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.
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.