Black Sunday

By 24 March [1935] southeastern Colorado and western Kansas had seen twelve consecutive days of dust storms, but there was worse to come. Near the end of March a new duster swept across the southern plains, destroying one-half the wheat crop in Kansas, one-quarter of it in Oklahoma, and all of it in Nebraska—5 million acres blown out. The storm carried away from the plains twice as much earth as men and machines had scooped out to make the Panama Canal, depositing it once again over the East Coast states and the Atlantic Ocean. Then the wind slackened off a bit, gathering strength, as it were, for the spectacular finale of that unusual spring season —Black Sunday, 14 April.

Dawn came clear and rosy all across the plains that day. By noon the skies were so fresh and blue that people could not remain indoors; they remembered how many jobs they had been postponing, and with a revived spirit they rushed outside to get them done. They went on picnics, planted gardens, repaired henhouses, attended funerals, drove to the neighbors for a visit. In mid-afternoon the summery air rapidly turned colder, falling as many as 50 degrees in a few hours, and the people noticed then that the yards were full of birds nervously fluttering and chattering—and more were arriving every moment, as though fleeing from some unseen enemy. Suddenly there appeared on the northern horizon a black blizzard, moving toward them; there was no sound, no wind, nothing but an immense "boogery" cloud. — Donald Worster, Dust Bowl The Southern Plains in the 1930s

Worst at Perryton

Dust Bowl

Residents of Perryton, Tex., where there have been 50 dust storms in 104 days, described the storm "as the worst in history." Old-timers in Oklahoma and Kansas agreed. After the main cloud had passed, the air still was full of dust. The haze spread out far to the east and west. At Trinidad, Colo. Santa Fe railroad officials detoured trains over a southern route in a effort to avoid the storm.
Lubbock Evening Journal
April 15, 1935

Our mother ... came running out of the house. She was frightened. She told us to get into the house immediately. She then tried to gather some of the chickens into the hen house. I looked to the northwest and saw a terrible, solid wall of rolling darkness approaching. Within minutes everything was dark, and the wind and dust were coming into the house everywhere. The day was April 14, 1935, and the worst of all the dirt storms was the first thing in my life that I can remember. That terrifying day is as clear in my mind as though it happened last year. — Richard Sell, Perryton, Texas (Wheatheart of the Plains - History Marches On 1985)

On April 14, 1935, around four or five in the evening, a bad dust storm approached the area....Dave was on his way home from the neighbors. It became pitch black, so dark you couldn't see your hand in front of your eyes. Dave had to crawl home a half mile in the bar ditch...and got dust pneumonia afterwards. — Barbara A. Unruh, Perryton, Texas (Wheatheart of the Plains - History Marches On 1985) 

[We] were driving home ... on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. [We] were caught out in the approaching storm. There were thousands of frightened birds flying, rabbits running, and tumbleweeds blowing ahead of the dirt cloud. Grandfather Carter told everyone to be sure the windows were rolled up tight as possible. Mother poured water from Norman's bottle onto a diaper and held it over the baby's face and gave him his milk bottle so he wouldn't cry and breathe more dust. We could see the cloud roll upon us as one might helplessly watch an approaching mountain avalanche. — Kathleen (Allen) Lewis, Perryton, Texas (Wheatheart of the Plains - History Marches On 1985)

I lived six miles southeast of Farwell, Texas. The worst [dust storm] I remember occurred when I was about four years old. I still remember that day. I can replay scenes now in my mind. I did not sense fear but awesomeness. It was something you experience. I can describe it but you miss the awesomeness of the whole thing. The sand got pretty close to us before the wind started. The front was just a few miles away when the wind got very strong.
 I remember seeing a mother hen and her little chickens in the yard. she was trying to get all her chicks under her wings to protect them. She knew danger was at hand. She finally succeeded getting them all hidden under her fluffed-up feathers. That seems to be a very intelligent mother hen except she made one big mistake. She turned her back to the wind and it caught her feathers. She and the little chicks went flying across the yard. I do not know if my parents ever found them. Most of the chickens would have been blown away but most all of them went to roost in the chicken house. The reason was probably because it became so dark they thought it was night.
 Now about the awesome dirt front. It was approaching us from, I guess it was the west, rolling over us. Being that young it is hard to know if my measurements are correct but I would guess it was 500 to 1000 feet high. It was dark reddish/brown, the color of the soil in that area. It was so dense the sun did not shine through it. It became about eighty percent dark once it rolled over us. It was rolling over us like you were under a waterfall that came from the top all the way to the ground in a circular fashion. If you were an ant and the street very slowly rolled over you, you would get the idea of how the front of the dust storm looked to me. By the time it started engulfing us we went into the house. I have no memory beyond that time. — Howard Ford

 My husband remembers those days very well, especially Black Sunday. He was seven and the family of six had been visiting a relative east of Happy, Texas. They were headed home to Tulia, Texas when it came rolling in. They were in a 1929 Model A Ford. When they saw the cloud rolling in they decided they better get home, but were caught in it. The only way to see where they were at, was to stop and see whose name was on the mailboxes. When they got home his mother wet bedsheets and hung them over the windows tring to keep the dirt out. The next morning everything was covered up with dirt, just like a snow drift. The fence rolls were covered, as well as the chicken coop, and barns. The dust was in the air for days and days. — Elaine McDowell, Amarillo, Texas

Newspaper Accounts

From the Ochiltree County Herald, Perryton, Texas, April 18, 1935

Black Blizzard Breaks All Records Visibility Goes to Zero; Many Are Caught On Highways and on Picnic Parties Was Worst in History Worst Duster in History Followed Ideal Spring Day; Hit Here About Five o'clock The worst dust storm in the memory of the oldest inhabitants of this section of the country hit Perryton at five o'clock Sunday afternoon, catching hundreds of people away from their homes, at the theatre, on the highways, or on picnic parties. The storm came up suddenly, following a perfect spring day. In just a few minutes after the first bank appeared in the north, the fury of the black blizzard was upon us, turning the bright sunshine of a perfect day into the murky inkiness of the blackest night. Many hurried to storm cellars, remembering the cyclone of July, two years ago, which followed a similar duster. Without question, this storm put the finishing touch of destruction to what faint hopes this area had for a wheat crop. Business houses and homes were literally filled with the fine dirt and silt driven in by this fifty mile an hour gale. The storm started in the Dakotas and carried through with diminishing fury into Old Mexico. Borger reported the storm struck there at 6:15 p.m.; Amarillo at 7:20 p.m.; Boise City, Oklahoma, at 5:35 p.m. and Dalhart at 5:15 p.m.

From the Liberal News, Liberal, Kansas, April 15, 1935 


Southwest was Plunged into Inky Blackness Yesterday with Only Few Minutes Warning BROUGHT TERROR Some People Thought the End of the World was at Hand when Every Trace of Daylight was Obliterated at 4:00 p.m.

A people who during the past two weeks thought they had experienced the worst that could come in the form of dirt storms, looked on in awe and many of them in terror yesterday afternoon when...a great black bank rolled in out of the northeast and in a twinkling when it struck Liberal plunged everything into inky blackness, worse than that on any midnight, when there is at least some starlight and outlines of objects can be seen. When the storm struck it was impossible to see one's hand before his face even two inches away. And it was several minutes before any trace of daylight whatsoever returned. The day up to that time had been one of the few pleasant ones of the past several weeks. There had been no clouds in the sky. The temperature was unusually high and the day was one inviting people into the out of doors after day after day of dust. Consequently many were caught out in the storm which came so suddenly that few realized it was even on the way until it was right upon them....

From the Amarillo Daily News, April 15, 1935






(By The Associated Press)

North winds whipped dust of the drought area to a new fury Sunday and old timers said the storm was the worst they'd seen. Farmers prayed through dust filmed lips for rain. A black duster—sun blotting cloud banks—raced over Southwest Kansas, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, and foggy haze spread about other parts of the southwest.

Easter services at Lindsborg, Kansas, opening with a chorus singing "The Messiah" were carried on in dust-laden air.

Makes Record Trip

The black duster made the 105 miles from Boise City, Okla., to Amarillo, Texas, in 1 hour 45 minutes. Hundreds of Sunday motorists lured to the highways by 90 degrees temperatures and crystal clear skies were caught by the storm. Farmers and agricultural officials of the dust area, Southwest Kansas, Southeast Colorado, Northeastern New Mexico and the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, reported the soil was not damaged and that crops could still be made this season if it would rain. Governor Alf M. Landon of Kansas pointed out top soil ranges from 10 to 30 feet deep at many points in the area. 


Blotting out every speck of light, the worst duststorm in the history of the Panhandle covered the entire region early last night. The billowing black cloud struck Amarillo at 7:20 o'clock and visibility was zero for 12 minutes. Gradually it cleared and Weatherman H. T. Collman said the storm would be over by morning. The black, ominous cloud rolled over the Panhandle from the north, an awe-inspiring spectacle. 

Into Central Texas

 The storm continued southward and had moved into Wichita Falls by 9:45 o'clock, the Associated Press reported. A large area west and southwest of Temple was reported feeling effects of the duster, which moved onward into South Texas. Warning of the terrible storm reached Amarillo about 45 minutes before it struck. It came from a woman in Stinnett. The woman called Sheriff Bill Adams. He did not learn her name. "I feel that you people of Amarillo should know of the terrible duststorm which has struck here and probably will hit Amarillo," the woman said, "I am sitting in my room and I cannot see the telephone." 

8,000 Feet High

 A gentle, north breeze preceded 8,000-feet-high clouds of dust. As the midnight fog arrived, the streets were practically deserted. However, hundreds of people stood before their homes to watch the magnificent sight. Darkness settled swiftly after the city had been enveloped in the stinking, stinging dust, carried by a 50-mile-an-hour wind. Despite closed windows and doors, the silt crept into buildings to deposit a dingy, gray film. Within two hours the dust was a quarter of an inch in thickness in homes and stores. Reports from the north at 10:30 o'clock last night by the Santa Fe dispatcher said that the moon could be seen at Woodward, Okla., showing that the storm was clearing rapidly.

Forecast Cloudy

 The weather forecast for today was partly cloudy and colder. The storm struck just before early twilight. All traffic was blocked and taxi companies reported that it was difficult to make calls for nearly 45 minutes. Street signal lights were invisible a few paces away. Lights in 10 and 12 story buildings could not be seen. John L. McCarty, editor of the Dalhart Texan, of Dalhart, the center of the drought-stricken area of the Panhandle, called a few minutes before the storm arrived in Amarillo. The storm struck Dalhart about 85 minutes before it hit Amarillo and the city remained in total darkness for more than that length of time, he said. 

Couldn't See Light

 "I went outside the house during the storm and could not see a lighted window of the house three feet away." Mr. McCarty said. Borger, Perryton and other cities on the North Plains reported similar conditions, proving that the storm was becoming less vicious the farther south it moved. Damage to the wheat crop, already half ruined by drought and wind, could not be learned last night, but several grainmen believed that the dust would cover even more of the crops. The storm started yesterday when a high pressure area moved out of the Dakotas toward Wyoming, according to Mr. Collman. Most of the dust was from western Kansas and Oklahoma, he said. A linotype operator, forced to stick to his post in a dusty shop appeared with a narrow strip of shoe shining cloth, lined with sheepskin, tied close to his nostrils. When dampened, he said, it made breathing normal. A Santa Fe freight train, scheduled to depart from the South Plains about 8 o'clock, was held up nearly an hour waiting for the dust to subside. With improved visibility by 11 o'clock it was reported making good time, aided by a strong "tailwind."

[Photo caption] Leland Fox, 10, his step-sister, Corinne Weeden, 10, and their dog passed an entire night by this thistle and dust-clogged fence row in vicinity of their home near Hugoton, Kans. They became lost while hunting in a field for arrowheads. Some 100 persons joined in the searching party. After a night in the storm, punctuated by coyote howls, Leland made his way to aid.


(EDITOR’S NOTE: Of all types of soil blowing, the black duster provides the most awe-inspiring manifestation of the power of the prairie wind. It moves with express train speed and blots out the sun so darkness prevails at midday. Such a storm was that which swept over part of Southwest Sunday. An Associated Press correspondent caught in the cloud tells of the experience.)
by Robert Geiger
 BOISE CITY, Okla., April 14 (AP)

—Old timers say it’s the worst storm to his this part of the country, dust ridden though they’ve been in recent weeks.
 The cloud caught us, Staff Photographer Harry Eisenhand and I, on the highway about six miles north of town.
 We first noticed it about nine miles out. Rain seemed to be coming. Then it resolved into a dust formation. "What a swell picture," Harry said. We stopped at a knoll, took several pictures, then turned the car around for flight.
 The great cloud of dust rose a thousand feet into the air, blue gray. In front of it were six or seven whirling columns of dust, drifting up like cigar smoke. We went down the road about 60 miles an hour to keep ahead of it. We had seen an old couple at a dilapidated farm house, and stopped there to warn them, but they had already gone. Speeding on, the car was suddenly engulfed by a flank movement of the cloud. Momentarily the road glimmered ahead like a ribbon of light in a tunnel, then the dust closed it. It became absolutely black as night. We slammed on the brakes and turned on the car lights. Exploring by touch, we found the car in a dust drift. Backing out and keeping a door open to watch the edge of the highway, we took two hours to move the remaining six miles into Boise City.
 En route we picked up Jack Atkins of Hunter, Colo., his wife and three children from their stalled car. "Without doubt," said Atkins, "this is the worst blow that ever hit this section." Undoubtedly hundreds of cars were stalled throughout the area by the dust, seemingly semi-solid in the darkness. Lights can barely be seen across the street.
 It took the storm just one hour 45 minutes to travel the 105 miles airline from Boise City to Amarillo, Texas.
 The funeral procession of Mrs. Loumiza Lucas, enroute from Boise City to Texhoma, Okla., was caught eight miles out and forced to turn back. Mrs. Lucas was the mother of Fred Lucas, well known Texhoma rancher, and E..W. Lucas of Boise City. Half a dozen small boys and girls sought by police as missing were found to have been lost on the way from their home—they started when skies were clear—to a drug store.

from Lubbock Evening Journal, April 15, 1935


By the Associated Press

Residents of the southwestern dust bowl marked up another black duster today and wondered how long it would be before another one came along. Already cheered by two days of clear skies and a respite from the choking silt and sand, they were enjoying what started out to be a balmy Sunday when the duster swept out of the north over western Kansas and eastern Colorado, and rushed on over the Oklahoma Panhandle and into Texas.

Motorists Are Caught

Hundreds of Sunday motorists were caught when the dense black cloud bore down upon them at a rate of 60 miles an hour. Some Oklahomans rushed for their storm cellars as day was turned into night. Many motorists who attempted to drive through the cloud of stinging gravel and sand, found that static electricity, generated by the dust particles, had disrupted the ignition systems of their engines.