A different meaning to courage and independence

Dec 7, 2014

The house where Caroline Henderson wrote her "Letters from the Dust Bowl" for the Atlantic in the 1930s. Taken Thanksgiving Day, 2014
Credit James Falows

Eighty years ago, Caroline Henderson wrote from her homestead in the Oklahoma panhandle for The Atlantic magazine.  Her popular regular installments, "Letters from the Dust Bowl", brought the reality of the daily grit and grind of the Dust Bowl to a national audience. 

This past Thanksgiving Day, James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic and a NPR contributor, spent the day visiting the site of her homestead and reflecting on the meaning of her writings.  He recognized that area is now connected to the world in ways unimaginable in the 1930’s but observed that it still felt “very far away from anything, and very much on its own.”

In seeing the abandoned and wind weathered house Henderson wrote from, and imagining the terrible times from her articles, he was moved to write:

"Letters from the Dust Bowl" as the appeared in The Atlantic magazine.
Credit Jennifer Barnett and Nora Biette-Timmons

“Most of us fancy ourselves "brave" and "independent" in various ways. But to have even this rough idea of where and how these families lived, through all those years, gives a different meaning to courage and independence.”

Fallows made his Thanksgiving visit to the Oklahoma Panhandle as part of a cross-country trip by small plane to report from the western states for his American Futures series for The Atlantic.  He promises to write more about Caroline Henderson's life and writings, but leaves readers with this note from the day:

At the end of Thanksgiving Day I merely wanted to note the very powerful effect of seeing the very house in which she wrote her chronicles of a terrible stage in the country's history, the very land that she and her husband and their daughter fought to preserve. (Let alone the improbability of letters she wrote at her desk, which we saw inside the house, making their way to editors in Boston, who made them known across the country.) Today I am thankful for what Caroline Henderson and others like her did; and that my wife and I had a chance for this further understanding of the world they lived in; and that our magazine played its part in their saga long ago.

Google Earth view of the Henderson homestead. The home quarter is not cultivated but leased to someone raising goats.
Credit Google Earth
View of the area around the Henderson homestead showing irrigation development unimagined in the 1930s.
Credit Google Earth