Friday, November 13, 2009

Homestead Reading: List One

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.

The Sod House Frontier
By Everett Dick
“From first-hand sources-letters, diaries, old newspapers, reminiscences, old documents-the author has put together a complete account of how the prairie farms managed life: how the men farmed; how the heroic women cooked, kept house, did their washings, bore their babies and  brought up their children; how the houses were built; what the Indians did and were; how the winters were lived through.” (from back of book)
Published in 1989 by University of Nebraska Press.

Conquering the Great American Desert
By Everett Dick

"Professor Dick covers the century in which the Great Plains was transformed from an aboriginal society of nomadic Indians to a society of prosperous farms and cities." (from book foreword)
Published in 1975 by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Photographing the American Dream
By John Carter
"Dugouts and sod houses were the only shelter for homesteaders in the 1870s and '80s on railroad and government land grants of the Nebraska plains. Twenty years later, there were frame houses, farm machinery, even automobiles and an emerging Main Street here and there. S. D. Butcher, a self-confessed pioneer failure who, happily, was successful at photography, recorded it all. In this vibrant collection of Butcher pictures from the University of Nebraska files, we see, for the most part, family portraits with farm and ranch backgrounds, but there are also schoolchildren, skating parties, rodeos, pretty cowgirls, and pelts nailed to the barn door. Carter's text, and quotes from regional authors, retrace the story of heartland America. The high quality of the reproductions from antique glass negatives helps make this a superb portrait of a bygone time." (from a Publishers Weekly review)
Published in 1985 by University of Nebraska Press.

Photographing Montana
By Donna M. Lucey

"Photography Montana showcases more than 150 photographs of life in Montana from the 1890s through the 1920s. Evelyn Cameron’s work portrays vast landscapes, range horses, cattle round-ups, wheat harvests, community celebrations, and wildlife of the high plains. Her vivid images convey the lonely strength of sheepherders and homesteaders and track the growth of Terry, a small town on the Yellowstone River. Her family portraits are priceless glimpses into the past, capturing the endurance, pride and hope of those she photographed. It was the 1991 winner of The Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association Award for Best Nonfiction Book." (from back of book)
Published in 2000 by Mountain Press Publishing Company.

Homesteading: A Montana Family Album
By Percy Wollaston

"As a grown man Percy Wollaston almost never spoke of the homestead where he grew up-until, in 1972, nearing the age of seventy, he wrote this book about his childhood years. Lured by the government’s promise of land and the promotional literature of the railroads, six-year-old Percy Wollaston’s family left behind their home in North Dakota in 1909, heading West to “take up a claim.” They settled near Ismay, Montana, where they attempted to carve a successful homestead out of the harsh plains. In compelling, plainspoken language, Wollaston tells of his pioneer family’s everyday existence-constructing a sod house, digging a well, trapping and hunting, courtships and funerals, an influenza epidemic, and a superstitious Irish neighbor. He also recalls the events of the world beyond Ismay, from the sinking of the Titanic to Prohibition to World War I, as well as the first signs of the town’s demise during the Great Depression. …Homesteading is a rich and vivid look, seen through the eyes of a hopeful young boy, at the forces that shaped the destiny of a family, a town and the American West. " (from back of book)
Published in 1999 by Penguin.

Land in Her Own Name: Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota
By H. Elaine Lindgren

"Land is often known by the names of past owners. “Emma’s Land,” Gina’s quarter,” and “the Ingeborg Land” are reminders of the many women who homesteaded across North Dakota in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Land in Her Own Name records these homesteaders’ experiences as revealed in interviews with surviving homesteaders and their families and friends, land records, letters and diaries. These women’s fascinating accounts tell of locating a claim, erecting shelter, and living on the prairie. Their ethnic backgrounds include Yankee, Scandinavian, German and German-Russian, as well as African-American, Jewish and Lebanese. Some were barely twenty-one, while others had reached their sixties. A few lived on their land for life and “never borrowed a cent against it”; others sold or rented the land to start a small business or to provide money for education." (from back of book)
Published in 1996 by  the University of Oklahoma Press

Women of the Northern Plains: Gender and Settlement on the Homestead Frontier, 1870 – 1930
By Barbara Handy-Marchello

"In Women of the Northern Plains, Barbara Handy-Marchello tells the stories of the unsung heroes of North Dakota's settlement era: the farm women. As the men struggled to raise and sell wheat, the women focused on barnyard labor--raising chickens and cows and selling eggs and butter--to feed and clothe their families and maintain their households through booms and busts. Handy-Marchello details the hopes and fears, the challenges and successes of these women--from the Great Dakota Boom of the 1870s and '80s to the impending depression and drought of the 1930s. Women of the frontier willingly faced drudgery and loneliness, cramped and unconventional living quarters, the threat of prairie fires and fierce blizzards, and the isolation of homesteads located miles from the nearest neighbor. Despite these daunting realities, Dakota farm women cultivated communities among their distant neighbors, shared food and shelter with travelers, developed varied income sources, and raised large families, always keeping in sight the ultimate goal: to provide the next generation with rich, workable land. Enlivened by interviews with pioneer families as well as diaries, memoirs, and other primary sources, Women of the Plains uncovers the significant and changing roles of Dakota farm women who were true partners to their husbands, their efforts marking the difference between success and failure for their families." ( Amazon product description)
Published in 2005 by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

No Time on My Hands
By Grace Snyder

"When Grace Snyder, the matriarch of a pioneer Nebraska family, wrote these reminiscences in her eightieth year, she felt she had been blessed "by having no time on my hands." The story of her busy life begins on the high plains of Nebraska, where her parents homesteaded in 1885. She recalls her childhood in a sod house on a frontier that required everyone to pull together in the face of hostile weather, serious illness, and economic depression but that also held its full share of good times. "As a child of seven and up," writes Grace Snyder, ". . . I wished that I might grow up to make the most beautiful quilts in the world, to marry a cowboy, and to look down on the top of a cloud. At the time I dreamed those dreams and wished those wishes, it seemed impossible that any of them could every come true." But she saw all of them realized. No Time on My Hands is a remarkable chronicle of the sod house era and of Grace Snyder’s married life on a ranch in Nebraska’s sand hills. From there she finally flies above the clouds to exhibits where her quilts contribute to a worldwide revival of quilt making. Mrs. Snyder lived twenty years after the publication of these memoirs in 1963, to the age of one hundred. Her daughter, Nellie Snyder Yost, who helped to write No Time on My Hands, has added an epilogue to this Bison edition." (Amazon product description)
Published in 1986 by Bison Books.

Nothing to Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother
By Carrie Young

"Carrine Berg came to America from Norway at the age of three, grew up in Minnesota where she went into domestic service at the age of fifteen, and saved enough money by the time she was twenty-five to board a train to North Dakota to claim a homestead for herself. A decade later she had, by her own ingenuity, doubled her landholdings and become a secure woman of property. Then, at an age when most other women would have been declared spinsters, she married Sever Berg and had six children. In this charming book, her daughter Carrie Young tells the story of growing up under the care of this remarkable woman." (from back of book)
Published in 2000 by the University of Iowa Press

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