Saturday, May 6, 2017

New Land, by Sarah Schmidt

I'll admit that it's nice to be able to fill in a gap in my list.  This one had been unavailable through the local library system and on a whim I decided to search online.  I found fulltext with illustrations, hooray!  A decision was made that the "pioneers" tag should also apply to homesteading for brevity, so this book will have no covered wagons in it for you!

New Land actually takes place in roughly the 1920's.  The Morgan family (seventeen-year-old twins Charles and Sayre, younger sister Hitty, and their father) are migrating from Chicago to greener pastures in Wisconsin.  Their father is the restless type who has never been able to stay in one place for long without becoming discontented, so the family has been unsettled for a long time, and especially since the death of his wife three years prior from pneumonia.  A coworker had tried homesteading and had failed at it, and offered the land and buildings to the Morgan family to try to settle themselves on.  Sayre is truly hoping that this will finally be their long-term home.  The book is told from her perspective.

Upon arriving in Upton, Wyoming, the family settles into the little house and gets to know the town.  Since the area is already settled and somewhat established, there is a town center with store (run by Mr. Hoskins, the town's most prominent citizen), a high school, and a small community.  But when Mr. Morgan goes to the land office to register his claim, he learns that he is simply not qualified to file.  He has no farming experience and no equipment, and because so many farmers had failed in this particular area, the government had become more selective.  Sympathetically, the land agent tells them that they can certainly remain where they are, but they will have no legal claim on the land they farm.

It's at this time that Sayre develops a plan.  She's fallen in love with this new land and won't leave willingly.  She goes to the local teacher and meets the agriculture instructor there.  Although he's surprised that a girl wants to register for his classes, he agrees to seek permission from the board on her behalf.  As Mr. Kitchell is also the football coach, she hopes that he will be able to use that influence on her football-loving brother to encourage him into the class as well.  Sayre hopes that they can, between them, learn enough about farming to keep their family in its place.

Although Sayre is decisive and optimistic, not everyone is rooting for their success.  The Morgans quickly discover that Upton has a lot of small-town politics, and that those who are ahead wish to remain there, on the backs of their neighbors.  Additionally, the man who originally leased his claim to them returns to "visit," and Sayre quickly intuits that he has misled them, intending to lay claim to their hard work on the land to "prove up" the claim for himself.

There are a lot of factors working against the Morgans, and they are all well-developed (as are the characters).  I especially enjoyed reading this one; the Little House series primed me to enjoy a good homesteading success story, and this one is exceptionally well-written.  I won't spoil the resolution here, you can rest assured in the fact that the final chapter is entitled "The Happy Ending."

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