Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Prairie by Joanna Stratton (1981)

I consider these pioneer stories to be the stories of my people.  Anyone who romanticizes this time period or has a Little House on the Prairie fetish needs to read this book.  These women - and men - worked their asses off for everything.  In modern times, we forget that those pioneer women had to make almost everything from hand and from the land.  And that waiting, always waiting, was Nature to take it back, to take back the land, to take their livelihood and lives away from them.  We can't judge them by our morals and mores; they didn't know how long lasting and detrimental their impact would be on the environment; they didn't know about forced relocation or genocide (at least not in those words).  If some of the things they did were offensive to our modern sensibilities, what they were trying to accomplish was heroic.

And ultimately a failure.  The prairie diaspora continues, and those states in the middle will continue to lose population.  The oil field booms are going to be temporary.  The plains will someday return to grass again.

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas FrontierPioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are my people, and I like reading about them.  Lovers of Willa Cather or Laura Ingalls Wilder should run out right now and find this book.  For those who romanticize the good old days, or who have a Little House on the Prairie fetish, this will definitely open your eyes as to how utterly difficult those days actually were.  Every single thing our prairie ancestors had to do was done by hand, from the land - and Nature was always waiting, waiting to take it back, and maybe take their lives along with it.  Nothing was easy - but Stratton also details, cites and excerpts many, many examples of how wonderfully fun and invigorating that time was as well.  Pioneer women did not know what the future held; they did not know how damaging their impact would be on the environment; their world views did not take into account the people who lived  on the land when they came.  If some of the things the pioneer women did were offensive to modern sensibilities, much of what they did was heroic.  They left everything they knew to build a new land, in a country that was lonely, desolate, and far from hospitable.  It's interesting and sad to think that ultimately though that they failed; the populations of those prairie states continues to decline, and the great homesteading experiment all came to naught.  That does not discount their heroism either.  If anything, we should all strive to find the pioneer woman (or man) inside of us today.

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