America Is West: An Anthology of Middlewestern Life and Literature

America Is West: An Anthology of Middlewestern Life and Literature

America Is West: An Anthology of Middlewestern Life and Literature

America Is West: An Anthology of Middlewestern Life and Literature

Excerpt

The subject of this book is the heartland of America, the region loosely called the Middle West and somewhat arbitrarily defined as the twelve states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, and the two Dakotas. Geologically this region is ancient, but its human history and consequently its literary record are comparatively recent. Probably red men from the continental interior caught fish at Mackinac Island or dug in the red pipestone quarry of southwestern Minnesota ages before De Soto first saw the Mississippi. Little more than three centuries have elapsed since Jean Nicolet donned his mandarin robe to surprise the Winnebagoes on the shores of Green Bay and even less time since La Salle descended the great river and Hennepin named a waterfall in honor of his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. It is not two centuries ago that enormous fur canoes skimmed the coast of Lake Superior and voyageurs gathered in their wild annual reunions at Grand Portage. Of the twelve states comprising the Middle West, only four have as yet celebrated their centenary of statehood. The first to join the Union, Ohio, was admitted in 1803; the last, North Dakota and South Dakota, entered jointly in 1889.

Over parts of the great midcontinent four flags have flown, the ensigns of France, Spain, and Great Britain all having anticipated the Stars and Stripes. Men from all corners of the world, men of mixed blood and diverse creeds, have helped to civilize the former empire of Indian and fur trader. From every European nation have poured people seeking a home west and north of the Ohio. Today the citizens of the Middle West, heterogeneous and polyglot, comprise the most multifarious population in the world.

Generations have passed since the midcentury spate of settlement, and the true pioneer has long since gone the way of the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. But the traits of character peculiar to the American frontier have persisted and dominate the literature of the region which the pioneer opened to civilization: individualism, self-reliance, a practical materialism, scepticism of custom and tradition unless rooted in common sense, political intransigence, an isolationism explained and heretofore justified by the geographical barriers and the almost antagonistic apathy of the Old World.

Nearly four hundred years have passed since what may well be . . .

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