The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time


Timothy Egan

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Isaac “Ike” Osteen

A wheat farmer from Baca County, Colorado, he is one of the surviving witnesses to the Dust Bowl. When Egan interviews Osteen in 2002, he is a spry eighty-six-year old who regularly does chores around… read analysis of Isaac “Ike” Osteen

Jeanne Clark

A lifelong High Plains resident from Lamar, Colorado and a surviving witness of the Dust Bowl. Clark was the daughter of a rancher and a Broadway dancer, Louise Walton, who relocated to the… read analysis of Jeanne Clark

Melt White

The son of Bam White. The cowboy learned through his extended family that he was of partial Apache and Cherokee ancestry, which had been a family secret. Due to his dark skin color… read analysis of Melt White

Louise Walton

A former Broadway dancer who moved to the Southern Plains to correct a respiratory problem, at the recommendation of her doctors in New York. Walton’s health improved was indeed improved by the dry air of… read analysis of Louise Walton

Bam White

A migrant who became stranded with his family in No Man’s Land due to his horses starving during the trip south. They were migrating from Animas, Colorado to Littlefield, Texas—a town near Amarillo, Texas. The… read analysis of Bam White
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John McCarty

The publisher of the local newspaper, the Dalhart Texan. McCarty criticized Plains settlers who fretted over the Dust Bowl, believing that the storms were tests of character. He was also opposed to government assistance… read analysis of John McCarty

Harvey Foust

The sheriff in Dalhart, Texas. On June 27, 1931, he tried to calm the crowd outside of Dalhart’s First National Bank after the bank closed due to insolvency. Sheriff Foust had been a town hero… read analysis of Harvey Foust

Hi Barrick

– The sheriff of Boise City, Oklahoma. A former “doughboy,” or a World War I soldier who served in the American Expeditionary Force on the western front, Barrick returned to Oklahoma after the war to… read analysis of Hi Barrick

Quanah “Sweet Smell” Parker

The son of Cynthia Parker and Chief Peta Nocona, a Comanche leader. He led the attack on the trading post “at Adobe Walls, just north of the Canadian River.” Egan describes Sweet Smell as… read analysis of Quanah “Sweet Smell” Parker

General Philip Sheridan

A U.S. Army general who routed the Comanche out of the Texas Panhandle to make way for cattle-ranchers. He encouraged Anglo-Americans to “kill, skin, and sell” the buffalos on which the natives relied for… read analysis of General Philip Sheridan

Charles Goodnight

A cattle rancher who “moved a herd of 1,600 cattle down from Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon.” His effort led to the creation of the XIT ranch and to his reputation as the forefather of… read analysis of Charles Goodnight

C.C. Lucas

Carlie Lucas’s brother and Hazel Lucas’s uncle. With his sister-in-law, Dee, he tried to help maintain the Lucas family’s wheat crop, to no avail. By 1932, he was struggling to survive. He… read analysis of C.C. Lucas

Louzima Lucas

Hazel Lucas’s grandmother and the matriarch of the Lucas family. She had been a widow for twenty-one years and had nine children, forty grandchildren, and thirty great-grandchildren. She lived in the family home in… read analysis of Louzima Lucas

“Big Will” Crawford

A bachelor who lived alone in a dugout outside of Boise City, Oklahoma. He had moved there from Missouri and was known for supposedly being the fattest man in three states. He would say that… read analysis of “Big Will” Crawford

Sadie White

Will Crawford’s wife. White worked at the factory in Wichita, Kansas, where Crawford specially ordered his overalls. Impressed by the size of the garment, White stitched a note into the front pocket of the… read analysis of Sadie White

The Folkers Family

A family that set up a homestead in No Man’s Land. The family patriarch, Fred Folker, was determined to plant an orchard, but it failed in 1934. His wife, Katherine Folker, was college-educated and… read analysis of The Folkers Family

Andy James

A member of the James family, which was “one of the last big ranching families.” Due to bankruptcy, he had been forced to sell off a large section of the family ranch, located south… read analysis of Andy James

George Alexander Ehrlich

A Russian-German immigrant to Oklahoma. He immigrated to the United States in 1890 to escape conscription into the czar’s army. During his voyage, his ship got caught in a typhoon and nearly sank. He arrived… read analysis of George Alexander Ehrlich

John Johnson

A banker in Boise City, Oklahoma who seized properties from farmers who foreclosed on bank loans they had taken out in the 1920s. To prevent Johnson from selling off their farms and farming equipment, the… read analysis of John Johnson

Herbert Hoover

– The 31st President of the United States. Hoover was born in a small town in Iowa in 1874 and grew up in Oregon. He later attended Stanford University and studied mining engineering. He served… read analysis of Herbert Hoover

Governor William Henry David Murray

The racist governor of Oklahoma who ran a campaign on what he called the three C’s—"Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons.” Nicknamed “Alfalfa Bill,” he resented Theodore Roosevelt for refusing to admit Oklahoma to the union until… read analysis of Governor William Henry David Murray

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The 32nd President of the United States. Roosevelt is responsible for the institution of welfare programs that still persist to date, such as Social Security, and banking protections, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation… read analysis of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Black Jack Ketchum

A robber who led the gang that robbed Herzstein’s general store. Ketchum also killed the co-owner of the store, Levi Herzstein. Ketchum was later hanged for robbing a train. However, in a bizarre accident… read analysis of Black Jack Ketchum

Levi Herzstein

One of the first Jewish settlers on the High Plains and, with his brother,Morris Herzstein, owner of a general store. Herzstein first settled in Clayton, New Mexico with his brother, where they… read analysis of Levi Herzstein

Simon Herzstein

Nephew of Levi and Morris Herzstein. Originally from Philadelphia, like the rest of his family, he arrived in Clayton, New Mexico in April 1901 at the age of nineteen and helped his uncle… read analysis of Simon Herzstein

Maude Edwards

Simon Herzstein’s wife. Maude grew up in London and Philadelphia. Egan describes her as a “blond, very pretty, small, and well-dressed woman” who spoke with “the crispest English heard in New Mexico Territory” and… read analysis of Maude Edwards

Juan Cruz Lujan

A sheep rancher who had the oldest home in Cimarron County, “up north in Carrumpa Valley.” Lujan was born in Mexico in 1858 and ran away from home while still a little boy to… read analysis of Juan Cruz Lujan

Joe Garza

At the height of the Dust Bowl, Garza was a thirty-five-year-old rancher who had been born on the Lujan ranch on the banks of Carrumpa Creek, “in a tiny shed.” Garza “grew up loving horses… read analysis of Joe Garza

Hugh Hammond Bennett

A scientist who studied the soil. Bennett first worked at the Department of Agriculture. He then became the director of a new agency within the Department of the Interior, which was “set up to stabilize… read analysis of Hugh Hammond Bennett

Caroline Henderson

A Mount Holyoke graduate who lived in the northeast corner of No Man’s Land just north of Boise City, Oklahoma. She married a farmer after college and moved west. Caroline and her husband suffered from… read analysis of Caroline Henderson

Harold Ickes

The Interior Secretary of the United States. Ickes did not believe that the High Plains would ever be productive again. Instead of building a dam in No Man’s Land and providing government jobs, Ickes thought… read analysis of Harold Ickes

The Lowery Family

Homesteaders Ezra and Goldie Lowery had been in No Man’s Land since 1906. The Lowerys came up with the idea of canning thistles and putting them in brine. They believed that thistles were nutritious—high in… read analysis of The Lowery Family

Tex Thornton

A rainmaker hired by the citizens of Dalhart, Texas for five hundred dollars “to squeeze the clouds” with “a combination of TNT and nitro-glycerin.” He sent explosives into the sky to try and make… read analysis of Tex Thornton

Thomas Jefferson Johnson

– A homesteader who had migrated from the Ozarks in a covered wagon. Egan describes him as “tall and tough.” Johnson lived in a dugout on a quarter-section of land. While leaving the Lucas double… read analysis of Thomas Jefferson Johnson

Don Hartwell

A farmer from Inavale, Nebraska, a town on the Kansas-Nebraska border. His family moved to Nebraska in 1880. He was married to Vera Hartwell, who earned income by selling dresses. Don earned additional income as… read analysis of Don Hartwell

Verna Hartwell

A dressmaker and the wife of the failed farmer Don Hartwell. She and Hartwell owned a farm in Inavale, Nebraska, which they purchased in 1909 but had to give up in the mid-1930s due… read analysis of Verna Hartwell

Arthur Rothstein

A photographer hired by Roy Stryker to take photos of No Man’s Land in the aftermath of Black Sunday and other subsequent Dust Bowl storms. Originally from New York City, Rothstein was hired in the… read analysis of Arthur Rothstein

Pare Lorentz

An amateur filmmaker who had the idea of filming a movie about “how and why the Great Plains had been settled and then brought to ruination.” Lorentz had never made a film before, and Hollywood… read analysis of Pare Lorentz

Alexandre Hogue

An artist who had grown up on a relative’s ranch near Dalhart, Texas. Life magazine called him “the artist of the Dust Bowl.” His most famous painting was Drouth Survivors. It was “a portrait… read analysis of Alexandre Hogue
Minor Characters
Lizzie White
Bam White’s wife and Melt’s mother. She arrived in No Man’s Land after becoming stranded with her husband in the winter of 1926. After her husband died, she moved out of Dalhart with Melt and his siblings.
Inez Barrick
Hi Barrick’s wife. Inez and Hi had three children. She ran a business in which she sewed suits for lawyers.
Cynthia Parker
A white woman who was kidnapped from her family by the Comanche. She later became the wife of Chief Peta Nocona and the mother of Quanah Parker. The Texas Rangers kidnapped her back from the Comanche, though she begged to remain with the tribe.
Chief Peta Nocona
Cynthia Parker’s husband and Quanah Parker’s father. He was killed by Texas Rangers when they kidnapped Cynthia Parker back from the Comanche tribe.
Willie Catherine Dawson
The wife of George “Doc” Dawson. She helped him with his medical practice by managing the X-ray machine, bookkeeping, and serving as anesthesiologist. She was also voted the “finest-looking woman” in the Texas Panhandle.
John Dawson
Doc and Willie Dawson’s youngest son. John left Dalhart in 1929 to become a lawyer in Houston. He returned home in the mid-1930s to a devastated Panhandle. John, like Hugh Bennett and Pare Lorentz, believed that the nesters had destroyed the land.
Hazel Lucas Shaw
A teacher who settled with her husband, Charles Shaw, on a far edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle, where they were among the first homesteaders. They opened a business in Boise City, Oklahoma.
William Carlyle “Carlie” Lucas
Hazel Lucas’s father. He built a dugout for the family in 1915 and began “plowing the grass on his half-section.” He chose to move to No Man’s Land because the land was free of charge.
Dee Lucas
Carlie Lucas’s wife and Hazel Lucas’s mother. She had five children and, after her husband died, managed the family’s wheat farm with help from her husband’s brother, C.C.
Charles Shaw
Hazel Lucas’s husband, Shaw was also a teacher. He and his wife relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio in the spring of 1929, where he studied mortuary science.
Ruth Nell Shaw
Hazel Lucas and Charles Shaw’s daughter. She was diagnosed with whooping cough during her infancy. She was born during the worst of the Dust Bowl on April 7, 1934 and died of dust pneumonia in 1935.
Charles Shaw, Jr.
Hazel and Charles Shaw’s son. Hazel went north to Elkhart, Kansas to give birth to him. For Hazel, Charles, Jr. was the result of her commitment “to bring a new life into the world to replace the one taken from her by dusters.” He was born strong and healthy.
Hanna Weis
George Alexander Ehrlich’s wife and the mother of their ten children. She, too, was a German from the Volga River region.
Georgie Ehrlich
The youngest of the Ehrlich children. He was killed after being run over by a cattle truck.
Judge T.R. Alexander
The judge who acquitted George Alexander Ehrlich of a false treason charge during World War I.
Morris Herzstein
The surviving brother of Levi Herzstein, he was the co-owner of their general store and one of the first Jewish settlers in the High Plains. With the help of his nephew, Simon, Morris set up a chain of stores, starting with a new store in Clayton, New Mexico.
C.W. Post
The cereal magnate who funded efforts to bring rain back into the High Plains.
Bob Geiger
– A reporter for the Associated Press who provided dispatches during the dust blizzards in the Southern Plains. He coined the phrase “the Dust Bowl.”
Roy Emerson Stryker
A government official, economist, and photographer originally from Kansas who headed the Farm Security Administration. He came up with the idea of creating a visual record of the Dust Bowl for his administration. He hired numerous photographers for the project.
Gustav Borth
– A Russo-German immigrant from the Volga who had immigrated to the High Plains during a hurricane in 1890. His children later suffered from dust pneumonia and his farm failed, resulting in the bank taking his combine.