History Nebraska Blog

…Talk About the Drought! President Roosevelt Visits Nebraska Panhandle

In an earlier post we we recalled the effects of the 1890s drought in Nebraska. Unfortunately, it would not be the last.

In 1936, Nebraska farmers were facing similar hardship. The ongoing drought (or “drouth” as it was often spelled) was unrelenting, and continued to produce record-breaking temperatures. The Grand Island Independent (perhaps exaggerating a bit) called it the “worst drouth in climatological history.”

Lincoln Star, August 31, 1936 (above).

In “Franklin D Roosevelt’s Visit to Sidney During the Drouth of 1936” (Nebraska History, Spring 1984), Bethene Wookey Larson explains that following the death of Secretary of War George H. Dern, Roosevelt’s route was detoured so he could attend the funeral, causing an unplanned stop in Sidney, Nebraska. The president toured local farms and discussed the situation with farmers and their families. He spoke at length with a farmer named O.D. Burris, who was having difficulty making payments on a loan. The Lincoln Star reported a piece of their conversation:

“ ‘You ought to plant some trees,’ observed the President, gazing about at the dusty panorama, and his own dust-covered clothes.

“ ‘Yes, sir, I know it, they sure would help,’ replied Burris.

“ ‘What are you going to do with that?’ asked the president, waving at the shriveled [corn] stalks.

“ ‘Feed it,’ was the reply. The farmer said he had eight head of cattle and five head of horses which he hoped to take through the winter.”

The Presidents spoke encouragingly to Sidney citizens, and promised to help all he could.

Grand Island Daily Independent, September 2, 1936. The article on the left describes a conference in Des Moines, Iowa, where Franklin Roosevelt and Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon would meet to discuss the drought.

While on his drought tour Roosevelt visited the in-progress Mount Rushmore, inspiring him to speak to Americans about their hard work and the investment they were making for future generations.

“…I think we can, perhaps, meditate a little on those Americans ten thousand years from now…Let us hope that at least they will give us the benefit of the doubt — that they will believe we have honestly striven every day through each generation to preserve for our descendants a decent land to live in and a decent form of government.”

-Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant

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