The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

by

Timothy Egan

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Hugh Hammond Bennett Character Analysis

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 the soil” after the onset of the Dust Bowl. Contrary to most scientists at the time, Bennett insisted that the dust storms were the result of human activity. He was particularly outraged at the arrogance of the American government, who did not respect soil as a finite resource and continued to encourage farmers to plow the land, removing more layers of much needed topsoil. Bennett created soil conservation districts, for which he got farmers to enter contracts agreeing to farm the land “as a single ecological unit.” This is the only New Deal grassroots operation that still exists today. Bennett is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Hugh Hammond Bennett Quotes in The Worst Hard Time

The The Worst Hard Time quotes below are all either spoken by Hugh Hammond Bennett or refer to Hugh Hammond Bennett. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the First Mariner edition of The Worst Hard Time published in 2006.
Chapter 9 Quotes

Most scientists did not take [Hugh Hammond] Bennett seriously. Some called him a crank. They blamed the withering of the Great Plains on weather, not on farming methods. Basic soil science was one thing but talking about the fragile web of life and slapping the face of nature—this kind of early ecology had yet to find a wide audience. Sure, Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir had made conservation an American value at the dawn of the new century, but it was usually applied to brawny, scenic wonders: mountains, rivers, megaflora. And in 1933, a game biologist in Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold, had published an essay that said man was part of the big organic whole and should treat his place with special care. But that essay, “The Conservation Ethic,” had yet to influence public policy. Raging dirt on a flat, ugly surface was not the focus of a poet’s praise or a politician’s call for restoration.

Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

The flatland was not green or fertile, yet it seemed as if the beast had been tamed. The year had been dry, just like the six that preceded it, and exceptionally windy, but the land was not peeling off like it had before, was not darkening the sky. There were dusters, half a dozen or more in each of April and May, but nothing like Black Sunday, nothing so Biblical. Maybe, as some farmers suggested, Bennett’s army had calmed the raging dust seas, or maybe so much soil had ripped away that there was very little left to roll.

Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

People were drilling deep and tapping into the main vein of that ancient, underground reservoir of the Ogallala Aquifer, as big as the grassland itself, they said. These new boomers, a handful of men in town, wanted no part of Bennett’s soil-conservation districts. They wanted money to pump up a river of water from the Ogallala, pass it through a tangle of pipes, and spit it out over the sandpapered land. They would grow wheat and corn and sorghum, and they would make a pile, using all the water they wanted, you just wait and see. They talked as if it were the dawn of the wheat boom, twenty years earlier. Melt thought they had not learned a thing from the last decade. The High Plains belonged to Indians and grass, but few people in Dalhart shared his feelings.

Related Characters: Melt White, Hugh Hammond Bennett
Related Symbols: Wheat
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hugh Hammond Bennett Character Timeline in The Worst Hard Time

The timeline below shows where the character Hugh Hammond Bennett appears in The Worst Hard Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8: In a Dry Land
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Though the first dusters of 1932 were a mystery, Hugh Hammond Bennett thought he could explain them—he was sure that they had been caused by humans. He... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Bennett grew up on a 1,200-acre cotton plantation in North Carolina, where he was frustrated by... (full context)
Chapter 9: New Leader, New Deal
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Hugh Bennett continued to rage about the destruction of the land. He was particularly outraged about land... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Roosevelt summoned Bennett to the White House, and asked him what could be done to undo what humans... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Long Darkness
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Hugh Bennett sought to get farmers to break down their barriers regarding property to get them to... (full context)
Chapter 14: Showdown in Dalhart
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...in the room stared angrily at Andy, while the cowboys applauded him. James supported Hugh Bennett’s soil conservation proposal. If a majority of people agreed to it, he said, they could... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...at the courthouse elected Andy James and Mal Stewart to write a letter to Hugh Bennett in Washington to tell him that they were ready to try soil conservation. Bennett had... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...conditions. Americans were generally soft, but not the High Plains nesters—they were “Spartans.” Meanwhile, Hugh Bennett had received the letter sent by the cowboys. His project would only cover part of... (full context)
Chapter 17: A Call to Arms
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...on the Great Plains, the ground was naked in 1935. That was not normal. Hugh Bennett wanted a permanent reform to address “an environmental disaster bigger than anything in American history.”... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...of trees that he had proposed. Harold Ickes continued to push for reverse homesteading. Hugh Bennett wanted to form farming districts where everyone would follow a set of conservation rules, “rotating... (full context)
The City vs. the Country Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Bennett found out that the huge storm was moving east, picking up dirt in other states.... (full context)
Chapter 20: The Saddest Land
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Hugh Bennett’s challenge was in finding a way for the ground to become stable enough to hold... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...not the first person to blame careless agriculture for the wreckage of the plains. Hugh Bennett and cowboys on the XIT had offered similar messages. Doc Dawson’s youngest son, John, shared... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
The government kept the town going. In August 1936, Hugh Bennett went to Dalhart to preside over the biggest soil conservation project on the plains, called... (full context)
Chapter 21: Verdict
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Hugh Bennett returned to Washington, DC believing that the Great Plains could be restored. Congress approved a... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Hugh Bennett proposed saving the land through contour plowing, crop rotation, and soil conservation districts. The crisis... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...showed how quickly the grass was overturned. Ten million acres were plowed in 1879. Still, Bennett and his team did not blame the settlers, since the nesters lacked the knowledge to... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Bennett’s agency was ready to start planting the first new sections of sod, but he was... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...would then care for the trees, and farming would continue between the strips. Roosevelt ignored Bennett and others who said that one could not alter “the basic nature of the Great... (full context)
Chapter 23: The Last Men
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
The government handed out seed for grass and provided grants for gasoline. Hugh Bennett’s project, Operation Dust Bowl, “was in full swing.” With the help of the CCC, Bennett... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...drilling holes for corn and maize. People in the Panhandle had finally agreed to Hugh Bennett’s recommendations for strict conservation. They agreed that they needed help to save them from themselves. (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...carpet.” People gave God and Franklin Roosevelt equal credit for performing a miracle. Still, Hugh Bennett warned people not to read too much into this growth spurt. They needed to maintain... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...and birds and rattlesnakes usually ate grasshoppers, but they were all gone. The ecologists in Bennett’s soil service were starting to examine how life had been disrupted below the surface—not only... (full context)
Chapter 25: Rain
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Epilogue
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...more droughts from 1974-1976 and 2000-2003. However, this time, the soil did not drift. Hugh Bennett’s soil conservation districts had managed to hold the earth in place, as he said it... (full context)