FILEDS OF FORTUNE: 'Viking' Farmers In America by author Robert Dodge details the trials and tragedies of a family of Norwegian settlers on the Great Plains, spanning Norway, immigration, adaptation to the New World. Below, the author shares five things you might not know about the homesteaders of the time.
Homesteaders in the upper Great Plains experienced extreme and rapid temperature changes that were caused by what were called "Chinook winds." These warm winds came from the east side of the Rocky Mountains and warmed the temperature. A dramatic example came in Alberta, where the main characters in my upcoming book, FIELDS OF FORTUNE, homesteaded. There, the temperature once increased by 106 degrees Fahrenheit in one hour. Another in South Dakota caused a change of 49 degrees in two minutes.
One common characteristic of being a homesteader was isolation—living alone in cabins a considerable distance from others—and visits to towns were infrequent. This resulted in some people developing a mental illness known as "prairie madness" for which many were institutionalized. A main character in the book may have suffered from this.
Homeless to Homesteading
Among those who took up the opportunity for fee land and became homesteaders were some were some who had been hoboes. That includes a major character in this book. In the early 1900s, hoboes had their own written language, special symbols they wrote for others passing to the same location to help them.
High Rate of Child Mortality
Many of the families discussed in this book endured the sorrow of losing children at birth or soon after. In 1900, deaths of children under the age of five constituted 30% of all deaths in the United States. Fortunately, that number was greatly reduced as the century progressed.
The Spanish Flu Originated in the U.S.
The Spanish Flu, which originated in the United States, infected one-third of the people in the world in 1918-1919 as World War I came to an end and killed far more people than the war. It hit rural Alberta in 1919. The main characters all caught it on their isolated homestead and school was canceled for the year. Everyone who went into town was required to wear a gauze mask made of cheese cloth.