Happy as a Big Sunflower: Adventures in the West, 1876-1880
In 1876 Rolf Johnson and his family left Illinois for Phelps County, Nebraska. There they faced the challenges of pioneering on the Great Plains: digging wells, building sod houses, plowing and planting crops, and fighting prairie fires. Johnson's diary goes beyond individual conquest, however, and provides insight into the great cooperative endeavor of plains settlement. Rolf's Swedish family and neighbors worked and socialized with other Swedes just as nearby Danish settlers remained in close physical and cultural contact with other Danish immigrants. A very eligible ninetten-year-old bachelor, Rolf also offers touching vignettes on the rituals of courting. Abruptly, with no explanation in his diary, and with no itinerary or prospects, Rolf left home in 1879 "with the intention of going west for a season." His departure may have been sparked by the marital fervor exhibited by a female suitor. Rolf felt he was "not quite prepared to leave the state of single blessedness for that of double misery." In Sidney, Nebraska, he ran with the "sporting" element, who showed him photographs of "fast women of the town stark naked." He found employment with a wagon freighter headed for the Black Hills, where he saw Calamity Jane in action. Rolf's education continued until the diaries end in Cubero, New Mexico, in 1880. He returned to Phelps County in 1882 and remained there for most of his life. Rolf's lively diaries offer an entertaining eyewitness account of pioneer life and an unmatched resource for historians. Richard E. Jensen is a research anthropologist with the Nebraska State Historical Society. He is coeditor of Eyewitness at Wounded Knee (Nebraska 1992) and author of numerous articles for Nebraska History magazine.
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22 The emigrants may have found some comfort in knowing they would not be
the first Swedes from the Henderson Grove vicinity to go west . ... This association
aided emigrants in establishing a number of Swedish colonies in Kansas .
Only four of this group had Swedish names . The remaining twenty - nine
claimants , including eight Swedes , were scattered across the county . 29 When
the Johnsons and their friends arrived , Rolf noted specifically that they were "
going out ...
It seems the Swedish settlers either were more frugal or were simply poorer than
their non - Swedish neighbors , who accounted for nearly 90 percent of the
purchases . 35 Swedes in Phelps County were better at receiving the title to land
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Happy as a big sunflower: adventures in the West, 1876-1880User Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
This diary is in many ways as charming as its title. With the enthusiasm and innocence of young adulthood, Johnson records several years of his life as a first-generation Swedish American farmer in ... Read full review
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