Somewhat involuntarily, the Midwest became the area of choice for immigrants from middle Europe and Scandinavia, since by 1867, the Eastern Seaboard had become filled with the English, Scots, and Irish.

Many would find it an ugly place, an interminable plain broken by the creeks and streams of the Platte River, the single waterway that traversed its length. Others would see beauty in the silence and the solitude and those were the ones who would stay, no matter how inhospitable the prairie became.

Those traveling further Westward drove their oxen-pulled wagons to follow the Oregon Trail across the prairie, encountering first the rolling foothills and then the sandhills of Nebraska's Panhandle, with its red sandstone buttes and buttresses thrusting savagely upward as if clawing at the sky. At the end of the Great Plains, where the high mountains of the Rockies began, they carved their names and the dates of their passage, and sometimes the deaths of loved ones, into the soft surfaces of the majestic pillars called Courthouse and Chimney Rocks. Leaving behind this monument to their existence, they faced the even more alien terrain of the Northwest which appeared to have been ripped from another planet and deposited into their paths.

It was given the name of The Badlands by someone with a malevolent sense of humor, described by more than one survivor as the place where the devil might vacation and still feel at home! Though it might later prove a Hell in disguise, tales of the land across the Ocean with its vast open plains filled with fertile soil lured many wishing to own their own little bit of Eden.

Besides the elements and the lack of water, they fought disease and sickness. Entire families perished of influenza and the little country graveyards filled with several generations within days. Many hopes and dreams lay buried in makeshift coffins in little plots of ground dug into the soil they had once owned and which they would never leave.

Sometimes the survivors, not being able to bear looking upon the land which had stolen their loved ones, admitted defeat and returned to Europe, bitter and brokenhearted. Others simply abandoned their farms and moved on, hoping for easier times and more accommodating environments further west.

(This is an excerpt from WALK THE SHADOW TRAIL, my novel published in honor of Nebraska's 125th anniversary of Statehood. The photo is of a sod house at Ash Hollow on the Oregon Trail.)

7 comments

  1. Nightingale // July 12, 2008 at 2:30 PM  

    Beautifully written and intriguing. Almost literary in its cadence. Enjoyed muchly.

  2. Nightingale // July 12, 2008 at 2:30 PM  

    Loved the title too.

  3. Toni V.S. // July 12, 2008 at 2:34 PM  

    Thanks, Linda! It's from WALK THE SHADOW TRAIL, my novel and audiobook about the settling of Nebraska.

  4. Beth Trissel // July 12, 2008 at 3:18 PM  

    Very interesting and well written post, Toni. I didn't know all of this history.

  5. Mary Marvella // July 12, 2008 at 5:38 PM  

    You make dry history read like fiction. I lived in Missouri for four years and I missed Georgia like crazy!

    Good article.

  6. Mary Ricksen // July 12, 2008 at 10:14 PM  

    I had no idea that's why they called it the badlands, and I always wondered. Sounds like one great story.

  7. Melba // July 13, 2008 at 2:41 AM  

    Very interesting reading. I never get tired of history. That's why I majored in it! Good job!