Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains

By Catherine McNicol Stock | Go to book overview

2
COMMON CHORDS The Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains, 1889-1925

In the years after World War II, when Dakota "oldtimers" began to think back on the society they had built at the turn of the century, they spoke of places where people knew each other well and got along easily. "We had more fun [than you can imagine]," Rueben Taralseth of Landa, North Dakota, recalled in 1976. "You know, we were all in the same boat. Everybody was alike back then."1 Writing at the University of North Dakota, Elwyn Robinson argued that this golden age had a logical historical explanation. The diverse people of the plains had been joined, he contended, by the common bonds of the pioneer experience. Thus they shared certain inalienable "pioneer virtues": "courage, optimism, self-reliance, aggressiveness, loyalty, and an independent cast of mind and spirit." In short, most Dakotans had been "workers and stickers," not "'shirkers and quitters' . . . natural pioneers, born to conquer the land."2

When Robinson and other Dakotans recalled the early years of the twentieth century as a time of exceptional cultural unity, they were not just imagining things. Despite important ethnic, religious, political, and class divisions, in those years Dakotans were as much alike as they were different. Their "independent

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