The Droughts of Dallas County
Dallas county, Iowa
The drought of 1894 in Dallas County was well known at the time because of severe Crop failures. That summer the average rainfall for the state of Iowa was 0.63 inches. Compare that number to the average annual precipitation in Dallas and Polk Counties as of 2013, 33 to 34 inches per year, and it is clear that 1894 was a very dry year.
The drought of 1930 was also devastating. “During the summer months of June, July, and August the total rainfall at Perry was 4.68 inches with temperature readings of 100 or more on thirteen days.” By the fall, the wells in Dallas County had gone dry and they were not back in working order for another year.
The drought of 1930 continued into 1931, “The winter of 1930-31 was one of the kind that only comes “but once in a lifetime” for this section. Farmers actually plowed every month that winter—in February most farmers were busy raking and burning stalks and plowing—of course it was too early to sow oats.”
Oats were an important crop in Dallas County. In the 1924 “Soil Survey of Dallas County, Iowa,” the author describes oats as the most important crop “next to corn.” Oats in the county were a crop that “[was] as widely grown as corn, but occupie[d] a smaller acreage. Besides providing a valuable product for feeding and for market, it [was] a convenient crop in the rotation to proceed grass seeding.”
The Dust Bowl, “the [1934 most] outstanding drought of American history”—also seriously affected Dallas County. “This covered the major portion of the agricultural section of the United States, and was introduced by unprecedented dust storms in the spring. Much good Dallas county soil was blown into drifts at the edge of plowed fields. It was so dry in April that many of the oats never came up, but weeds pre-dominated from the start.”
In Hastie’s History of Dallas County, the author recounts that at the same time of the Dust Bowl, there “was a plague of chinch bugs over most of southern Iowa and adjoining states. These bugs were bad as far north as the southern part of Dallas county. Small ditches, with creosote in the bottom, were mostly used to combat the destructive insects. The first heat wave came on the last few days of May, when it was 105 on Decoration Day. Strawberries, nearly ready to pick, were dried up and rendered worthless. A promising crop was almost a total loss. Before relief came in the fall there were twenty-six days with a temperature of 100 or above.”
Because of the insufficient crops during this time, farmers also struggled to feed their cattle. Many resorted to selling many of their cattle in order to be able to take care of a few healthy animals. “The government, during the fall, inaugurated a plan of buying famished cattle to relieve the farmers, and to provide means of buying feed.”