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Homesteading on the Northern Plains

by Judy R. Cook

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-5954-9997-7

An intimate, personal exploration of early homestead life on the Northern Plains, and how the author’s ancestors not only survived but thrived for three generations.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of pioneers rushed westward in search of free land, opportunity and new lives, hoping to take advantage of the homesteads opening along expanding railroad lines. In the harsh environs of the Dakota prairies, only the most hardy stood a chance of lasting a single winter. While many fell to hardship, privation and misery, others found the resources and fortitude to set down roots and begin a new life. Cook’s family was one of those hardy few, and for three generations the family held tight to its dream and to the land. The book contrasts in vivid and stark prose the struggles, triumphs and day-to-day lives of the author’s ancestors and tells the gripping story of life and survival on the Northern Plains. Cook’s frank portrayal brings to life her four grandparents who wrought a living from the forbidding land, as well as the lives of her parents who continued the tradition by farming the same ground. The author describes growing up on the plains in the 1950s, her life shaped and influenced by ancestors she never knew and by a way of life that connected her to the earth–forever making her a “farmer’s daughter.” Working off scant documentation and embellishing her true-life characters’ motivations, Cook treats readers to a historical account layered with personal speculation and conjecture as she tries to reconstruct her predecessors’ actions and interactions. But rather than undermine the book’s credibility, the author’s creative license deepens the narrative and adds a level of intimacy and drama that might otherwise be dulled by a just-the-facts historical reporting.

Intimate, compelling and wisely paced prose make this a valuable history lesson and an entertaining family saga.