Dear Portal friends: Do you enjoy having history at your fingertips? We’ve appreciated your support over the years, and need your help to keep history alive. Here’s the deal: we’ve received a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Now it’s time to keep our word and raise matching funds for the Cathy Nelson Hartman Portal to Texas History Endowment. If even half the people who use the Portal this month give $5, we’d meet our $1.5 million goal immediately! All donations are tax-deductible and support Texas history: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Not Now

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Revews

Cultural geographers Terry G. Jordan and Matti Kaups have revived the old
argument for significant northern European influence in the creation and ex-
pansion of a distinctive American pioneer culture. They contend that this cul-
ture was diffused from the colony of New Sweden, established along the lower
Delaware River in 1638, through most of the eastern United States and much
of the Trans-Mississippi West (including Texas). "As principal agents of diffu-
sion" they propose not the Swedes themselves but "the ethnic Finns who formed
a substantial part of the population . . . of New Sweden" (p. 36). These were
predominantly Savo-Karelian Finns, many of whom came to the New World via
Sweden and were uniquely preadapted to cope with the vast, mesothermal for-
ests of the New World.
Jordan and Kaups also contend that after the Finins the most important con-
tributors to pioneer adaptation were the Indians of colonial America, especially
the Delawares. The Europeans borrowed certain adaptive systems from Native
Americans and racially mixed with them "on a scale previously unrecognized"
(pp. 36-37). The pioneer adaptive strategy was therefore basically "Fenno-
Indic," but the Scotch-Irish [sic] were the greatest single group to become part
of that process. In the judgment of the authors, the Scotch-Irish were more the
imitators than originators of backwoods culture.
To support their primary thesis, Jordan and Kaups compare Savo-Karelian
and pioneer housing, agriculture, axmanship, fencing, hunting, gathering, and
other adaptive systems. Especially persuasive is their illustrated discussion of
log construction techniques and design; less convincing are their arguments for
Finnish influence on nonmaterial facets of pioneer culture. On occasion they
push their arguments well beyond plausibility-for example estimating Indian
genetic impact oin the basis of the 1980 census and the eagerness of many
"Wannabe" Indians to claim such ancestry. Likewise, they go so far as to claim
that "Had Palatines, Yankees, or planters led the way [in pioneering], the
United States might have remained an Atlantic littoral state, an eastern ethnic
enclave like French Quebec" (p. I02).
In stressing Finnish influence, Jordan and Kaups directly contradict Freder-
ick Jackson Turner's famous paean to the impact of the frontier environment
on culture. On another level, however, they implicitly argue for a backwoods
melting pot-for a frontier culture that, whatever its European roots, pro-
duced relatively homogenous pioneers with a template of supposed common
characteristics like individualism, desire for personal freedom, and a disrespect
for law and order.
The Ametcan Backwoods Fiontiec is an aggressively argued, provocative book
that is sure to inspire debate, but the authors have constructed imposing battle
lines that will require critics to take a fresh look at an old argument long
thought dead.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville JOHN R. FINGER
Soldie.s of Mn.sfoztune: The Somervell and Mite Expeditions. By Sam W. Haynes.
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 199o. Pp. x11+268. Preface, maps, illus-
trations, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95.)


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 1, 2016.

Beta Preview