The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

by

Timothy Egan

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Worst Hard Time can help.
Wheat Symbol Icon

Wheat was the crop that dominated the agricultural industry in the Great Plains, and the crop on which nesters in the Southern Plains relied to generate income. In a land where people had always believed nothing could grow, suddenly there was wheat—golden and plentiful. In The Worst Hard Time, wheat is a symbol of prosperity and hope against great odds—but also the fragility of such prosperity. When George Alexander Ehrlich traversed the Atlantic Ocean during a hurricane, he brought with him a hearty variety of wheat—turkey red—that he intended to plant when he arrived in Oklahoma. His ability to stake a section of land in the Oklahoma Panhandle and plant his crop led to the settlement of a small Russo-German community that had previously migrated around Europe for nearly 200 years. Wheat allowed immigrants like Ehrlich, with nowhere else to go, a chance to create a permanent home. It also allowed for people who had always been poor to own their own piece of land and to generate income from it. During the 1920s, wheat made some farmers rich. Income from the sale of wheat funded the construction of towns and inspired the dream that the High Plains could soon build skyscrapers, indicating that there was a hope to make the High Plains as sophisticated and appealing as any coastal city. However, when the price of wheat fell after the stock market crash and, a few years later, the ground dried up, making it impossible to farm, the boundless hope that the nearly miraculous crop had inspired quickly evaporated in the Southern Plains.

Wheat Quotes in The Worst Hard Time

The The Worst Hard Time quotes below all refer to the symbol of Wheat. 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 2 Quotes

“The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses,” the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed as the grasslands were transformed. “It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted, that cannot be used up.”

Related Symbols: Wheat
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“Americans are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of the land,” said the new president, Herbert Hoover, who took office in 1929. He had won in a landslide, breaking the Democratic hold on the solid South, taking the prairie states with him. The tractors rolled on, the grass yanked up, a million acres a year, turned and pulverized; in just five years, 1925 to 1930, another 5.2 million acres of native sod went under the plow in the southern plains—an area the size of two Yellowstone National Parks.

Related Characters: Herbert Hoover (speaker)
Related Symbols: Wheat
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The land hardened. Rivers that had been full in spring trickled down to a string line of water and then disappeared. That September was the warmest yet in the still-young century. Bam White scanned the sky for a “sun dog,” his term for a halo that foretold of rain; he saw nothing through the heat of July, August, and September. He noticed how the horses were lethargic, trying to conserve energy. Usually, when the animals bucked or stirred, it meant a storm on the way. They had been passive for some time now, in a summer when the rains left and did not come back for nearly eight years.

Related Characters: Bam White
Related Symbols: Wheat
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

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:
Get the entire The Worst Hard Time LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Worst Hard Time PDF

Wheat Symbol Timeline in The Worst Hard Time

The timeline below shows where the symbol Wheat appears in The Worst Hard Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction: Live Through This
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...the year that the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began, the prices of wheat had crashed, then the land dried up and no rain came for years. The land... (full context)
Chapter 1: The Wanderer
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
...aid of a windmill, which would pump water for the livestock. They could plant dryland wheat in the fall, “when a little moisture would bring the sprouts up,” let it go... (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
...in 1912. By the late-1920s, he decided to do less medical work and try to wheat farm. (full context)
Chapter 2: No Man's 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
...were hopes that the Oklahoma Panhandle, where Boise City was located, would become “the greatest wheat-growing country in the world.” (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Anglo Culture and Racism Theme Icon
...building materials, emboldened by the possibility of making a lot of money off of selling wheat for the war effort. When he was finished, the family enjoyed going to bed without... (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
In fewer than ten years, wheat farmers on the Great Plains “went from subsistence living to small business-class wealth.” There were... (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
...his family. A few years after his arrival, he was making $8,000 a year from wheat farming—a handsome six-figure salary in today’s dollars. A worker on the Ford assembly line made... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Fred Folkers started his wheat farm with the help of a horse-drawn plow, and then he bought a tractor. Suddenly,... (full context)
Chapter 4: High Plains Deutsch
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...1929, there was a food surplus in the United States. There were piles of unsold wheat. Europe faced the same problem after Russia began exporting its wheat again. In the U.S.,... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...Germany. When they boarded ships for America, they carried “seeds of turkey red—a hard winter wheat”—in the pockets of their vests. The crop was resistant to cold and drought and made... (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
...borrowing money from banks to buy more land. The goal was to plant as much wheat as possible—fast. (full context)
Chapter 7: A Darkening
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
The City vs. the Country Theme Icon
...but only offered a brief snowstorm. Farmers needed more snow to insulate the nubs of wheat during the season of dormancy. The snow would also provide the first drops of moisture... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
...up by the Iowa National Guard and detained behind a makeshift, barbed-wire outdoor prison.” Both wheat and livestock sank below the cost of production. Farmers threatened that, if they went down,... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
In No Man’s Land, the Folkers family included their wheat in every meal. Fred Folkers became depressed and started drinking jars of corn whisky. Every... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
...the Cimarron County sheriff, had previously wanted to get rich like everyone else “in the wheat bonanza,” but he could never grow a big enough crop. Farmer Barrick saw the town... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
The City vs. the Country Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
The suitcase farmers—those who flooded into the Southern Plains during the wheat boom to get rich quick—abandoned the land that they had torn up. Some with homesteads... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...but heavy rain and hailstorms. Neglect was also to blame. Farmers had created the biggest wheat crops in history, transforming the grasslands into the source of a major global commodity. Then,... (full context)
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Lawrence Svobia, a Kansas wheat farmer, kept a journal of the crop’s decline. He had come to the plains in... (full context)
Chapter 8: In a Dry Land
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
Insects appeared, and grasshoppers chewed up the wheat fields. Centipedes crawled up the drapes and around the floor. Willie Dawson began to see... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
In the fall of 1932, no one planted wheat. It was pointless. Only twelve inches of rain fell in No Man’s Land, and the... (full context)
Chapter 9: New Leader, New Deal
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
...surplus crops, the government would become the market for farmers. It would ask cattlemen and wheat growers to reduce supply in return for cash. The newly created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Long Darkness
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
For others, 1934 was the worst year. Eight million acres of wheat did not harvest. Another two million had not been planted at all. It was the... (full context)
Chapter 14: Showdown in Dalhart
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...who was “found wandering the streets, muttering incoherent pleas.” She had been bankrupted by the wheat bust, her husband died of dust pneumonia, and her children were “hungry, dirty, coughing,” and... (full context)
Chapter 16: Black Sunday
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...gathering for a rabbit drive. With cattle gone, chickens going blind and hungry, and no wheat, people were starting to can rabbit meat, along with pickled tumbleweed. Ike Osteen was five... (full context)
Chapter 20: The Saddest Land
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...left their farms from 1930 to 1935. The exodus started slowly, initiated by declines in wheat and cattle prices in the northern plains. Drought and dust storms chased people out of... (full context)
Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression Theme Icon
Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl Theme Icon
...Russian steppe. Then the bank took his combine, which had allowed him to pile his wheat high during the boom years. He moved the children to Texas to live with cousins.... (full context)