Category Archives: Exploring the Archives

#2 Black Sunday, April 25, 1935

Eighty-five years ago on April 14, 1935 it was Palm Sunday, and the plains were experiencing a different kind of disaster.  Commonly known as Black Sunday, it was the day one of the worst dust storms in American history rolled through.   It is estimated to have blown 300 million tons of topsoil across the country, some of it ending up in Washington, D.C.  It caused immense economic and agricultural damage.

Over 30 of the 85 oral histories the library has recorded contain memories of Black Sunday and the many other dust storms of the Dirty Thirties.  The following excerpts come from a few of the transcripts which are all accessible on the library website for you to read.  Perhaps they will inspire you to preserve your life story.  This “stay home” time provides the perfect opportunity to to do it.  Just think about it.  All of our life stories will now include how we survived the “Great Pandemic of 2020”.

Catherine Hattrup (1925-2020) told of her fear on Black Sunday. “I was nine years old, and I was at my Grandmother Gleason’s house. . . her house was a big two-story, and it had a wrap-around porch.  She went out on the porch, I don’t know whether she’d been listening to the radio or what, but she came back in and she said, ‘Oh my, there’s a horrible black cloud.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s coming this way.  We must close up all the windows and doors and we must pray’. . . .I was afraid that it was the end of the world.  I was scared, and we prayed, and I do remember that it got so dark that she had to turn the lights on….  I think it was somewhere between four and five o’clock . . . .I just remember that we had to have the lights on.  Then I remember my Dad saying, ‘The chickens think it’s night, because they went to roost.’ “

Jeff Mead was a very small boy on Black Sunday but he still remembers the storm.  “That particular day, my Aunt Joan hadn’t graduated from Centerview yet, so she was in a quartet. This was Palm Sunday, so the quartet was to meet at the Methodist Church in Centerview that afternoon and practice Easter music. And so I went with Grandpa, and we had an old rickety building out there where he kept the car. We got the car out, and as we came around to park in front of the house here, so my aunt could take the car and go practice music, and there, I wish I knew how tall those clouds were. That rolling dust. It was coming toward us. Grandpa told me, ‘You get in the house, and I’ll go put the car away.’ And it hit before he got back to the house. In this house, at 3:00 in the afternoon, of course, there wasn’t any insulation in the house. When they built in those days, there was a wall, and it was all lath and plaster, that was the only insulation. But in this house, right here where we are sitting, I would not have been able to see your face (three feet away). . . .Like I say, I wasn’t quite five years old, but it comes to me, ‘Is this the end of the world?’ It looked it.”

Robert Stach (1925-2011) recalls being out when the storm came in.  “I do remember the dusty days and stuff before we moved to town, and then after we were in town, because I remember what they called Dirty Sunday in 1935.  Mother had my brother and my older sister then, and we had walked across town to the Ford Station corner there in Kinsley and we lived over on the north side park, . . . Mother went over there to visit some friends of the family that were in the south end of Kinsley. I remember pushing a bicycle back because there was too much wind and stuff for her. We couldn’t stand up. Mother was carrying my older sister who was a very small little baby.”

Earl McBride (1915-2011) and his father saw the impending storm coming.  “One of the things that I remember about it was Dad and I were working on the windmill one day. We could see what looked like a black cloud coming from the north. He said, ‘We probably better get down off here; that thing is going to hit here pretty soon.’ We got down off the tower. When it hit, it just turned the afternoon into darkness. I never will forget the chickens. They were running to get to the chicken house and go to roost because they thought it was night.”

Buford Brodbeck 1925-2014 remembers the disease that the dust brought on.   “I can remember the dust storms worse than anything….When they’d roll in, it would just get dark. I had a cousin that lived out in Manter, Kansas. She got dust pneumonia real bad and my dad and mother went out and got her and brought her back here to live for a while. I thought, holy hell, it’s worse out there than here! When you got hit, you just got in the house and tried to keep from choking to death. You’d put sheets up in the windows to try to keep it out. Wet them a little, and the next day they’d be just as black as you could see….”

More Dust Bowl stories can be found in the oral histories of Norma Gatterman, Virginia Rapp, Jean Titus, John J. Riisoe, Carman Rodriguez, Jim Mowry and many others.   You can read their transcripts, listen to theri complete audio, or watch a short video on the library website. Check out the Oral History index in the left menu.  And remember, today is a good day to start writing your history or begin a pandemic journal for yourself or your child. 



The library is closed to the public, but your library staff is still working (alone) on things that will improve our resources and service.  Besides administrative duties, I am working on our local history archive and plan to write an article for the Edwards County Sentinel and this blog drawn from that archive. 

For this first one, I thought it would be appropriate to research the influenza epidemic of 1918 in the Edwards County newspapers.  The current pandemic is often being compared to this “Spanish Flu” which in reality started right here Kansas. 

Soldiers at Fort Funston (part of Fort Riley) were given a few days leave in March before being sent oversea to fight in WWI.  Some went home to Hesston where they contracted the flu and took it back to Fort Funston.  The disease quickly spread through the troops and soon 200,000 men carried it to other bases, overseas to Europe, and around the world.

 It is estimated that 50 million people died of the influenza in 1918 and 1919, with 675,000 deaths in the U.S.  According to Kansapedia, “The Spanish influenza was responsible for twice the number of casualties (both killed and wounded) of the United States in World War I, which totaled near 323,000.  A third and final wave of the epidemic hit in the spring of 1919, and many reported that it was so severe that people could wake up healthy and be dead by nightfall.”  (The second wave was in the fall of 1918.)

Hundreds of deaths were reported in Kansas and health officials closed many Kansas cities, schools, churches, theaters and other public gatherings.  As I read through the local papers of the time, I found many reports like this one: “The families of Adam Stegman, A. Burkhart, and J. Jensen are all having a siege of influenza, several members of each household being sick.” (KInsley Graphic, March 20, 1919) 

The Kinsley Mercury of March 6, 1919 wrote that: “The flu epidemic is getting a good start in Offerle.  Heretofore the Offerle people have been very lucky in not spreading the flu but we can not say that any more as it is quite common.  Some of the flu patients are Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Renfro, Reuben Miller, Mrs. Jess ward, Mrs. John Lobil, Sophia Rabey, Earl Hedges and Vernon Oliphant.”

“Strict quarantine regulations will be enforced here until the influenza abates.” reported the Kinsley Graphic of December 12, 1918.  Some examples of the rules were:  All cases must be reported by doctor or the head of household.  The house must be placarded.  All members of the family not engaged in imperative business must remain on the premises.   All patients afflicted with the disease are to be strictly isolated.

We can be grateful today that our rules do not include a warning reference to a world war.  “Look well to your cough and smother your sneeze! For the Kaiser laughs when you spread disease. (Kinsley Graphic, October 19, 1918)

To be placarded meant the family had to post a quarantine sign on the house. Like now, the editor of the Graphic found a spot of humor amidst the serious situation (December 19, 1918)

“One of Kinsley’s automobile dealers has a family of five small children, and they are the kind that not only bless their own home but are a constant source of enjoyment to their neighbors.

“A few days ago the ever prevalent ‘flu’ sign appeared by the front door and caused much worry to those who saw it.  Shortly following, Mr. Auto-man was asked the common question: ‘Who has it?’

“He stoutly contended they were all well, when he left shortly after breakfast, but hastened home to make sure of his assertion.

“He lined his family up.  No fever, no aches—everybody fine. Whereupon he began to inquire of his young hopefuls about the ‘flu’ card.

“’Well’ said one, ‘we found this one, and most everybody had one, so we just tacked it up’ –and they did.”

What Nell Lewis (Woods) wrote in her Kinsley Mercury column “Down Our Way” on January 30, 1919 might ring true in your “stay home” household today.  “One thig, the screen door that had been broken all summer was repaired, and some other things that had been neglected got attention during our hibernation.”

When this pandemic is over, we can hope that history records us in the same manner that the Kinsley Graphic did Fellsburg.   “Fellsburg gave a fine example of neighborliness in the recent epidemic of influenza from which the town and surrounding country suffered.  There were one hundred cases in and about the village, no doctors or nurses there, and the roads so nearly impassable from the snow that it was very hard for doctors to reach them.  The neighbors cared for each other, taking turns nursing the sick, and doing the necessary work of caring for the stock on the farms.  There was but one death in the one hundred cases of flu, and we are wondering if any other place has so good a record, in the recent terrible epidemic.”

Reading in these old newspapers can be quite entertaining and educational.  The Kansas Historical Society makes them freely available online to all Kansas residents Click here to register: