Dust Bowl Grassy Butte

Grassy Butte, North Dakota is a very remote Badlands settlement in McKenzie County near the Montana border, an unincorporated community with a population in the dozens. In the 1930s, Grassy Butte was one of a multitude of places where the locals who’d arrived in search of the American dream faced sad realities and hard choices. The population was in the hundreds then, and knowing that, you now understand the choice that many eventually made.  They left. 

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Communities like this were hit hard during the Dust Bowl (it would be the new millennium before an oil boom would bring some life back to Grassy Butte) and the Farm Security Administration sent photographers to document the conditions American farmers and families were facing. Arthur Rothstein was the first of these photographers, later to be joined by Russell Lee, who would also photograph parts of North Dakota during the Dust Bowl.

Mr. Rothstein captured the photos you see here in 1936. Mr. Rothstein’s captions paint a bleak portrait of life in western North Dakota at this time and make clear that the Dust Bowl was an accelerating factor in the depopulation of the plains.

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Captioned: J. Huffman of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, has been forced to close his general store on account of the drought

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Captioned: Waiting for better times, J. Huffman of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, sits in front of his closed store. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Captioned: Going to Church to Pray for Rain.  Photo by Arthur Rothstein.

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Do you have our Ghosts of North Dakota hardcover coffee table books?

Grassy Butte, North Dakota, 1936

Photos by Arthur Rothstein
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

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9 thoughts on “Dust Bowl Grassy Butte

  1. I hope the new energy/oil boom in w. North Dakota doesn’t ultimately prove to be Dust Bowl round 2. These are fragile environments. When humans ruin them, humans (and everything else) pay the price.


      1. My father lives in the “oil patch” too and he agrees. I use to visit him often but since oil “moved in” crime and population are up. His sleepy little town is sleepy no more and I’d rather not visit not because I don’t love and miss the old goat but because it breaks my heart seeing what’s going on up there to his town and even his own fields


    1. Gary, what is your last name? Your great aunt Katherine was my grandma and Louis Braun was my grandpa. She moved to outside of Killdeer sometime after he died.


  2. My grandparents lived in Grassy Butte until 1983 when my grandmother died. My grandfather died before that. My grandfather was Henry J. Brown. I recently found out that their roots originated in western Europe. I used to spend time there as a kid and played on the butte rocks (a small cave was there). I had relatives that lived there and Watford City and Arnegard.


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