AFTER THE WEST WAS WON: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900-1917 by Paula M. Nelson

AFTER THE WEST WAS WON: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900-1917

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A regional history of the Great Plains of western South Dakota, focusing on the first two decades of the 20th century. Originally begun as a doctoral dissertation, Nelson's research was continued and expanded into the present offering. Starting at a time when Frederick Jackson Turner had proclaimed the closing of the frontier, she depicts a hardy brand of people who yet sought to partake of the frontier experience in a forsaken area where the wind howled. There was enough of a pull towards this experience that western South Dakota was beseiged by over 100,000 settlers between 1910-1915. But their enthusiasm was quelled mightily by a great drought in 1910-1911 that forced almost half to pick up stakes and move elsewhere. The remaining farmers and towns. folk could be said to represent Darwin's ""survival of the fittest,"" and they built a life based upon endurance and self-reliance, albeit one of diminished returns. Nelson has done an admirable job of sifting through diaries and town records, giving us a localized, narrow story that yet does not pale in the wider context. She brings to life the little things, such as the building of shanties and sod huts. Her depiction of local customs is always vital--for instance, the one that dictated that home-steaders leave their doors unlocked for wayfarers in a vast land where ""bad weather, illness, or tired horses became life-threatening."" Travelers were always welcome to eat any supplies as long as they cleaned up after themselves. Often the homesteader might find a dime on his table or, in one case, a quarter with a note saying, ""Thanks, Pardner."" A welcome peek at Americana.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press