Homesteading

Percy Wollaston, Author, Jonathan Raban, Foreword by
Percy Wollaston, Author, Jonathan Raban, Foreword by Lyons Press $20 (156p) ISBN 978-1-55821-602-0
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-14-027915-3
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""We are all of us pioneers in our time, wearing the clothes that are most suitable, making the best of the present situation and learning to cope with new conditions."" Wollaston's arresting, plain-spoken yet hardly simplistic descriptions of pre-WWI homesteading on the finally infertile Montana plains are sprinkled with such statements on life in general, with nary a false note struck. Wollaston (1904-1983) wrote this manuscript in the 1970s and gave it to his son, intending it for his grandchildren. He repeatedly insists that he aims not to give a full picture of his life and times, but to record some of the details he observed as a boy of the ways in which those who sought to ""prove up"" claims on 320 free acres scratched out a living, for a while, on barren land. The grim pragmatism that was required seeps into his prose, which hints, without false gravity, at the everyday tragedies of life on the plains, while also recalling the best that it brought out in his family and neighbors. Raban's (Bad Land) foreword puts the Wollastons' struggle into a larger perspective, showing how the Montana land grants were basically a scam from the beginning. (The manuscript was credited as a source in Raban's book, sparking the interest of the publisher.) Despite the failures he depicts, Wollaston's carefully framed sentences showcase the best of American optimism, know-how and decency. Photos. (Oct.)
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