900 Miles from Nowere

This exquisitely produced collection was assembled by St. Paul writer Steven Kinsella and published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It consists primarily of letters and diary entries from folks who homesteaded on the Great Plains during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their stories are often grim—like this 1873 missive from a recent transplant to Marshall, Minnesota: "I try to trust in God's promises, but we can't expect him to work miracles nowadays," wrote Mary E.L. Carpenter to an aunt back on the East Coast. "Nevertheless, all that is expected of us is to do the best we can & that we shall certainly endeavor to do. Even if we do freeze & starve in the way of duty, it will not be a dishonorable death." But many of these narratives are also quite amusing. The title of the book, in fact, comes from a letter written by a Cottonwood, South Dakota, resident, who signed off her missives with that witty geographical description of her new home. These intimate narratives are interspersed with photographs of the tough frontier territory: sod homes, tornado-ravaged barns, and flat, empty prairie. Kinsella, formerly the press secretary for South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, deftly sets up the first-person narratives and then wisely gets the hell out of the way. These hardscrabble tales of struggle and love and loss on the Great Plains don't need any garnishment.


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