5280 Magazine

Operation Dust Bowl

On Friday, April 19, 1935, Hugh Bennett entered Room 333 in a U.S. Senate office building in Washington, D.C., and seated himself at a conference table alongside members of the congressional subcommittee for public lands and surveys. Bennett, 54, directed the Soil Erosion Service, a division established by the U.S. Department of the Interior two years earlier, and he’d been invited to testify about the erosion problem on American farms. While the senators present knew about the dust raking the High Plains—including all of southeastern Colorado—they considered the issue a localized nuisance. Congress had been deliberating House Resolution 7054, which would fund a national soil conservation service, managed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Bennett was there to tell the senators why the resolution needed to pass immediately.

That day in Washington, Bennett leveraged statistics, maps, field notes, and photographs to illustrate the scourge consuming the nation. But Bennett was a showman, too. He’d been keeping tabs on a monster dust storm that was barreling eastward and decided to use the phenomenon to his

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