The agricultural refugees made the long journey west on several highways in Texas
and Oklahoma. The most prominent one was old Route 66, although other streets
were used, such as Routes 70, 80, and 82.
Many have the mistaken notion that those who drove west to California to become
migrant workers were escaping the ravages of the Dust Bowl - the period of severe
drought that encompassed the southern plains in the 1930s and 1940s - but actually,
more refugees came from the sharecropping South. In the 1920s, the bollweevil
ruined several cotton harvests. Coupled with increasing farm mechanization and
mortgages/ lease agreements being recalled by landowners due to the economic
downturn, people in Arkansas took US 67 to find their fortunes in southern Texas or
Whole books have been written about this fabled highway. By passed now by
Interstates 44 and 40, Route 66 began in Chicago, then crossed Illinois, Missouri,
Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, until it ended in California. While Route 66
is now a nostalgic remnant of the 1950's car vacation, it fascinates travelers all over
the world with old motels, drive-in theaters, and downtowns that recall by-gone
America. Oklahoma occupies the greatest portion from the Missouri border by Joplin
all the way to tiny Texola by the Texas border. Many miles of the old road are still
drivable, especially from Vanita to Catousa, Tulsa to Oklahoma City, and from
Oklahoma City to El Reno. In contrast, Texas has the shortest part of the route. Not
much of it is drivable, save through the downtowns of the cities along Interstate 40.
Running parallel to the Red River in southern Oklahoma, Highway 70 enters Oklahoma
at DeQueen, AK, and leaves the state south of Frederick. It continues on through the
Texas panhandle, where it eventually goes to Clovis, New Mexico. The landscape on
US 70 mirrors that of the Red River Valley: thick forests in the east giving way to
grand prairies in the west. US 70 approximates the route of entry for the Trail of Tears
for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.
This highway is slowly being gobbled up by Interstate 20, so soon it will become
another relic of the automobile age. Therefore, it's definitely worth a look. US 80
threads its say through the heart of North Texas, starting at the Louisiana border. It is
a strong road up until Dallas, where it becomes Fort Worth Avenue. In Fort Worth, US
80 merges with Interstate 20, which dips southwest to end up in El Paso (migrants
took a more northerly route once in Fort Worth). US 80 makes for a great road trip as it
passes through the most authentic parts of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Highway 82 parallels the Red River through North Texas, almost a twin to US 70.
Entering Texas at Texarkana, migrants veered onto US 287 at Wichita Falls when
heading west, where they would eventually meet up with Route 66 in Amarillo. This
highway also briefly parallels the National Road, and the towns it bisects reflect early
Texas settler history.
Road trips are the best way to understand American history, as most of it has been
shaped by the road. Driving down old roads is my favorite type of research!
|Handmade marker on Route 82 - "Buffalo Road
East-West Hide and Bone Hauling from 1870-1890"
The Great Depression is the most researched period in American history, so books
proliferate. However, as very few books have been written on what happened
regionally during this period, some vital information is missing. While the following
list of books and websites represents the material I used for research, it's in no way
Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s by Donald Worster (Oxford University
Press, 1979): Good geographic and ecological descriptions.
An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor
(New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939): Great primary source with oral histories and
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (New York:
Pantheon Books, 1970): Master oral historian offers vivid first-hand accounts.
|Route 66 bridge west of Oklahoma City
|Following the "Dust Bowl" Routes
|Around Durant, you can find older alignments of US
70 (just follow Broadway east out of town). This truss
bridge hails from 1910.
|US 67 - the Bankhead Highway - was the road many
sharecroppers from Arkansas took to flee the
|Interested in more
about Truss Bridges?
Then cross on over
to this article!