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Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890by Peter Pagnamenta
Synopses & Reviews
Looking over the vast open plains of eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and southwestern Nebraska, where one can travel miles without seeing a town or even a house, it is hard to imagine the crowded landscape of the last decades of the nineteenth century. In those days farmers, speculators, and town builders flooded the region, believing that rain would follow the plow and that the and#8220;Rainbeltand#8221; would become their agricultural Eden. It took a mere decade for drought and economic turmoil to drive these dreaming thousands from the land, turning farmland back to rangeland and reducing settlements to ghost towns.
David J. Wishartand#8217;s The Last Days of the Rainbelt is the sobering tale of the rapid rise and decline of the settlement of the western Great Plains. History finds its voice in interviews with elderly residents of the region by Civil Works Administration employees in 1933 and 1934. Evidence similarly emerges from land records, climate reports, census records, and diaries, as Wishart deftly tracks the expansion of westward settlement across the central plains and into the Rainbelt. Through an examination of migration patterns, land laws,and#160;town-building, and agricultural practices, Wishart re-creates the often-difficult life of settlers in a semiarid region who undertook the daunting task of adapting to a new environment. His book brings this era of American settlement and failure on the western Great Plains fully into the scope of historical memory.
"From the 1820s, stories like James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales enticed Britain's nobility to America's West. The first wave came to hunt bear and buffalo and helped document the demise of the wilderness they encountered. A second wave consisted of settlers in colonies that attempted to solve the problem of younger sons of noble families who had neither estates nor — because of political reforms in Britain — opportunities in the army or civil service. The final wave, seeking to profit from the cattle boom of the 1870s, provoked political backlash by acquiring huge ranches and using public lands for grazing. Pagnamenta (Sword and Blossom: A British Officer's Enduring Love for a Japanese Woman) provides a lively account of British adventurers, weaving in sardonic reminders of the dark side of aristocratic wealth. One man's Irish estates, for example, 'had been a source of constant aggravation, ever since he evicted two hundred tenants to clear space for a new castle and park for himself.' British social history meets American manifest destiny in Pagnamenta's successful recounting of 'a long and improbable chapter' of the Victorian Age. 8 pages of b&w illus.; maps. Agent:" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The extraordinary story of the British aristocracy's encounter with American frontier life in the nineteenth century.
From the 1830s onward, a succession of well-born Britons headed west to the great American wilderness to find adventure and fulfillment. They brought their dogs, sporting guns, valets, and all the attitudes and prejudices of their class. Prairie Fever explores why the West had such a strong romantic appeal for them at a time when their inherited wealth and passion for sport had no American equivalent.
In fascinating and often comic detail, the author shows how the British behaved—and what the fur traders, hunting guides, and ordinary Americans made of them—as they crossed the country to see the Indians, hunt buffalo, and eventually build cattle empires and buy up vast tracts of the West. But as British blue bloods became American landowners, they found themselves attacked and reviled as “land vultures” and accused of attempting a new colonization. In a final denouement, Congress moved against the foreigners and passed a law to stop them from buying land.
About the Author
Peter Pagnamenta is a writer and social historian who lives in London. He is the author of Sword and Blossom: A British Officer's Enduring Love for a Japanese Woman. He lives in London.
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