Drought adaptation in rural eastern Oklahoma in the 1930s: lessons for climate change adaptation research

Abstract

In the mid-1930s, eastern Oklahoma, USA, suffered an unusually harsh mixture of droughts and extreme rainfall events that led to widespread crop failure over several years. These climatic conditions coincided with low commodity prices, agricultural restructuring and general economic collapse, creating tremendous hardship in rural and agriculturally dependent areas. Using a previously developed typology of agricultural adaptation, this paper reports empirical research conducted to identify the ways by which the rural population of Sequoyah County adapted to such conditions. Particular attention is given to categorizing the scale at which adaptation occurred, the actors involved and the constraints to implementation. The findings identify successes and opportunities missed by public policy makers, and suggest possible entry points for developing adaptation strategies for current and future, analogous situations that may arise as a result of climate change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Adams R, Fleming R, Chang C, McCarol B, Rosenzweig C (1995) A reassessment of the economic effects of global climate change on US agriculture. Climatic Change 30(1):147–167

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Arndt DS (2002) The Oklahoma Drought of 2001–2002. Event summary 2002–02, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK, 24 September 2002

  3. Benedict MR (1966) Farm policies of the United States1790–1950: a study of their origins and development. Octagon Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bond JH, McKinley R, Banks EH (1940) Testimony of J.H. Bond, Assistant Director; R. McKinley, Farm Placement Supervisor and E.H. Banks, Farm Placement Supervisor, Texas State Employment Service, Austin. In: Select committee to investigate the interstate migration of destitute citizens, Oklahoma City Hearings, U.S. House of Representatives, Sixty-seventh Congress, 1812–1832

  5. Borchert JR (1971) The Dust Bowl in the 1970s. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 61(1):1–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bradshaw B, Dolan A, Smit B (2004) Farm-level adaptation to climatic variability and change: crop diversification in the Canadian prairies. Climatic Change 67(1):119–141

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bryant C, Smit B, Brklacich M, Johnston T, Smithers J, Chiotti Q, Singh B (2000) Adaptation in Canadian agriculture to climatic variability and change. Climatic Change 45(1):181–201

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chiotti Q, Johnston T, Smit B, Ebel B (1997) Agricultural response to climate change: a preliminary investigation of farm-level adaptation in Southern Alberta. In: Ilbery B, Chiotti Q, Rickard T (eds) Agricultural restructuring and sustainability. CAB International, Wallingford

    Google Scholar 

  9. Coleman WJ, Hockley HA (1940) Legal aspects of landlord-tenant relationships in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater, OK

    Google Scholar 

  10. Collins GP, Hill WG (1958) Prices received by Oklahoma farmers 1910–1957. Report P-297, June 1958. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater, OK

  11. Conger RD, Elder Jr GH (Eds) (1994) Families in troubled times: adapting to change in rural America. Walter de Gruyter, New York

    Google Scholar 

  12. Downing TE, Ringius L, Hulme M, Waughray D (1997) Adapting to climate change in Africa. Mitig Adapt Strat Global Change 2(1):19–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Easterling WE, Rosenberg NJ, McKenny MS, Jones CA (1992) An introduction to the methodology, the region of study, and a historical analog of climate change. Agric For Meteorol 59(1–2):3–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. El-Shaer HM, Rosenzweig C, Iglesias A, Eid MH, Hillel D (1997) Impact of climate change on possible scenarios for Egyptian agriculture in the future. Mitig Adapt Strat Global Change 1(3):233–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fuhrer J (2003) Agroecosystem responses to combinations of elevated CO2, ozone, and global climate change. Agric Ecosyst Environ 97(1–3):1–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Glantz MH (1991) The use of analogies in forecasting ecological and societal responses to global warming. Environment 33(5):10–33

    Google Scholar 

  17. Graves GR (1982) Exodus from Indian Territory: the evolution of cotton culture in Eastern Oklahoma. Chron Oklahoma 60(2): 186–209

    Google Scholar 

  18. Gray F, Galloway HM (1959) Soils of Oklahoma. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gregory JN (1989) American exodus: the Dust Bowl migration and Okie culture in California. Oxford University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hecht AD (1983) Drought in the Great Plains: history of societal response. J Climate Appl Meteorol 22:51–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hedges TR, Nelson P (1937) Current farm economics: Oklahoma, Series 49, Vol. 10, No. 4, August 1937. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater

  22. Hewes L (1942) Indian land in the Cherokee Country of Oklahoma. Econ Geogr 18(4): 401–412

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Historical Census Browser (2004) University of Virginia Geospatial and Statistical Data Center. http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html Cited 11 Jul 2006

  24. Holm T (1979) Indian lobbyists: Cherokee opposition to the allotment of tribal lands. Am Indian Quart 5(2): 115–134

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Holzschuh A (1939) A study of 6655 migrant households receiving emergency grants. Farm Security Administration, San Francisco

    Google Scholar 

  26. Kelly PM, Adger WN (2000) Theory and practice in assessing vulnerability to climate change and facilitating adaptation. Climatic Change 47(4):325–352

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lange D, Taylor PS (1939) An American exodus: a record of human erosion. Reynal & Hitchcock, New York

    Google Scholar 

  28. Lauenroth WK, Burke IC, Gutmann MP (2000) The structure and formation of ecosystems in the North American grassland region. Great Plains Res 9:223–259

    Google Scholar 

  29. Leichenko RM, O’Brien KL (2002) The dynamics of rural vulnerability to global change: the case of southern Africa. Mitig Adapt Strat Global Change 7(1):1–18

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lewandrowski JK, Brazee RJ (1993) Farm programs and climate change. Climatic Change 23(1):1–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Liu H, Li X, Fischer G, Sun L (2004) Study on the impacts of climate change on China’s agriculture. Climatic Change 65(1–2):125–148

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lockeritz W (1978) The lessons of the Dust Bowl. Am Sci 66:560–569

    Google Scholar 

  33. Luo Q, Lin E (1999) Agricultural vulnerability and adaptation in developing countries: the Asia-Pacific region. Climatic Change 43(4):729–743

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Maracchi G, Sirotenko O, Bindi M (2005) Impacts of present and future climate variability on agriculture and forestry in the temperate regions: Europe. Climatic Change 70(1–2):117–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Maxwell S (2006) Heat, drought damage crops, cattle. Sequoyah County Times, Sallisaw, OK, 4 August 2006, p 1

  36. McCarthy JJ, Canziani OF, Leary NA, Dokken DJ, White KS (2001) Climate Change 2001: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva

  37. McDean HC (1978) The “Okie” migration as a socio-economic necessity in Oklahoma. Red River Valley Hist Rev 3(1):77–92

    Google Scholar 

  38. McLeman R (2006) Migration out of 1930s rural Eastern Oklahoma: insights for climate change research. Great Plains Quart 26(1):27–40

    Google Scholar 

  39. McLeman R, Smit B (2006a) Migration as an adaptation to climate change. Climatic Change 76(1–2):31–53

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. McLeman R, Smit B (2006b) Vulnerability to climate change hazards and risks: crop and flood insurance. Can Geogr 50(2):217–226

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. McReynolds EC (1954) Oklahoma: a history of the Sooner state. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman

    Google Scholar 

  42. McWilliams C. (1942) Ill fares the land: migrants and migratory labor in the United States. Little, Brown and Company, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  43. Mizina SV, Smith JB, Gossen E, Spiecker KF, Witkowski SL (1999) An evaluation of adaptation options for climate change impacts on agriculture in Kazakhstan. Mitig Adapt Strat Global Change 4(1):25–41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Mock CJ (2000) Rainfall in the garden of the United States Great Plains, 1870–1889. Climatic Change 44(1):173–195

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Moore AN, Sanders JT (1930) Credit problems of Oklahoma cotton farmers, with special reference to Garvin, Jackson, and Pittsburg counties. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater, OK

    Google Scholar 

  46. Morgan HW, Morgan AH (1977) Oklahoma. W.W. Norton & Company, New York

    Google Scholar 

  47. Motha RP, Baier W (2005) Impacts of present and future climate change and climate variability on agriculture in the temperate regions: North America. Climatic Change 70(1–2):137–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. National Agricultural Statistics Service (2002) Census of agriculture. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.nass.usda.gov Cited 11 Jul 2006

  49. National Assessment Synthesis Team (2000) Climate change impacts on the United States: the potential consequences of climate variability and change. US Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  50. Nyirfa WN, Harron B (2002) Assessment of climate change on the agricultural resources of the Canadian Prairies. Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, Regina, SK

    Google Scholar 

  51. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station (1948) A statistical handbook of Oklahoma agriculture. Stillwater

  52. Oklahoma Climatological Survey (2006) Drought monitoring tools. http://climate.ocs.ou.edu/rainfall_update.html Cited 11 Jul 2006

  53. Reilly J, Tubiello F, McCarl B, Abler D, Darwin R, Fuglie K, Hollinger S, Izaurralde C, Jagtap S, Jones J, Mearns L, Ojima D, Paul E, Paustian K, Riha S, Rosenberg N, Rosenzweig C (2003) U.S. agriculture and climate change: new results. Climatic Change 57(1):43–69

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Risser PG, Rice EL (1971) Diversity in tree species in Oklahoma upland forests. Ecology 52(5):876–880

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Rosenzweig C, Hillel D (1993) The Dust Bowl of the 1930s: analog of greenhouse effect in the Great Plains? J Environ Qual 22(1):9–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Saloutos T (1982) The American farmer and the New Deal. Iowa State University Press, Ames

    Google Scholar 

  57. Sauchyn DJ, Stroich J, Beriault A (2003) A paleoclimatic context for the drought of 1999–2001 in the northern Great Plains of North America. Geogr J 169(2):158–167

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Schindler DW, Donahue WF (2006) An impending water crisis in Canada’s western prairie provinces. Proc Natl Acad Sci 103(19):7210–7216

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Schneider SH, Easterling WE, Mearns LO (2000) Adaptation: sensitivity to natural variability, agent assumptions and dynamic climate changes. Climatic Change 45(1):203–221

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Singh GK, Siahpush M (2002) Increasing rural–urban gradients in US suicide mortality, 1970–1997. Am J Public Health 92(7):1161–1167

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Sivakumar MVK, Das HP, Brunini O (2005) Impacts of present and future climate variability and change on agriculture and forestry in the arid and semi-arid tropics. Climatic Change 70(1–2):31–72

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Smit B (1991) Decisions in agriculture in the face of uncertainty. In: Dzikowski P (ed) Changing climate in relation to sustainable agriculture. Proceedings of the Canadian Society of Agrometeorology, Fredericton, NB, July 1991

  63. Smit B, Skinner M (2002) Adaptation options in agriculture to climate change: a typology. Mitig Adapt Strat Global Change 7(1):85–114

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Smit B, Burton I, Klein RJT, Wandel J (2000) An anatomy of adaptation to climate change and variability. Climatic Change 45(1):223–251

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Southern JH (1939) Farm tenancy in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater, OK

    Google Scholar 

  66. Stahnke C, Stiegler J, Gray F (1967) Soil survey laboratory data: selected soils of Sequoyah County, No. P-576, October 1967. Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, Stillwater, OK

  67. US Census Bureau (2005) Population estimates. http://www.census.gov/popest/counties Cited 11 Jul 2006

  68. USDA Economic Research Service (2006) County-level unemployment and median household income for Oklahoma. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/Unemployment/RDList2.asp?ST=OK Cited 11Jul 2006

  69. USDA Weather Bureau (1936) Climatological data. Oklahoma Section, Vol. XLV

  70. US House of Representative (1940) Testimony of Wheeler Mayo, editor of Sequoyah County Times, Sallisaw, Okla. In: Select committee to investigate the interstate migration of destitute citizens, Oklahoma City hearings 5, 2122–2128

  71. Wall E, Marzall K (2006) Adaptive capacity for climate change in Canadian rural communities. Local Environ 11(4):373–397

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Wilhite DA (2003) Drought in the U.S. Great Plains. In: Potter T, Colman B (eds) Handbook of weather, climate and water. John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  73. Woodhouse CA, Overpeck JT (1998) 2000 years of drought variability in the central United States. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 79(12):2693–2714

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. You SC (2001) Agricultural adaptation to climate change in China. J Environ Sci 13(2):192–197

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Research Chairs Program. The authors would like to acknowledge and thank residents of Sequoyah County who participated in this research project. This paper benefited from the comments of anonymous reviewers.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert McLeman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

McLeman, R., Mayo, D., Strebeck, E. et al. Drought adaptation in rural eastern Oklahoma in the 1930s: lessons for climate change adaptation research. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 13, 379–400 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-007-9118-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Climate adaptation
  • Drought adaptation
  • Historical adaptation
  • Oklahoma droughts