Prevailing over Time: Ethnic Adjustment on the Kansas Prairies, 1875-1925

Prevailing over Time: Ethnic Adjustment on the Kansas Prairies, 1875-1925

Prevailing over Time: Ethnic Adjustment on the Kansas Prairies, 1875-1925

Prevailing over Time: Ethnic Adjustment on the Kansas Prairies, 1875-1925

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to understand the process whereby Europeans become Americans. The subject is not new, but the aim of the study is to take a fresh look at the issue by examining the adaptation that immigrant farmers made to a demanding environment whose constraints were poorly understood in the first decades of settlement. Both European immigrants and American farmers faced the same difficulties: no one fully appreciated the nature of the drought problem and subtleties of moisture supply for at least several decades after initial settlement.

As the agricultural frontier pushed westward from the Atlantic seaboard into the heart of the continent, the pioneer phase grew shorter and shorter. In the eastern woodland frontier, decades might pass between the arrival of the first pioneers and the completion of a transportation link that facilitated a commercial grain economy. But as the frontier moved from the Mississippi lowlands toward the high plains in the 1860s and 1870s, the pioneer phase lasted little longer than ten years. In central Kansas, railroad branch lines crisscrossed the countryside less than fifteen years after the first farm families had arrived. Farmers adjusted rapidly to new commercial opportunities even while the constraints of environment were not yet mastered. On this fast-changing frontier social simplification was short-lived.

A new culture, a new way of life, was established immediately on the western prairies. For example, the rectangular survey system precluded the possibility of reestablishing Old World nucleated villages and the community life associated with them. The rectangular grid of farmsteads, designed for Jefferson's nation of yeoman farmers, underscored an ethos of liberal individualism. It was a powerful mold for the assimilation of immigrants. While the newcomers fitted into the pattern of rectangular fields and dispersed homesteads, they simultaneously created areas of homogeneous . . .

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