Book Review: A Prairie Populist

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I really enjoy books about pioneer women in the United States. I enjoy reading about their spunk and grit, especially if the women get to tell their own stories in the first person. I had A Prairie Populist in my stack of things to read for quite a while. (I think I picked it up in a free pile somewhere in New Mexico, but I can’t remember the details.) I finally read it in the early days of this season’s camp hosting. The following is a review I wrote of it:

This book contains both the personal and political memoirs of Luna Kellie, the prairie populist of the title.

This is Luna Kellie, the prairie populist of the book’s title. Image from http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=75033385

The stories Kellie tells in her personal memoir took place when she was a young mother on the prairie of Nebraska, before she was politicized. She and her husband moved from Missouri to Nebraska to farm the land, in hopes of providing a good life for the big bunch of kids they hoped to raise. They experienced happy times, but hardships as well.

Kellie was a great storyteller, although her writing was often difficult for me to follow. She mostly eschewed commons, and her sentence structure often seemed odd to me. However, I could typically figure out what she was trying to say.

This book is great for any adult who grew up reading the Little House series, but be warned, the trials and tribulations were not edited out of this one. Several babies died and even the ones who did survive had close calls. Animals dropped dead too. On more than one occasion, the family barely had enough to eat. Crops failed. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kellie struggled with illness. Pioneer life really weeded out the weak.

One aspect of the book that really surprised me was the number of liars, cheaters, and swindlers encountered by the Kellies. Most pioneer authors focus on the the we’re all in this together attitude of their good neighbors, but Kellie writes of the woman who stole the author’s quilting fabric, the man who sold her family dead sweet potato and grape starts, and the “friends” who tricked the Kellies into taking on a hear of cattle–promised to be good milkers–which gave hardly any mild at all. It seems like for every good neighbor the family encountered, there was someone trying to pull a fast one on them. The trusting family was often taken advantage of.

The personal memoir ended abruptly, leaving me with many questions. What happened to Kellie’s beloved brothers after they headed West? What other children did Kellie have and when? Did Kellie and her family have more exciting experiences?

The political memoir is much shorter than the personal one (thirteen pages vs. 126 pages), but reading about the labor organizing of farmers in the late 1800s was interesting. Unrest wasn’t invented by industrial workers in the early years of the 20th century!

The editor gives context to incidents in Kellie’s life in the afterward. She give more information about Kellie’s early life, and explains “The Political, Economic, and Social Climate” of the 1870s and 1880s. She also included information about the Farmer’s Alliance in Nebraska and Kellie’s role in it.

All in all, this was an enjoyable, if sometimes sad, account of pioneer life on the U.S. prairie.

A Prairie Populist: The Memoirs of Luna Kellie (Singular Lives)

 

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

3 Responses »

  1. I went through a period of reading the diaries of people who Went West to CA & OR in the mid-1800s, and noticed something of the same things. Their speech pattern was a bit different. And they told how it was, and didn’t have a news media tidying things up for the poor, delicate viewers like today. People today think that when someone gets shot, they just fall down quietly and die. Hardly.

    A lot of the people going west knew it was a big deal, and quite a few wrote about it. One woman told of her young son somehow getting under the wagon, falling, and getting his arm or leg run over (and broken). And how the young boys invented the Frisbee — I suppose you never realized that the original frisbees were dried cow pies from the previous travelers, baked under the sun. The boys, sent out to collect them to use as cooking fuel, would grab them and sail them at each other. Eventually, they would put them in the baskets or bags, but not before they had some fun with them.

    When some of the pioneers did something stupid, the others just drove around them and left them there.

    One interesting incident was when a whole family died of cholera except the young baby, and a young girl (10? 11?) took her west. At every stop, she went through the wagon train and asked if a nursing mother could feed her. Not once was she refused.

    People nowdays like to think they’re more civilized than in the old days (even a thousand years ago), but we haven’t; we’re still the lying, truthing, nasty, pleasant, thieving, honest creatures we were then. It’s just because a few bright people have invented things and have dragged the rest of us along, we think we are ‘civilized’. We’re still not, and likely will never be. Remember Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist Konrad Lorenz? “I have found the missing link between the higher ape and civilized man: It is we.”

    “Unrest wasn’t invented by industrial workers in the early years of the 20th century!”

    Well, no, it wasn’t. The abuse of industrial workers began with the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s. The 18-hour days, single day off (Sunday, and only that because it was PC), low pay and working children because they were cheaper, started right from the beginning. Nothing much has changed about THAT, either — American companies have just moved their slave-labor business to slave-labor countries that have minimum wages that start at 9 cents an hour.

    • ‘ The 18-hour days, single day off ( Sunday, and only that because it was PC )”, question: what does ‘ PC ‘ mean ??
      Thanks for the answer.

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