[Various places in Oklahoma: 1935-1963]. 611 photographs, almost entirely 4.5 x 6.5 inches; images occasionally reduced on the sheet. Prints starting to curl; occasional light wear at corners and edges. All images captioned in type on blank verso and numbered in the negative; occasional ink stamps on images. Sharp, clear images. Very good. Item #1839
A vast archive containing more than 600 photographs that depict the work of the Soil Conservation Service in Oklahoma from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. The photographs document the effort to reduce erosion, enhance water supply, improve wildlife habitat, and reduce damage caused by poor farming practices and the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl. Images include farmland, irrigation systems, floods, various researchers and scientists, and the farmers themselves, as well as sweeping landscapes, detailed studies of tools and instruments, the introduction and careful study of various grasses, drainage, fielding techniques, and more.
"Over 15 percent of [Oklahoma] land had been taken out of production by the 1930s when the first soil surveys revealed that more than six million acres of land in Oklahoma had erosion problems.... Ten regional soil conservation experiment stations were established to measure soil loss, conduct surveys to determine the extent of erosion damage, and develop control methods. The Red Plains Research Station in Guthrie was the first experiment and demonstration station in Oklahoma. N.E. Winters, the first director, established other demonstrations on Stillwater Creek (Stillwater), Pecan Creek (Muskogee), Elk Creek (Elk City), Camp Creek (Seiling), Tulip and Henry creeks (Ardmore), Little Washita Creek (Chickasha), Taloga Creek (Stigler), Coon Creek (Duncan), Guymon Creek (Guymon), and Pryor Creek (Pryor). Successful lessons were transferred to privately owned land in the state and the nation.
"In March 1933 Congressional legislation established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide employment for young men and veterans of World War I and help people cope with the Great Depression. Dr. N.E. Winters directed over 1,100 workers in thirty-seven Oklahoma communities, including Ardmore, Beaver, Checotah, Gasker, Idabel, Mountain View, Nowata, Sayre, and Wilburton. CCC workers freely developed conservation practices on farms. By means of the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Act of February 1937, states were strongly encouraged to legislate mandatory soil conservation in order to qualify for SCS benefits. Oklahoma passed such a law in April of that year. Thus, Soil Conservation Districts were created, and SCS specialists worked through the districts" - Oklahoma History Center.
Approximately 230 of the photographs collected here document the early activities and projects of the Soil Conservation Service as well as the condition of and practices on Oklahoma farms during the mid- to late 1930s. The images present from the projects at Stillwater, Guthrie, Chickasha, Muskogee, Stigler, Elk City, and Seiling, but many of the projects and locations near the numerous Civilian Conservation Corps camps from which much of the work was based are well depicted. The photographs present continue in much the same vein over the next two decades, with just under 200 included from the 1940s and approximately 175 from the 1950s and early 1960s. As time progresses, additional and new project locations from across the state are incorporated into the photographic record.
The images in this large group are made particularly valuable by the extensive typed captions on the reverse of each print, which provide detailed information concerning the date and location of the photograph and a description of the activity or condition being documented. The preponderance of the images here are well-composed and can be quite striking, but the group dating to the 1930s is particularly so, given the skilled field photographers hired under the New Deal to do the work, such as James Slack, who also took exceptional images of the New Mexico pueblos for the Historic American Buildings Survey during this time, and Richard Hufnagle, who captured dramatic shots of the construction of Mount Rushmore.
We locate two much smaller groups of these photographs in the collections of the Library of Congress and the Oklahoma Historical Society. A fine and fascinating archive that documents the development and improvement of agriculture and soil conservation in Oklahoma after the Dust Bowl and through the 1950s.
D. Chongo Mundende, “Soil and Water Conservation,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture (online).