Hamlin Garland was hugely popular writer and speaker of the early 1900’s, although today you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of him. He was born in 1860, and wrote in the ‘realism’ school of fiction, depicting the difficult lives of the forward-moving pioneers, especially the lives of women.
His most popular books were his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border , written in 1917 at the age of 57, followed by A Daughter of the Middle Border, written in 1921 and which won a Pulitzer Prize.
He was always outspoken about issues of politics, the pioneering life, and Henry George’ single tax movement. In his later life, he became interested in psychic phenomenon and in his final work, The Mystery of the Buried Crosses ,he tried to justify the veracity of mediumship.
His father, newly home to their Wisconsin farm from the Civil War, has the soul of an explorer and pioneer, and is not content to work his farm, but wants to go further afield as the ‘middle border’ moved westward, out of the green farming country to the plains, and further to the arid regions.
My boyhood was spent in the midst of a charming landscape and during a certain heroic era of western settlement. The men and women of that far time loom large i my thinking for they possessed not only the spirit of adventurers but the courage of warriors.
His story is not only the story of his life but the chronicle of the era of settlement between 1840 and 1914.
It is a beautifully written account of the difficulties of his boyhood and of farm life, which in his later years he refuses to prettify in poetic phrases. It was tough, harsh, and especially hard on the women. He lived through the era of the ‘prairie schooner’ to the coming of the railroads and the car. He saw it as a time of the breakup of the family,
I now perceived the mournful side of American ‘enterprise’. Sons were desertig their work-worn fathers, daughters were forgetting their tired mothers. Families were everywhere breaking up. Ambitious young men and unsuccessful old men were in restless motion, spreading, swarming, dragging their reluctant women and their helpless and wondering children into unfamiliar hardships. At times I visioned the Middle border as a colony of ants — which was an injustice to the ants, for ants have a reason for their apparently futile and aimless striving.
Can any other country on earth surpass the United States in the ruthless broadcast dispersion of its families?
A wonderful story of farming, migration, and of a country that is growing up.