Having grown up in Oklahoma — and as the daughter, granddaughter and niece of more than a dozen Dust Bowl survivors — I relied heavily on the stories I’d been told over the years to write my book, The Edge of Nowhere. My dad has always been a prolific storyteller, so I had no end of anecdotes at my fingertips. The only thing I really needed to do was to fill in the gaps to get a real “feel” for the era. To do that, I relied heavily on a PBS Documentary called The Dust Bowl: A Film by Ken Burns. This film filled in the visual pieces that I was missing, but were necessary to write my story. You see, it’s one thing to be told how it was; but it’s completely another to actually see it firsthand. Or, at least as firsthand as you can from film taken nearly a century ago.
One of the things I’d heard through the years was that there was an abundance of Jackrabbits. They swallowed the fields in droves and ate anything they could reach. What was already an impossible growing situation was made worse by what became seen as a plague on the earth. To reduce their numbers, large groups of men would gather together and round up these Jackrabbits for slaughter and, in some cases, relocation. But their numbers were too large to risk injuring a human by shooting with a shotgun. Instead, they used clubs and sticks. Now imagine how dense the population of Jackrabbits has to be in order to kill one with a club! Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be easy!
Yesterday I stumbled across a YouTube video from the era that made my jaw drop. It showed a 1934 Kansas prairie overcome by Jackrabbits. Men and children lined up side-by-side with clubs in their hands in order to herd and kill these animals, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Imagine an infestation of mice or roaches or ants, and then replace the species with Jackrabbits, and now you have a visual image of what this looked like. Still, it’s just not enough to imagine it. Imagining does no justice for the actual seeing.
I wish I’d had the video below when writing my novel. It’s truly a must-see!