July 28, 2005
The Big Drought: From Paradise to Dust and Mud Holes
For a year or two before the drought set in, outlanders, investors from out of state, bought up and leased hundreds of thousands of acres of native prairie grazing land. They sent in tractors with large gangs and sod-buster blades, and they broke up this land everywhere. They planted things like flax, all sorts of other exotic crops, at least by South Dakota standards. Many of these alien crops grew for a few inches, then withered and died. When the sun blazed down and the hot winds blew, the soil gradually raised into wind-blown clouds of dust, which eventually covered everything. Since no rain came, humidity decreased and what grass remained was brittle and dead. Most of my memories of those times are of intense heat, grasshoppers, flies and never ending dust.
During the drought, I used to take my pony out and ride a lot, just to look at the land. I often rode up and down the length of Thunder Butte Creek. It was common to see small pools of water remaining in some deep part of the creek where thousands of fish would be flopping about in what little water remained. All they had was mud in some places, and in other places, the water was gone and the stream bed was covered with dead or dying fish and turtles.