Paul Bonnifield continues his lifelong interest in history. He earned his Ph.D. in twentieth century American history from Oklahoma State University. The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression is regarded as a standard on that period of American history. His writings include other books and numerous articles as well as newspaper columns about regional history. He is now retired and enjoys more writing time.
Paul’s background includes being a professional rodeo cowboy, college professor, underground coal miner, railroad conductor, contract cowboy, and professional historian and author.
He and his wife Ellen co-author a fortnightly history column for The Valley Voice. Paul and Ellen recently completed and submitted a manuscript about the Meeker Massacre and the Ute Indians in northwestern Colorado.
Paul contributes to a variety of publications and frequently serves as historical advisor for projects, locally and nationally. He presents scholarly papers to the Western History Association and speaks at local gatherings.
The following is an excerpt from his most recent manuscript:
He [Meeker] then stated his plan of action. “To permit any class of human being to do as they please, and, at the same time to be supplied with food, inevitably leads to demoralization. After I get hold of these Indians I can tell a great deal better what can be made of them. I should like to have plenty of land in cultivation, with tools all ready; take away their horses; then give the word that if they would not work they should have no rations. As to how much they would work and produce in such a case, and as to how fast they would adopt a civilized life, is merely to speculate, but my impression is they would not starve.”
Meeker’s plan was clear. Bring in a large military force, kill the horses, and starve the Utes into farming and adopting his ideal of the pure Victorian society. He justified his harsh plan. “If these Indians will only half improve their opportunities they may become rich and happy.” He ignored the fact the Ute considered themselves rich as long as they had many horses and they were happy. They measured wealth in horses instead of dollars.
Here’s an excerpt The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression, published by University of New Mexico Press in 1979:
The gale came blowing from the south on March 3, 1935. Dirt leaped into the air and pounded everything it struck. At his home on the north edge of Guymon, Oklahoma, Vernon L. Hopson was standing by a window watching the storm when a fifty-five-gallon oil drum came jetting past the window. The next day he looked out the same window and was amazed to see a 120-foot steel oil derrick, which had been in operation before the storm, lying flat against the earth. The same storm broke off fifty telephone poles between Guymon and Goodwell, Oklahoma.
That storm was followed by another and yet another. In late March the major wire services were arousing national concern for the health of children who were sick and dying from dust pneumonia in Baca County, Colorado. Hundreds of residents in the Kansas counties of Stanton, Morton, Stevens, and Grant, dreadfully ill with measles and dust pneumonia, were being treated at emergency hospitals. As the storms continued to rage, many residents fled the stricken land until the blow was over.
The sun rose in a pleasant blue sky on April 14. The wind was soft and gentle, from the southwest, and the air was clean and healthy, a pleasant respite from the dirt storms of the previous months. It was a day for a drive in the country, a day for a fishing trip to Two Buttes Lake, a day for a rabbit drive northwest of Hooker, Oklahoma. It was also a day for a roller. About four o’clock in the afternoon, the rabbit hunters were ready to corral thousands of jackrabbits when a black rolling cloud engulfed the men and beasts. Immediately everything turned black. All the hunters could do was sit down, pray, cough, pray, choke, and pray, while horses and rabbits squealed, ran, and floundered among them.