The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) - full transcript

This documentary is about what happened to the Great Plains of the United States when a combination of farming practices and environmental factors led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The grasslands.

A treeless, windswept
continent of grass.

Stretching from the
broad Texas panhandle.

Up through the mountain reaches
of Montana to the Canadian border.

A country of high winds and sun.

High winds and sun.

Without rivers.

Without streams.

With little rain.

First came the cattle.

An unfenced range a thousand miles long.

An uncharted ocean of grass.

A southern range for winter grazing.

And the mountain plateaus for summer.

It was a cattleman's paradise.

Up from the Rio Grande,
in from the rolling prairie.

Down clear from the eastern highlands.

The cattle rolled in to
the old buffalo range.

Fortunes in beef.

For a decade.

The world discovered the grasslands
and poured cattle into the plain.

The railroads brought markets
to the edge of the plains.

Land syndicates sprang up overnight.

And the cattle rolled in to the west.

The railroad brought
the world into the plains.

New populations, new needs
crowded the last frontier.

Once again, the plowman
followed the herder.

And the pioneer came to the plain.

Make way for the plowman.

The first fence.

Progress came to the plain.

High winds and sun.

High winds and sun.

A country without rivers.

And with little rain.


Plow at your peril.

200 miles from water.

200 miles from town.

But the land is new.

Many were disappointed.

The rains failed and the
sun baked the light soil.

Many left.

They fought the loneliness
and the hard years.

The rains failed them.

Many were disappointed.

But the great day was coming.

A day of new causes, new profits.

New hope!

Beef will win the war.

And wheat.

And the cattle ranges.

That's wheat!

Wheat for the boys over there.

Wheat for the allies.

Wheat for the British,
Wheat for the Belgians.

Wheat for the French.

Feed at any price.

Wheat will win the war!

Then we reap the golden harvest.

Then we really plowed the plain.

We've turned over millions
of new acres for war wheat.

We had the manpower.

We invented new machinery.

The world was our market.

By 1923 ..

The old grasslands had
become the new wheat-lands.

A hundred million acres.

Two hundred million acres.

More wheat.

The country without rivers.

Without streams.

With little rain.

Once again, the rains held off.

And the sun baked the earth.

This time, no grass held moisture
against the wind and the sun.

This time millions of acres of
plowed land lay open to the sun.

Baked out.

Blown out .. and broke.

Year in, year out.

Uncomplaining, they fought
the worst drought in history.

Their stock choked to
death on the barren land.

Their homes were
nightmares of swirling dust.

Night and day.

Many went away.

But many stayed.

Until stock, machinery, homes.

Credit, food, and even hope were gone.

On to the West.

Once again they headed
for the setting sun.

Once again they headed west.

Last year in every summer month.

Fifty thousand people
left the great plains.

And hit the highways
for the Pacific coast.

The last border.

Blown out.

Baked out.

And broke.

Nothing to stay for.

Nothing to hope for.

Homeless, penniless.

And bewildered, they joined
the great army of the highway.

No place to go.

No place to stop.

Nothing to eat.

Nothing to do.

Their home on four wheels.

Their work?

The desperate gamble for a day's
labor in the fields along the highway.

The price of a sack of beans.

Or a tank of gas.

All they ask is a chance to start over.

And a chance for their children to eat.

To have medical care.
To have homes again.

Fifty thousand a month.

The sun and winds wrote the most
tragic chapter in American agriculture.

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