerily within the roiling dust.

Through the blackness, Drake shouted to his co-worker. Using their shovels as blind men use white canes, they edged along the canal. When they were within arm’s reach, the intense darkness still kept them invisible to each other.’

Elsewhere, motorists out for Sunday drives had to halt their Model Ts in the middle of roads. Farmers fell to their hands and knees and crawled to their houses. Their wives stretched dampened sheets across windows in a futile attempt to keep out the choking dust.

Families lit kerosene lanterns against the entombing darkness and waited.

Thousands of feet high and extending beyond the 168-mnile length of the Panhandle, the storm took only minutes to sweep out of Kansas, cross the 34-mile-wide strip and boil southward into the Texas Panhandle like a moving mountain range.

For 10 to 15 minutes, no light penetrated the silt-like dirt. Later the pall of heavy dust left behind muffled sound and made outdoor activity nearly impossible.

And those who had gathered three time daily in a Guymon church to pray for rain knew their prayers would go unanswered a while longer.

The dust from this and other storms drifted into dunes along fence rows and outbuildings. Planting became impossible; wheat was barely in the ground before the wind would dig it up.

The federal Resettlement Administration, predecessor of the Farm Home Administration, set up a program to provide small grants, about $10 to $30 a month to the destitute.

Drake administered the program in Beaver county from 1935 to 1934, evaluating requests for help.

“Our office was filled every day almost. … It was unbelievable,” Drake said. “There were very, very poor conditions. They were existing almost. They kept thinking that things would get better.

“It was just survival. Some of them had to leave. They just give up.”

From 1930 to 1940, the population of the three Panhandle counties dropped form 30,960 to 21,198. Nearly one in three residents succumbed to the vise-like grip of dust and Depression.

But the survivors learned new ways of treating the land. Under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the U.S. Forest Service planted millions of acres of trees and shrubs on farms to serve as shelterbelts and reduce wind erosion.

Farmers who prided themselves on their ability to plow straight furrows learned the value of planting with the contours of the land to reduce wind and water erosion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil conservation Service began digging the first of more than 2,000 small lake sin Oklahoma to control flooding and provide irrigation.

Now, in a state that ranks among the top five in wheat and hay production, the Panhandle counties are among the most prolific producers. The weathered homesteads of those who could not withstand the onslaught still dot the counties, reminders of hard times adrift on seas of green wheat.

Cattle feedlots dot the Panhandle, accounting for a thick slide of the state’s beef production.

But rising prices for the fuel that powers irrigation pumps, a receding underground water supply and low farm prices raise the spectre of new dust storms.

“The poorest conservation measure for farmers is low farm prices,” said U.S. Rep. Glenn English, whose district includes much of western Oklahoma.

“Like every small businessman, during tough economic times, the farmer must squeeze every dollar out of his assets,” he said. “That land is once again being plowed up. It’s highly erodable land. Shelterbelts that have been there since the time of the Great Depression are boing torn out.

“Conservation is deteriorating, erosion of the land is increasing. IF we find ourselves in a dry period of time for two or three years, we could see the dirt blow.

According to the note below the photocopy of the article, the clipping was from the Joplin paper. A search of to locate this article did not find it in any Missouri (i.e. Joplin) paper. However, what is likely the original article was found in the April 14, 1985 edition of the Tulsa World.

In my search for this exact article, I found quite a few newspaper accounts on Black Sunday and its aftermath.

  • Reifenberg, Anne. “Dust Bowl Got Its Name on Black Sunday when a Dark Blanket Rolled over the Land,” The Buffalo News (Buffalo, New York). 21 Apr 1985, page F-6 available on
  • Fisher, James J. “The Cloud They Never Forgot: Dust Bowl Scarred Land and Lives.” The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO) 13 Apr 1985, page 27 available on
  • Fisher, James J. “Families Survived Dust Bowl days by Thinking ‘Next Year'” The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO) 13 Apr 1985, page 33 available on
  • Webb, Tom. “50 Years Can’t Erase Dust Bowl Memories,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 15 Apr 1984, page 63 available on
  • Griekspoor, Phyllis Jacobs. “Smart Farming Cuts Risk, but Threat Is Still There,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 15 Apr 1995, page 6 available on
  • “Readers Share Their Stories of the Dust Bowl,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 6 Apr 2010 page 9 available on
  • “Opinion: Dust Bowl Story, “The Worst Hard Time,’ Has Great Power,” The Iola Register (Iola, KS) 8 Nov 2007, page 4 available on
  • “Recalling Dust Bowl Years,” The Manhattan Mercury (Manhattan, KS) 23 Mar 1989, page 6 available on
  • Middleton, April. “‘Black Sunday’ Time Recalled,” The Salina Journal (Salina, KS) 14 Apr 2005, page 1 available on
  • “Editorials: Black Sunday: The Southern Plains became a Wasteland,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS) 14 Apr 1995, page 8 available on
  • “Kansans Shed Light on Dust Bowl’s Darkest Day,” The Salina Jounral (Salina, KS) 16 Apr 1995, page 1 available on
  • Ruetti, Oretha, “Recent Dust Cloud Sparks Memory of Mid-1930s,” The Marysville Advocate (Marysville, KS) 11 Apr 1991, page 21 available on
  • McManus, Gary, “On ‘Black Sunday'” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 18 Apr 2010 page 67 available on
  • “Most Dust Bowl Survivors Stayed Put,” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 25 Mar 2007, page 107 available on
  • McManus, Gary, “Black Sunday Remembered,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) 14 Apr 2010 page 6 available on
  • Hutchison, Mark A., “Som Saw Black Sunday’s Dust Storm as World’s End,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 18 Apr 1999 page 155 available on
  • Diehl, Don, “The Dust Bowl: Dirty Thirties Happened,” Sapulpa Daily Herald (Sapulpa, OK) 18 Sep 2016, page 12 available on
  • “Weather Stories Ranked,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 14 Dec 1999, page 9 available on
  • “‘Dust Bowl’ Documentary Relives Disaster in the 1930s,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 18 Nov 2012 page 64 available on
  • DeFrange, Ann, “‘Black Sunday’ of Dust Bowl Not Forgotten,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 16 Apr 1995, page 203 available on
  • “Looking Back: Top News Stories, 1928-1947” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 22 Apr 2007, page 202 available on
  • Raymond, Ken, “Filmmaker Stirs Up Dust Bowl Memories,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 10 Apr 2012, page 79 available on
  • DeFrange, Ann, “Survivors Dug Deeper Roots in Sands of Dust Bowl,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 3 Sep 1989, page 1 available on
  • Curtis, Gene, “Black Sunday Dust Storm Blotted Out Sun,” Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK) 26 Feb 2007, page 9 available on

The above list is just a sampling of my search for

“Black Sunday” “Dust Bowl”

While my direct familial line did not live in the Oklahoma Panhandle, they were living in Dodge City which was affected by the dust storms. When my grandmother would talk about those times, she often mentioned hanging the sheets over the windows. It is hard to imagine such a cloud of dust! Unfortunately, western Kansas may be headed for a repeat since that region is in a major drought.

Friday Finds

Below is an article in my notebook of ‘Briles’ information given to me by Mildred Barby. This is an interesting tale of a nighttime ride across the panhandle of Oklahoma.

The Southwest Daily Times (Liberal, KS)
Nov 17, 1966
page 10

Lon Briles, Now of Adams, Okla. Tells of Interesting Early Day Experience in Okla. Panhandle

Lon Briles, who came to this area in 1904, and who now lives in Adams, Okla., is writing a series of articles regarding interesting events which have occurred in his lifetime.
Mr. Briles was born near Neodesha, in Wilson County, Kansas, in 1885, his parents having been Rev. Nathan and Susan Briles. His mother, Rev. Susan Briles, was one of the founders of the South Church of God here, she having passed away over twenty years ago.
Mr. Briles tells of hardships he experienced as a young lad, having to work hard, and being homesick as only a young boy could be in a strange country among strange people.
His story includes the joys and heartaches of school days, financial stress, sickness and death in the family. There were better days, too. Memories of good times fishing, hunting, literaries, dancing and prairie music, tent meetings and many other exciting events with friends.
One interesting story has to do with his experience when he first came to this part of the country with a wagon train from southern Oklahoma, when he was nineteen.
He was too young to file on land that he wanted, but could contest the land that he had chosen to homestead. It was Beaver County Okla. then, now Texas County.
After coming all the way out here, he was told the situation of land laws. Just barely arriving and finding the land he wanted, he directly mounted a borrowed horse and rode all night to try and catch a friend who had started that morning to file for land in No-Man’s Land, at the land office in Woodward, Okla.
This friend, Elmer Vaughn, now of Liberal, was not only needed as a witness, but as moral support.
Young Briles trusted his horse to carry him safely through the night over this unfamiliar country. It was an exceptionally dark night, hardly a star to guide or light the way.
As they were riding along, the horse stopped abruptly and wouldn’t go any farther. Getting down on hands and knees and feeling his way, suddenly he sensed there was emptiness just a few feet beyond.
He decided he was on a high cliff. Standing there looking into the dark hollow, he wa bewildered and lost, because he had taken his eyes off the start that he had been following.
As he stared there in the blackness, he heard cattle bellowing near by, and then caught a glimpse of a light twinkling far below.
He called out in a loud voice hoping some one would hear him. A man appeared in his night shirt, lantern in hand. He called out his plight and the man called back, directing him to a deep worn wagon track which would bring him down from the cliff to his ranch.
He invited him to stay the night, saying he didn’t think he could make the journey in the night. But young Briles knew he must go on if there was a chance at all to catch his friend at Beaver City at sun-up.
He rode on hard, asking settlers along the way who lived in adobe houses and dug-outs if they had seen a man of the friend’s description. He found where the friend had mad camp that night, the embers still burning.
He was worn out from the long ride and the horse was badly wire-cut and worn out too. Doubt crept in his mind as to whether he would ever catch up with him at all.
He looked back as he heard some one calling. It was a stranger who had heard that he was trying to catch up with a friend, whom they had seen pass that way about an hour before.
He said, “Ride to that high hill over there and wait. He has gone down in that deep canyon and will have to come out not far from the hill. Your only chance to catch him is to try to call to him when he stops to open the gate.”
The hill was quite sizable now in the morning light. It was chilly and there wasn’t any wind, which would make it easier to be heard.
He rode on fast to the top of the hill over looking the canyon, getting there just in time, as he saw the wagon coming out of the canyon. He wondered what his friend would say when he saw him riding his horse, which was all lathered and ridden hard all night.
He called at the top of his lungs when Elmer got off his wagon to open the gate. It was sheer luck that he was able to make him hear. It was a happy reunion! A long and difficult journey still laid ahead, but with a lot of luck and willpower they managed to make the best of it.
Many events (there after) occurred in the life of Mr. riles.
He was married to Elsie Miller in Liberal in March 1907. She had come to this country as a young girl with her brother, Clyde Miller, who homesteaded in the Oklahoma Panhandle, when long horn cattle still had free range.
Mr. and Mrs. Briles were the parents of nine children, the first two having passed away very young. Mr. and Mrs. Briles retired form farming operations several years ago, and now reside in Adams, Okla.

Friday Finds

One of the clippings in the BRILES materials I received from Mildred Barby was an article about her father, Lon Briles, reminiscing about playing baseball as a youth.

Adams News

Pro’s Cousin Recalls Players
By Mrs. Roy Calhoun
Lon Briles noticed the picture of his cousin, Nelson Briles, in a newspaper recently. Nelson has been the pitcher for the St. Louis Cards and was traded to the Pittsburg Pirates and is now in practice at Bradenton, Fla.
Reading and seeing Nelson’s picture in the news brought memories to Lon who used to play baseball with the players in and around the Adams Community and with his brother Earl Briles.
Some of the outstanding players of his days are now deceased, but he listed them as: Hooker — Roy Russell, D. Gill, Jess BIll, Bill Snell and Ed Grounds; Turpin – George Whitmer and Frank Elixson; Gray – Jim and Grant Couch; Adams — Clyde Miller, Vern Miller, Jacke Stebens, John Houston, Harvey George, Jim Taylor, Jeff Sapp, Earl Briles; Hardesty — Walter Hale, Earnest Boles; Liberal — O. J. Wilkins, Will, Loemings, Ed Watson , Elmer Vaugh and Howard Mann.
Those living are: Tyrone — Harry Riff, Ray Whitmer, Frank Winkerman; Hardesty — Marlin and Jay Hale, Charley Calvert; Adams — Fred Stebens and Emmet Tourner (now of Pampa, Tax.); Hooker — George Risen and Alex Hill.
Lon pitched and his brother Earl caught. They enjoyed many happy times together along with their many friends.
At the age of 86, Lon can still recall clearly how they wen to and from the games. Walking was common, but horseback, buggies and wagons along with bicycles were their main source.
Hew made the statement that he had made $7.50 pitching and his brother Earl $5 for catching a game at Mullinsville, Kan.
Times have changed the picture for ball players. They receive fabulous wages and many experiences.
Lon and his wife Elsie have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary (March 7, 1971) and still enjoy their friends, but both are in poor health.

Thanks to Kenneth Marks’ list of Oklahoma Online Historical Newspapers, I was able to locate the article in the Guyman Daily Herald. This newspaper was digitized by the Guyman Public Library.

Guyman Daily Herald, April 10, 1971, page 10 –

Information about the baseball player, Nelson Briles can be found on Wikipedia. For more information, check out the References links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article.

Crawford to Oklahoma

My recent ‘adventure’ in Dodge City newspapers on allowed me to discover information about another Crawford family.

There are two distinct Crawford lines in Dodge City prior to 1890. My line descends from Washington Marion Crawford who followed his brother, James H. Crawford to Dodge City from Indiana around 1884. The other line, Harvey H. Crawford, descends from James Crawford (1770-1836) of Warren County, Indiana thru his son, William Alan Crawford.

Harvey H. Crawford settled in Wheatland Township northeast of Dodge City about the same time that James H. Crawford settled just south of Dodge City. According to newspaper articles, Harvey H. Crawford moved to Oklahoma for a time before settling in Dodge City before 1900.

In May 1889, H. H. Crawford journeyed to Oklahoma pursuing work as a carpenter.

Steve Leavergood and H. H. Crawford started for Oklahoma on last Sunday morning. Mr. Crawford expects to get some work at his trade, carpentering. Mr. Leavergood has taken a claim, but will follow butchering.

Western Kansas Ensign (Dodge City, Kansas), 10 May 1889, page 3; digital image, ( : viewed online November 2019).

Later in June, the paper published a letter from H. H. Crawford in Oklahoma.

Mr. H. H. Crawford of this place, who has been dwelling among the Oklahomaites I.T. during the last six weeks doing carpenter work, writes June 16th in which he gives a census taken by the Gazette, of Oklahoma City, which is too lengthy to insert in our columns. It would not require a philosopher to see at a glance that all branches of business are over done, and ahead of the country, not half of them can make a living and in less than a year there must be an exodus which will astonish the natives. The following is the conclusion of Mr. Crawford’s letter viz:
You ask how I like this country, I don’t like to live here as well as I do there, there is an oppressive feeling to me; as to the water there is none that is as good as the water there, there is something about it that people generally are complaining of dysentery. The wind blows here as well as there; we had a terrible hail storm June 6th, it went south of the city two and a half miles, the leaves were beaten off the trees and limbs as large as your finger peeled clear around; hailstones as big as hen eggs were found twelve hours after the storm in the drifts in the draws. There is plenty of timber along the streams but the U.S. don’t allow any green timber sold. Groceries are as cheap here as there; we can get fresh fruit of all kinds; irish potatoes are one dollar per bushel, sweet potatoes thirty cents a peck. I am well.
H. H. Crawford

 Letter, Western Kansas Ensign (Dodge City, Kansas), 28 June 1889, page 3; digital image, ( : viewed online November 2019).