Friday, November 20, 2009

Homestead Reading: List Two

Homesteading is uniquely American and much has been written about it. It is sometimes difficult to know where to begin learning about the Homestead Act of 1862 which transformed the Great American Desert into the breadbasket of the world. The following three lists of 24 books might be a good place to start. It was compiled by Todd Arrington. He was the historian at Homestead National Monument from 1998 until 2008. The first two lists are non-fiction and the third is fiction.

List Two

Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: the Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War by Eric Foner

"Since its publication twenty-five years ago, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men has been recognized as a classic, an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the causes of the American Civil War. A key work in establishing political ideology as a major concern of modern American historians, it remains the only full-scale evaluation of the ideas of the early Republican party. Now with a new introduction, Eric Foner puts his argument into the context of contemporary scholarship, reassessing the concept of free labor in the light of the last twenty-five years of writing on such issues as work, gender, economic change, and political thought."

"A significant reevaluation of the causes of the Civil War, Foner's study looks beyond the North's opposition to slavery and its emphasis upon preserving the Union to determine the broader grounds of its willingness to undertake a war against the South in 1861. Its search is for those social concepts the North accepted as vital to its way of life, finding these concepts most clearly expressed in the ideology of the growing Republican party in the decade before the war's start. Through a careful analysis of the attitudes of leading factions in the party's formation (northern Whigs, former Democrats, and political abolitionists) Foner is able to show what each contributed to Republican ideology. He also shows how northern ideas of human rights--in particular a man's right to work where and how he wanted, and to accumulate property in his own name--and the goals of American society were implicit in that ideology. This was the ideology that permeated the North in the period directly before the Civil War, led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, and led, almost immediately, to the Civil War itself. At the heart of the controversy over the extension of slavery, he argues, is the issue of whether the northern or southern form of society would take root in the West, whose development would determine determine the nation's destiny."  (Amazon product description) Published in 1995 by Oxford University Press

Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction
By Nell Irvin Painter

"In 1879, fourteen years after the Emancipation Proclamation, thousands of blacks fled the South. They were headed for the homesteading lands of Kansas, the ‘Garden Spot of the Earth’ and the ‘quintessential Free State, the land of John Brown’…Painter examines their exodus in fascinating detail. In the process, she offers a compelling portrait of the post-Reconstruction South and the desperate efforts by blacks and whites in that chaotic period to ‘solve the race problem’ once and for all." –Newsweek (from back cover)

“What makes this book so important, is…(that it) is the first full-length scholarly study of the migration and of the forces that produced it…Most previous students have focused on nationally recognized black leaders; (Painter) calls for attention to the black masses.”-David H. Donald, New York Times Review (from back cover) Published in 1992 by W.W. Norton & Co.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
By Elinore Pruitt Stewart

"In 1909, Elinore Pruitt Stewart and her young daughter set out for a ranch in Burnt Fork, Wyoming, where an acre can be had for $1.25 and a bit of determination. Stewart’s letters create a colorful account of her new life on the prairie, the eccentric characters who inhabit it, and the community they build together."

"Complete with the original N.C. Wyeth illustrations, this charming chronicle fully reveals a woman whose willpower is outweighed only by the greatness of her heart. Letters of a Woman Homesteader is an unsurpassed classic of American frontier life."  (from back cover) Published in 1998 by Mariner Books

Old Jules
By Mari Sandoz

"First published in 1935, Old Jules is unquestionably Mari Sandoz’s masterpiece. This portrait of her pioneer father grew out of “the silent hours of listening behind the stove or the wood box, when it was assumed, of course, that I was asleep in bed. So it was that I heard the accounts of the hunts," Sandoz recalls. "Of the fights with the cattlemen and the sheepmen, of the tragic scarcity of women, when a man had to ‘marry anything that got off the train,’ of the droughts, the storms, the wind and isolation. But the most impressive stories were those told me by Old Jules himself."

“A realistic biography, a rare find. On putting down this book one feels that one has read the history of all pioneering.” – New York Times Book Review (from back cover)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
By Dee Brown

"First published in 1970, this extraordinary book changed the way Americans think about the original inhabitants of their country. Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1860 and ending 30 years later with the massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, it tells how the American Indians lost their land and lives to a dynamically expanding white society. During these three decades, America's population doubled from 31 million to 62 million. Again and again, promises made to the Indians fell victim to the ruthlessness and greed of settlers pushing westward to make new lives. The Indians were herded off their ancestral lands into ever-shrinking reservations, and were starved and killed if they resisted. It is a truism that "history is written by the victors"; for the first time, this book described the opening of the West from the Indians' viewpoint. Accustomed to stereotypes of Indians as red savages, white Americans were shocked to read the reasoned eloquence of Indian leaders and learn of the bravery with which they and their peoples endured suffering. With meticulous research and in measured language overlaying brutal narrative, Dee Brown focused attention on a national disgrace. Still controversial but with many of its premises now accepted, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee has sold 5 million copies around the world. Thirty years after it first broke onto the national conscience, it has lost none of its importance or emotional impact." (from Amazon.com review) Published in 2007 by Holt Paperbacks.

Growing Up with the Country: Childhood on the American Frontier
By Elliott West

"Historians have paid little attention to the lives and contributions of children who took part in westward expansion. In this major study of American childhood, now available again in paperback, Elliott West explores how children helped shape--and in turn were shaped by--the frontier experience. Frontier children's first vivid perceptions of the new country, when deepened by their work, play, and exploration, forged a stronger bond with their surroundings than that of their elders. Through diaries, journals, letters, novels, and oral and written reminiscences, West has reconstructed the lives of the children who grew to become the first truly Western generation." (from the publisher) Published in 1989 by University of New Mexico Press.

Bad Land
By Jonathan Raban

"Jonathan Raban ambles and picks his way across the Montana prairie, called "The Great American Desert" until Congress offered 320-acre tracts of barren land to immigrants with stardust in their eyes. Raban's prose makes love to the waves of land, red dirt roads, and skeletons of homesteads that couldn't survive the Dirty Thirties. As poignant as any romance novel, there's heartbreak in the failed dreams of the homesteaders, a pang of destiny in the arbitrary way railroad towns were thrown into existence, and inspiration in the heroism of people who've fashioned lives for themselves by cobbling together homes from the ruined houses of those who couldn't make it. Through it all, Raban's voice examines and honors the vast open expanses of land and pays homage to the histories of families who eked out an existence." (Amazon.com review) Published 1997 by Random House.

Rachel Calof’s Story
By Rachel Calof


"In 1894, the 18-year-old Calof, a Russian Jew, was shipped to the U.S. to marry an unknown man and stake a homesteading claim with him in North Dakota. She later set down her memories of that time in fluid prose that occasionally reveals a biting sense of humor. Although her circumstances were often pathetic, Calof never is. She writes matter-of-factly about her 12'x 14' dirt-floored shanty, her husband's unappealing family and their unsanitary living arrangements. Each winter, her husband Abe's parents and brother would join them in their home in order to save fuel-an arrangement revealed only on her wedding day. There are pleasurable moments here too, like an impromptu supper of wild garlic and mushrooms (Calof does a taste test to see whether they are poisonous-"It didn't burn or taste bad, so I swallowed it"). Childbearing is particularly difficult: Calof seems to be constantly pregnant, and her superstitious mother-in-law keeps her secluded after the birth of her first child until she begins to hallucinate about demons. An epilogue by Calof's son, Jacob, picks up the courageous author's story in St. Paul, Minn., in 1917, while an essay by J. Sanford Rikoon on the phenomenon of Jewish farm settlements provides fascinating background." (from Publishers Weekly) Published in 1995 by Indiana University Press.

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