Abstract

Over the past century films and literature have reflected and reinforced popular understandings of homesteading and contemporary cultural currents. In the 1910s Elinore Pruitt Stewart's Letters of a Woman Homesteader and Oscar Micheaux's The Homesteader minimized the hardships and exaggerated the benefits of homesteading. In the 1920s Ole Rølvaag's Giants in the Earth reflected the public's reduced faith in homesteading and rural life. In the 1930s the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane reflected conservative opposition to the New Deal. Mid-twentieth-century western novels and films about homesteaders reflected Cold War tensions and family values. Influenced by the women's movement, the 1979 film Heartland highlighted the strength of women homesteaders. Early in the 1990s a back-to-the-land movement called “homesteading” flourished. The Hollywood blockbuster, Far and Away, and reality television programs like Frontier House tapped into this fascination with returning to the land and living as homesteaders did.

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NOTES

1. See, for instance, Paul Wallace Gates,
History of Public Land Law Development
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1968
); Everett Dick,
The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal
(
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1970
); Walter T. K. Nugent,
Into the West: The Story of Its People
(
New York
:
Alfred A. Knopf
,
1999
); Paula M. Nelson,
After the West Was Won: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900–1917
(
Iowa City
:
University of Iowa Press
,
1986
); Brian Q. Cannon,
Reopening the Frontier: Homesteading in the Modern West
(
Lawrence
:
University Press of Kansas
,
2009
); Fred A. Shannon,
The Farmers' Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860–1897
(
New York
:
Harper & Row
,
1945
); Gilbert C. Fite,
The Farmers' Frontier, 1865–1900
(
New York
:
Holt, Rinehart & Winston
,
1966
). Karen V. Hansen,
Encounter on the Great Plains: Scandinavian Immigrants and Dakota Indians, 1890–1930
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
2012
); Tonia M. Compton,
“Proper Women, Propertied Women: Federal Land Laws and Gender Order(s) in the Nineteenth-Century Imperial American West”
(
PhD diss.
,
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
,
2009
); Henry Nash Smith,
Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth
(
1950
; repr.,
Cambridge
:
Harvard University Press
,
1978
),
165
260
.
2. Richard Edwards,
“The Making of the Great Plains,”
Prairie Fire: The Progressive Voice of the Great Plains
6
(
Mar.
2012
):
6
.
3. Elinore Rupert Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader,”
Atlantic Monthly
112
(
Oct.
1913
):
433
43
; Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader: A Wedding and Other Matters,”
Atlantic Monthly
112
(
Nov.
1913
):
589
98
; Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader: The Story of Cora Belle,”
Atlantic Monthly
112
(
Dec.
1913
):
820
30
; Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader: The Adventure of the Christmas Tree,”
Atlantic Monthly
113
(
Jan.
1914
):
17
26
; Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader: Horse Thieves,”
Atlantic Monthly
113
(
Feb.
1914
):
170
77
; Stewart,
“Letters of a Woman Homesteader: Calling on the Mormons,”
Atlantic Monthly
113
(
Apr.
1914
):
525
32
; Dona Brown,
Back to the Land: The Enduring Dream of Self-Sufficiency in Modern America
(
Madison
:
University of Wisconsin Press
,
2011
),
53
; Susanne K. George,
The Adventures of the Woman Homesteader: The Life and Letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart
(
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1992
),
19
,
29
; Stewart,
Letters of a Woman Homesteader
(
Boston
:
Houghton Mifflin
,
1914
); Sherry L. Smith,
“Single Women Homesteaders: The Perplexing Case of Elinore Pruitt Stewart,”
Western Historical Quarterly
22
(
May
1991
):
180
.
4. Hal S. Barron,
“Rural America on the Silent Screen,”
Agricultural History
80
(Fall
2006
):
384
; Patrick McGilligan,
The Great and Only Oscar Micheaux: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker
(
New York
:
HarperCollins
,
2007
),
30
94
; Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence,
Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences
(
New Brunswick, NJ
:
Rutgers University Press
,
2000
),
8
9
; Blake Almendinger,
“The Plow and the Pen: The Pioneering Adventures of Oscar Micheaux,”
American Literature
75
(
Sept.
2003
):
545
69
.
5. Oscar Micheaux,
The Homesteader: A Novel
(
1917
; repr.,
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1994
),
24
,
100
,
103
,
131
,
318
20
,
400
; Charles Musser et al., comp.,
“An Oscar Micheaux Filmography: From the Silents through His Transition to Sound, 1919–1931,”
in
Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era
, ed. Pearl Bowser et al. (
Bloomington
:
Indiana University Press
,
2001
),
231
33
.
6. McGilligan,
Great and Only
,
112
,
111
; Bowser and Spence,
Writing Himself
,
113
.
7. McGilligan,
Great and Only
,
144
45
; Bowser and Spence,
Writing Himself
,
27
28
; Nugent,
Into the West
,
211
14
.
8. Nugent,
Into the West
,
182
; Roy M. Robbins,
Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776–1970
(
1942
; repr.,
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1976
),
413
.
9. Paul Reigstad,
Rølvaag: His Life and Art
(
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1972
),
28
,
29
,
32
,
102
,
103
; Einar Haugen,
Ole Edvart Rølvaag
(
Boston
:
Twayne
,
1983
),
7
.
10. O. E. Rølvaag,
Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie
(
New York
:
Harper & Row
,
1927
),
29
,
28
; Kristoffer F. Paulson,
“Berdahl Family History and Rølvaag's Immigrant Trilogy,”
Norwegian-American Studies
27
(
1977
):
55
76
.
11. Reigstad,
Rølvaag
,
116
; Haugen,
Ole Edvart Rølvaag
,
95
. Disenchantment with rural life and the American Dream was far from absolute in popular novels written during the 1920s. Although the main characters in Bess Streeter Aldrich's bestselling novel
A Lantern in Her Hand
(
New York
:
D. Appleton
,
1928
) were not homesteaders—they bought their land from the railroad—their saga offered a favorable depiction of farm life on the plains.
12. Fred A. Shannon,
“The Homestead Act and the Labor Surplus,”
American Historical Review
41
(
July
1936
):
637
51
; Gates,
“Homestead Law.”
Another influential novel published in the 1930s that depicted homesteading was Harold L. Davis's
Honey in the Horn
(
New York
:
Harper & Brothers
,
1935
). Davis memorably described homesteaders' shacks: What was the original reason for the invention of the homestead style of architecture it would be hard to say. It couldn't have been comfort, for the half-inch board walls leaked heat in winter and were furnaces in summer. It certainly wasn't looks, for they were the ugliest objects in sight, so much uglier even than the naked plowed ground that they stood out on it like pimples. It wasn't availability of material, for the country around had tons of stone and adobe (
364
). Janet Spaeth,
Laura Ingalls Wilder
(
Boston
:
Twayne
,
1987
),
7
9
; Donald Zochert,
Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder
(
Chicago
:
Henry Regnery
,
1976
),
232
.
13. Anita Fellman,
Little House Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture
(
Columbia
:
University of Missouri Press
,
2008
),
121
24
,
203
.
14. Zochert,
Laura
,
239
; Fred Erisman,
Laura Ingalls Wilder
(
Boise
:
Boise State University
,
1994
),
19
; Laura Ingalls Wilder,
The Long Winter
(
1940
; repr.,
New York
:
Harper and Row
,
1953
),
99
; Wilder,
By the Shores of Silver Lake
(
1939
; repr.,
New York
:
Harper and Row
,
1953
),
290
.
15. Wilder,
These Happy Golden Years
(
1943
; repr.,
New York
:
Harper & Brothers
,
1953
),
119
.
16. William Holtz,
The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane
(
Columbia
:
University of Missouri Press
,
1993
),
282
,
284
.
17. Ibid.,
281
; Rose Wilder Lane,
Free Land
(
New York
:
Longmans, Green
,
1938
),
8
,
9
,
20
,
297
,
318
,
319
,
321
,
330
31
.
18. Fred Marsh,
Free Land and Other Recent Works of Fiction,”
New York Times Book Review
,
May
15
,
1938
,
95
.
19. Lane to Editor, New York Times, June 5, 1938, 112; Holtz,
Ghost
.
20. Edith Eudora Kohl,
Land of the Burnt Thigh
(
1938
; repr.,
St. Paul
:
Minnesota Historical Society
,
1986
),
xxxiii
.
21. Jane Tompkins,
West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1992
),
5
; Thomas J. Lyon,
“The Literary West,”
Oxford History of the American West
, ed. Clyde A. Milner et al. (
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1994
),
712
,
715
.
22. Few films array homesteaders against American Indians. An exception is the 1960 film The Unforgiven, directed by JohnHuston in which a band of Kiowas attacks the Zachary family's homestead to reclaim their adopted daughter, Rachel, an Indian. Rachel ultimately joins her adopted brothers Ben and Cash in firing on the Indians from their log cabin, driving the Kiowas away. The fact that the Zacharys are homesteaders is peripheral to the plot, but the fact that they have earned the land by their own toil makes the Kiowa attack appear unjust, even though they are homesteading on land that once belonged to Native Americans. Drylanders, a Canadian feature film released by the Canadian National Film Board, offers the richest exploration of homesteaders' farming experiences. See, Albert Ohayon,
“From Documentary to Fiction: The Story behind the NFB's First Feature Film,”
NFB.caBlog, http://blog.nfb.ca/2009/11/27/from-documentary-to-fiction-the-story-behind-the-nfb%E2%80%99s-first-feature-film/ (accessed Mar. 7, 2012); Don Kerr,
“Drylanders,”
Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
, ed. David J. Wishart, http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/ (accessed Mar. 7, 2012); Kristian Moen,
“The Polyphonic Prairies: The Creation and Re-creation of Drylanders,”
Canadian Journal of Film Studies
10
(Spring
2001
):
28
47
.
23.
Gun Lords of Stirrup Basin
, dir. Sam Newfield (
Supreme Pictures
,
1937
).
24. Phillip D. Thomas,
“The Paperback West of Luke Short,”
in
The Popular Western: Essays Toward a Definition
, ed. Richard W. Etulain and Michael T. Marsden (
Bowling Green
:
Bowling Green University Popular Press
,
1974
),
62
; Lillie Hayward,
“Blood on the Moon,”
screenplay transcript, 1948, Electronic Edition, Alexander Street Press, 2006, 40, 75, 102, http://solomon.afso.alexanderstreet.com/cgi-bin/asp/philo/afso/documentidx.pl?work_code=FS001052 (accessed Feb. 6, 2012).
25. Robert Nott,
Last of the Cowboy Heroes: The Westerns of Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, and Audie Murphy
(
Jefferson, NC
:
McFarland
,
2000
),
15
; Nott,
The Films of Randolph Scott
(
Jefferson, NC
:
McFarland
,
2004
),
128
; Ernest Haycox,
Trail Town
(
New York
:
Grosset & Dunlap
,
1941
),
62
;
Abilene Town
, dir. Edwin L. Marin (
Guild Productions
,
1946
).
26. Michael T. Marsden,
“The Making of Shane: A Story for All Media,”
in
Shane: The Critical Edition
, by Jack Schaefer, ed. James C. Wrk (
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1984
),
339
,
21
22
,
278
,
310
.
27. Schaefer,
Shane
,
64
65
,
73
,
117
,
145
,
133
,
146
,
230
,
141
.
28. Marsden,
“Making of Shane,”
340
,
348
; Gerald Haslam,
Jack Schaefer
(
Boise
:
Boise State University Press
,
1975
),
20
.
29.
Shane
, prod. George Stevens (
Paramount Pictures
,
1953
).
30. Anthony Slide, ed.,
De Toth on De Toth: Putting the Drama in front of the Camera
(
London
:
Faber and Faber
,
1996
),
127
,
142
;
Day of the Outlaw
, prod. Philip Yordan and Sidney Harmon (
Security Pictures
,
1959
).
31. Tompkins,
West of Everything
,
28
,
39
40
,
66
.
32. Hal Borland,
High, Wide, and Lonesome: Growing up on the Colorado Frontier
(
Philadelphia
:
J. B. Lippincott
,
1956
),
10
,
11
.
33.
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
,
Homestead Act CentennialJuly 26, 1961
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1961
),
3
.
34. John F. Kennedy,
“Proclamation 3444—Homestead Centennial Year,”
Friends of Homestead National Monument of America
,
Jan.
5
,
1962
, http://homesteadcongress.blogspot.com/2011/06/homestead-centennial-year.html (accessed June 22, 2012).
35. Everett Dick paid tribute to women homesteaders but reinforced the traditional perception of them as emotionally fragile, reluctant helpmeets. Although he acknowledged that there were exceptions, his evidence led him to emphasize women who “stayed until the prairie broke them in spirit and body.” Dick,
“Sunbonnet and Calico, The Homesteader's Consort,”
Nebraska History
47
(
Jan./Mar.
1966
):
13
. Sheryll Patterson-Black,
“Women Homesteaders on the Great Plains Frontier,”
Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
1
(Spring
1976
):
68
; Mary Hargreaves,
“Women in the Agricultural Settlement of the Northern Plains,”
Agricultural History
50
(
Jan.
1976
):
189
.
36. Smith,
“Single Women Homesteaders,”
165
; K. Ross Toole et al.,
“A Proposal for Research and Development for a Series of Hour-Long Programs for Public Television and Educational Use,”
Nov.
15
,
1976
, box 1; Robert J. Kinston to Gordon Browder, May 13[?] 1977, folder “Correspondence: Univ.—NEH,” box 3, Wilderness Women Productions Records, MSS 2170, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter WWPR).
37. Summary of consultants' views, folder “Compiled,” box 1, WWPR.
38. William M. Purdy to Beth Chadwick, Feb. 2, 1978, folder “Elinore Stewart”; “Progress Report No. 3, Wilderness Women Project, 1/15/78–4/15/78,” folder “Quarterly Report 3”; “Final Report,” c. 1978, box 3, WWPR.
39. Questionnaire for Historians, nd, folder “Elinore Stewart File No. 2,” box 5,WWPR.
40. Undated typed script, pp.
13
14
, folder “Stewart Script—1st Draft—Rough,” box 5, WWPR.
41.
Heartland
, dir. Richard Pearce (
Filmhaus, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Wilderness Women
,
1979
); Beverly Vorpahl,
“‘Heartland’ Author Traces Family's Roots,”
Spokane Daily Chronicle
,
“Focus on Entertainment”
Section,
Nov.
13
,
1981
,
4
; Jessie L. Embry,
“A Woman Homesteader: The Making of Heartland,”
unpublished conference paper,
12
17
, copy in author's possession.
42. Bob Dolman and Ron Howard,
Far and Away: The Illustrated Story of a Journey from Ireland to America in the 1890s
(
New York
:
Newmarket
,
1992
),
viii
ix
; Lawrence Christon,
“Epic Picture, Epic Dreams,”
Los Angeles Times
,
May
17
,
1992
, http://articles.latimes.com/1992-05-17/entertainment/ca-172_1_ron-howard-co (accessed June 22, 2012).
43. Dolman and Howard,
Far and Away
,
xi
.
44. Ibid.,
124
.
45.
Far and Away
, dir. Ron Howard (
Imagine Films Entertainment and Universal Pictures
,
1992
).
46. Hal Hinson,
“Far and Away,”
Washington Post
,
May
22
,
1992
, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/farandawaypg13hinson_a0a776.htm (accessed Apr. 23, 2012); Roger Ebert,
“Far and Away,”
Chicago Sun-Times
,
May
22
,
1992
, http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19920522/REVIEWS/205220301#watchit-frame-urlhttp://ebert.gowatchit.com/watchitwidget?origin_url=http%3A%2F%2Frogerebert.suntimes.com%2Fapps%2Fpbcs.dll%2Farticle%3FAID%3D%2F19920522%2FREVIEWS%2F205220301 (accessed Apr. 23, 2012); Todd McCarthy,
“Far and Away,”
Variety Film Reviews
,
May
10
,
1992
, http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117901380/ (accessed Apr. 23, 2012).
47. Rebecca Kneale Gould,
At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
,
2005
),
2
; Wendell Berry,
The Long-Legged House
(
New York
:
Harcourt, Brace & World
,
1969
),
88
; Phillip Weiss,
“Off the Grid,”
New York Times
,
Jan.
8
,
1995
,
5
.
48. TV Entertainment Company, a Canadian corporation, advertised for two couples willing to break ground, build a homestead, and survive for a year off the land, living together exactly as early Manitoba settlers did. The couples selected, each of which earned one hundred thousand dollars for their work, were Frank and Alana Logie and Tim and Deanna Treadway. In 2000 they traveled to their “homesteads” north of Winnipeg for a year's adventure. Their experiences were chronicled in a nine-part series that aired in 2001. The series exaggerated the challenges of homesteading because the learning curve was much steeper for moderns trying to adjust to pioneer lifestyles than it would have been for nineteenth-century farmers. But the climatic and environmental hardships they faced did approximate those that nineteenth-century homesteaders in Manitoba encountered on their claims.
“Pioneer Quest:A Year in the RealWest,”
http://www.pioneerquest.ca/ (accessed June 22, 2012).
49.
Frontier House
, prod. Simon Shaw (Channel Four, Public Broadcasting Service, WNET Thirteen, Wall to Wall Television,
2002
); Shaw,
Frontier House
(
New York
:
Simon & Schuster
,
2002
),
2
.
50. Leigh H. Edwards,
“The Endless End of Frontier Mythology: PBS's Frontier House 2002,”
Film & History
37
(Spring
2007
):
29
; Shaw,
Frontier House
,
vii
.