President Roosevelt was set to visit Amarillo, Texas on July 11, 1938. He chose Amarillo because it was the headquarters for Operation Dust Bowl, and the president wanted to see how farmers were managing to hold down the soil. A hundred thousand people gathered to see Roosevelt. The wind gathered force and the clouds thickened, and people feared a dust storm. The year had been dry and exceptionally windy. Still, Hugh Bennett and Roosevelt’s initiatives were taking root. Roosevelt’s trees had been planted, and Bennett hoped that seven million acres would eventually be replanted in grass.
The visit was a triumphant one. People arrived to celebrate the president who had not only preserved the land, but had also devised ways to keep the nation fed using agricultural products that no longer sold on the free market. Amarillo had been where farmers sent their starving livestock to be slaughtered. Though the clouds looked ominous, people’s spirits were up. Even with the threat of another dust storm, it seemed that things were getting better.
By 1938, the New Deal had run out of steam. Over four million people lost their jobs amidst government cutbacks. The stock market also fell again. Those in the High Plains, however, remained hopeful because something had been done to keep the faith.
Melt White returned to the old XIT, outside of Dalhart. He found “new boomers” who were drilling deeply into the Ogallala Aquifer. The newbies wanted no part of Bennett’s preservation initiatives. They believed that the water from below would never run out, and that they could plant all of the crops they wanted.
In Amarillo, the land still showed signs of disorder and disrepair. Then the rain started. Roosevelt had ridden in an open car and had no hat. The rain pooled in the street, and the president saw a good omen in the rainfall. He said that he wished people from other regions could see more of the plains; perhaps then there would be less ridicule. Still, he would never give up on the nesters. He believed in the power of restoration, and was starting to believe that the conditions that caused the Dust Bowl could have been prevented. He left to begin work on planning for an impending war. President Roosevelt never returned to the High Plains.
The “good omen” was an indication that Roosevelt’s conservation policies would benefit the region in the long-term. The rain, normally a depressing damper on an outdoor event, was a welcome respite from years of drought. Roosevelt had come to show respect to the people he had championed in his first campaign, though their needs would become less relevant during his years as a war-time president.