Cover Art Description:
Western artists have painted many symbols longer-lived than the period they characterize in American historyóthe placer miner and his pan, the cowboy and his range cattle, the cavalry soldier pursuing Indiansóbut each suggests a mythic past inaccessible to most of us. The pioneer, however, caught up in the labor of the day, trying desperately to make a living in a western landscape that only reluctantly yields its bounty, offers a shared sense of struggle and minor triumphs in the face of adversity. Harvey Dunnís "Homesteaderís Wife" (oil on canvas, 30" x 30", 1916, courtesy South Dakota Art Museum Collection) for example, lays out an iconic image of a homesteader coping with land and work and wind on the northern plains. Dunn (1884-1952), born in Dakota Territory and the son of homesteaders, understood the frustrations and rewards of plains life. As Dunnís subject toils with her ox, her gaze and tight grip suggest a resolute determination to finish the dayís tasks and ready herself for more of the same tomorrow.
In Seenaís Kohlís article about Maggie Gorman Davis, this resolution manifests itself in myriad ways, even in a family defeated by drought, insects, and bankruptcy. Margaret Bellís account of growing up on a hardscrabble homestead offers a rare glimpse into a childís homesteading experience. And as Elliott West notes in his thoughtful exploration of American trails, homesteaders came west on trails that have entered the national consciousness as part of a past transmuting itself into a complex heroic narrative in need of examination and new interpretation.
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