The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992 Page: 125
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Far From Home traces the fortunes of three separate groups of immigrants:
the Mahck family, who moved from Illinois to Oregon Territory in 1848;
Charles and Maggie Brown, who departed Virginia for the mining camps of
Colorado in the early i88os; and the Neher and Martin families, who together
left Russia for the Dakota frontier in 1909. The record of these families' expe-
riences compiled by Schlissel, Gibbens, and Hampsten is a depressing one,
echoing the themes in Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip; each family struggles
vainly against chaos and disintegration, ultimately leaving only a legacy of pain,
suffering, and alienation. In fact, Schlissel argues in her absorbing final chapter,
the terms "family" and "frontier" do not even "come together," as the frontier
symbolizes the expansive, the unlimited, the transient, and "family" implies
boundaries and rootedness (p. 231).
From this perspective, the Turnerian idea of immigrants first changing in
response to the environment, then changing the environment to suit them
seems far too optimistic. In Far From Home, the families are broken by the fron-
tier; they retreat, scatter, or survive only at such tremendous personal cost that
all positive attributes of family life are lost-and children suffer as much as
their parents from the harshness and discontinuity of frontier living. Thus, in
Far From Home, former pioneer child Pauline Neher Diede's affirmation of her
love for the prairies and for her adopted country is presented as an unsuc-
cessful attempt to wrest some value from the grueling early pioneering experi-
ences of the Neher and Martin families.
By contrast, West's Growing Up with the Country provides a varied and gener-
ally positive view of childhood on the Western frontier. Examining the reminis-
cences of former frontier children, including a number of West Texans, West
concludes, "Young boys and girls did have their troubles, yet the huge majority
did not think they lived blighted lives" (p. xxii).
West ably shows that young pioneers often developed a deep aesthetic and
psychological appreciation for their new environment and came to a "secure
sense of [their own] worth and capability" (p. 256) as they met the challenges
inherent in frontier living. He also presents an affirmative view of the frontier
family as a cohesive unit. Parents struggling to adjust to their new mode of life
usually still managed to demonstrate affection and concern for their offspring;
indeed, families often relocated to provide the children with educational
Meanwhile, unhampered by much of the cultural baggage their mothers and
fathers carried westward, the children thrived among their frontier freedoms.
Yet, West argues, these freedoms did not turn them into social misfits; on the
contrary, though they experienced some internal conflict, many grew into re-
sponsible adults. In West's analysis, then, the frontier experience had a gener-
ally benevolent effect on the people most likely to respond to and absorb a new
environment-those pioneers who first approached their new life "from two or
three feet off the ground" (p. xviii).
While Growing Up wzth the Country may appear overly optimistic in its conclu-
sions to some, and Far From Home overly bleak to others, both enhance our
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992, periodical, 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/m1/153/: accessed May 25, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.