For many who came during the Dust Bowl years, Pie Town was intended only as a stopover on the way to California. Mrs. Lewis West with her father and mother headed west on U.S. 60 in 1935. Five of their chickens suffocated in the Texas dust the morning they left. On their first night in Pie Town, ten more chickens died of mountain cold. her father was ill with heart trouble, so he and his wife and five children settled into a half-dugout and began to raise pinto beans and maize for cornmeal.
For hopeful immigrants from the choking Dust Bowl areas of Texas and Oklahoma, the reality of homesteading on the Zuni Plateau failed to live up to their drams. The Pie Town area was unpromising for farming. The mountains were wooded, and the rolling valleys were covered with thick rabbitbrush, or chamisa, that made hand-clearing the land a tedious and back-breaking job. The growing season was usually too short with light frosts in early June and again in mid-September. Moisture was unreliable. Some years, when there was enough rain and snow, homesteaders might grow fine vegetable gardens and enough pinto beans or corn to sell for the necessities they could not grow themselves. Other years, the moisture was inadequate, and the rabbits, elk, or grasshoppers ate most of what was planted. Many homesteaders gave up and moved on to the cities where they joined the unemployment lines. By the 1940s, when Russell Lee arrived to take his photographs for the FSA, the community had already declined from its 1935 peak to about two hundred families.