The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

by

Timothy Egan

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Themes and Colors
Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains Theme Icon
Anglo Culture and Racism 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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Worst Hard Time, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Westward Expansion and the Settlement of the Southern Plains

Historians often use the 1890 census to mark the end of westward expansion—the year in which the dream of Manifest Destiny was fulfilled, and the United States ceded no additional land to homesteaders. However, in The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan notes that historians often forget about the settlement of the southern Great Plains—the region comprised of what are now the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, western Kansas, southwestern Nebraska, southeastern Colorado, and northeastern New…

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Anglo Culture and Racism

As a boy, Melt White was treated as though he did not belong. Children teased him for his dark skin, “which seemed too full of the sun.” When he finally learned about his Cherokee and Apache heritage, his aunt warned him to keep it a secret. Melt was a “cowboy” who was also “an Indian.” His internal strife was symbolic of the historical discord between Anglo Texans (that is, white Texans) and the tribes they…

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Economic Hardship and Lessons of the Great Depression

On October 29, 1929, the American stock market crashed. The banks had gone on “speculative binges” with money from people’s savings accounts, believing that “stocks were only going skyward.” Like the prairie farmers who believed that the soil was a resource that would produce endless bounty, stock brokers and speculators were lulled by the economic boom of the 1920s into thinking that money would never run out. In the High Plains, however, the crash was…

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The City vs. the Country

When news of the stock market crash of 1929 arrived in the Southern Plains, people did not think much of it. Stock trading was an activity far removed the simpler, rural life of the High Plains. People associated the workings of Wall Street with “city slickers.” When the rural folks went to the movies, they saw newsreels of the breadlines in major cities and images of apple vendors on every street corner. They may have…

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Environmental Devastation and the Dust Bowl

The Southern Plains were fertile, but wheat farmers had been overzealous. Some, particularly former cowboys and the few indigenous people who remained, thought that the land was designed only for grazing and small subsistence farming—what the indigenous tribes had practiced. The plow had allowed farmers to plant countless acres of wheat, but it also led to soil erosion. By the time the dust storms arrived, which the prairie people interpreted as the land’s revenge for…

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