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Land Fever

Land Fever: Dispossession and the Frontier Myth

Copyright Date: 1986
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Land Fever
    Book Description:

    James Marshall's illuminating study of dispossession on the frontier begins with the autobiography of a pioneer who met repeated failure. Writing in his old age, Omar Morse (1824-1901) loked back on the successive loss of three homesteads in mid-nineteenth century Wisconsin and Minnesota. The frontier as Morse encountered it was a place of runaway land speculation, of high railroad freight rates, of mortgage foreclosures, and of political and economic chaos. Stoic and resilient in adversity, Morse nevertheless expressed the anger of those for whom the Jeffersonian ideal of an independent yeomanry proved to be a cruel illusion. Marshall moves from Morse's narrative to the historical record of the thousands of similarly dispossessed pioneers and to the legacy of their failure. Politically, their anger was expressed in a grassroots movement that led to formation of the Populist party in the 1880s and 1890s. Culturally, dispossession became a theme in their literature, exemplified in Mark Twain's and Charles Dudley Warner'sThe Gilded Ageand in novels by such Realists as Edward Eggleston, Joseph Kirkland, and Hamlin Garland.Land Feverthus presents the underside of disappointment that has long been the great ignored reality of the splendid success myth of the American frontier.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4868-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Part One

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-22)

      Land Feveris an analytical study of the relation between the autobiography of a dispossessed homesteader and a pioneer culture’s resistance to the loss of the frontier promise of Jeffersonian democracy in the harsh natural and economic wilderness of the expanding West.

      The plan of the book further suggests its purpose. Following this introduction, Part One contains the unique, vivid narrative of Omar Morse (1824-1901), a yeoman farmer in frontier Wisconsin and Minnesota, with memories of his youth in a backwoods region of north central New York. The three chapters of part Two offer, first, an objective study of the...

    • The Autobiography of Omar H. Morse
      (pp. 23-90)

      I was born November 12, 1824 in the Town of Hastings, Oswego County, State of New York.¹ My Parents were in very limited circumstances financially yet blessed with a large family of children which is a poor man’s capital though capital of this kind is not considered very available in case of financial Depression.

      I was set down on the List as the last adventure in the family and classed No—9—² I have a very faint recollection of things which took place for about Six years although I can very distinctly remember a few circumstances which transpired at...

  5. Part Two

    • 1. The Dispossession of the Morse Family
      (pp. 93-123)

      Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian dream would appear to have been sufficiently realized through the large number of farms established in 1880. Paul Gates points out that there were “969,679 farms in the public land states by 1860, and 2,185,492 by 1880, of which 76.2 percent were owner operated.”¹ That is, by 1880 over 75 percent of western farms were ostensibly independent “family farms,” while some 24 percent were large “factory farms” or “bonanza farms” corporately owned. A number of owner-operated farms, however, were one-family dynasties, small empires of thousands of acres like the King Ranch in Texas, whose fictional analog is...

    • 2. The Morse Narrative and a Countermyth of Dispossession
      (pp. 124-175)

      James Fenimore Cooper considered the dispossession of wilderness values in his fable of civilization: Both red and white noble savages, Chingachgook, the noble Indian chief, as well as Natty Bumppo, the Leatherstocking, a frontier guide—all dwellers in the wilderness garden—were doomed by the progress of settlement that seemed to be represented by a white madonna, a woman-wife-mother figure of civilization. (Cooper’s women are allegorical abstractions, not characters.) Her unspotted purity so dominated the Victorian male’s imagination of western settlement that he—and Cooper—found it necessary to defend her against the untamed forces of good and evil that...

    • 3. The Repossession: A Creative Recovery of Community
      (pp. 176-188)

      This book has offered three perspectives on homestead dispossession for the purpose of suggesting the values of a frontier community not fully understood. As a result of instability due to dispossession, it dissolved into legend before its norms and their adjustment to the realities of the homestead farm had become accessible to students of pioneering. The unweeded garden theme suggests the homestead culture. (As an unweeded garden is the centering metaphor inRichard II,Shakespeare’s drama of willful misrule and resulting cultural dislocation, this descriptive term not only suggests the technique of ironic inversion but also the implication of the...

  6. Appendix A: Letters to Manly and Anna Morse (1895-1900)
    (pp. 189-207)
  7. Appendix B: Morse’s Essay on the Philippine Islands
    (pp. 208-208)
  8. Appendix C: Family Record of O.H. Morse
    (pp. 209-210)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 211-220)
  10. Works Consulted
    (pp. 221-228)
  11. Index
    (pp. 229-239)