Monday, February 11, 2008

Essays about Homestead History

The Public Broadcasting System had a television series called The Frontier House in 2002. In the process of completing research, they have pieced together diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and official documents to give them a window into the day-to-day lives of settlers who actually lived on the American frontier. Their stories of adventure, endurance, humor, and determination are the basis of a series of essays posted at

The titles of the essays include (with links):

* Uncle Sam Is Rich Enough to Give Us All a Farm: Homesteaders, the Frontier and Hopscotching Across America

* Getting Started: Packing and Preparing for a New Life

* "Hardship and Glory": Life on the Trail

* "The Little Old Sod Shanty on the Claim": Creating a Home on the Frontier Part I

* "It is Very Aristocratic to Have a Bed at All": Creating a Home on the Frontier, Part II

* "Without Peas and Things Put Into It": Food on the Frontier

* "There is No Country Like the Crow Country": The Crow Indians and Montana Settlers

* "The Descent of Civilization: The Extermination of the American Buffalo

* How the West Was Fun: Recreation and Leisure Time on the Frontier

* "Usually, the Teacher Has Nothing to Say About the Situation for Schoolhouse": Frontier Education and the One-Room Schoolhouse

* Conquering the Wild West Without Firing a Single Shot: The Northern Pacific Railroad and Those Who Built It

* "The Largest, Longest, Running Agricultural and Environmental Miscalculation in American History": The Myth and Lagacy of the Frontier.

These 3 to 4 page essays are all written by Christopher W. Czajka and are very well done. I enjoyed reading four of them, and will revisit the list in the days ahead. Now I want to see the videos - I missed them when they were on TV.

The Bibliography listing the resources used to write the essays and develop the videos are at

My SMITH, VAUX and CARRINGER families were the ones who hopscotched across the country from New York and Pennsylvania in the 1840's to San Diego by the 1890's. I have daydreamed about the places they lived, their experiences traveling and settling and the hardships they endured, but have not really studied the "life and times" of my frontier ancestors.

What other resources for Western Life education and research are there? Tell me!

PS. PBS also showed Texas Ranch House in 2006 with Lisa Cooke (Genealogy Gems blogger and podcaster) family as the "stars." I missed that too, unfortunately!


Dana Huff said...

I really enjoyed Frontier House. I have been hoping that PBS will release some of the "House" series on DVD. Colonial House was interesting, too. I really liked each one I had seen and unfortunately, it sounds like missed a few, too!

Dana Huff said...

Actually, I spoke too soon. It looks like it is available on DVD. Off to add it to my Wishlist.

Chery Kinnick said...

I love those PBS "reality" shows. I remember with fondness the one about living Victorian style--the lady of the house called it "Fluff World." As soon as she swept and dust, balls from wool and fluff and threads from natural substances would be dancing about the wood floors again.

Thanks for bringing this list of essays to our attention.

Susan K said...

Impressive bibiliography. I have read three books that aren't on the list, though. Any of which I'd highly recommend:

Letters of a woman homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart. A delight.

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. Joanna Stratton finishes a work begun by her grandmother: An anthology collection of letters written by Kansas women. It goes back to describing the sod houses and everything. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

A more currnet anthology: Leaning Into the Wind: Women write from the heart of the west. Edited by Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, and Nancy Curtis. Mariner Books. Okay, this is not historical, really.

Lisa Louise Cooke said...

Unfortunately, the House shows are a double edged sword. The prep research is done with care. However, once it's handed over to the Executive Producer, all bets are off. I arrived on my 1867 ranch to find a very authentic environment, only to discover that our Producer was from MTV (he now produces "L.A. Ink" - not exactly a history background!) My family soon found out the harsh realities of "REALITY" TV, and believe me the House shows are "reality" TV, not "history". I barely recognize the experience we had in what made it to the screen. It was very sad for all of us to discover that it was an exploitive, and yes even outright false portrayal of a truly amazing personal experience that summer on the ranch. I really felt like I walked in my great great grandmother's shoes. So when watching anything on PBS, watch with a huge grain of salt! Lisa Cooke P.S. The website was produced by a different team, and the videos you find there are as close as you will get to what really happened on TRH.