Dust Bowl Survivors: Oklahoma, 1942

"For some, the phrase 'Dust Bowl' conjures a place: the Great Plains, but a Great Plains of abandoned homes, ruined lives, dead and dying crops and sand, sand, sand. For others, the phrase denotes not a region but an era: the mid- to late-1930s in America, when countless farms were lost; dust storms raced across thousands of miles of once-fertile land, so huge and unremitting that they often blotted out the sun; and millions of American men, women and children took to the road, leaving behind everything they knew and everything they’d built, heading west, seeking work, food, shelter, new lives, new hope.... Now, as fears of another and perhaps even more devastating Dust Bowl grip vast regions of the country, LIFE.com offers a series of rare photos — most of which never ran in LIFE magazine — by the great Alfred Eisenstaedt. But these pictures don’t follow 'Okies' as they leave their world behind. Instead, Eisenstaedt’s photos chronicle the hardscrabble existence of Oklahoma farmers who stayed: families who fought to keep their livelihoods and their homesteads during those lean, unforgiving years after the Dust Bowl — according to the history books, at least — came to an end."