Honestly, I was surprised that I enjoyed this book, but I really did. I’m not really into fiction books written in journal entry form, and besides The Diary of Anne Frank I can’t remember truly loving any books written in this way. I guess maybe it is different when you know the journal entries are real. Written by real people.
The subtitle of this book is Letters from a Kansas Homesteader 1977-78. The journal entries were written by Howard Ruede, who was a settler from Bethlehem Pennsylvania. He settled near Osbourne, Kansas and his family slowly trickled out to join him. At the time of publication (1937) Ruede still had family living in Kansas. I haven’t done any research myself, beyond reading the book, but it is possible that he still has descendents here.
Osbourne, is not quite 200 miles from where I live, and I must say I found many things fascinating about his description of my home state. First of all, it was wet and rainy. Now, the northern part of the state does tend to get more moisture than the southern, but this blew me away. One of the very few footnotes provided by the editor does state the this was a particularly wet year for Kansas, and not at all typical. Poor Howard made fun of his fellow settlers who teased each other about the unusual rain. I don’t think he quite understood how atypical it was. We would kill for that kind of moisture out here now.
It was also interesting to read, first hand, how this settling thing worked. Although the people worked hard, they helped each other a lot. Cash was important, but they often paid each other in goods, which I knew. What I didn’t realize, was how much they traded work. One man may put in so many hours helping with a harvest in exchange for the other man providing chopped wood, or breaking hours.
This is Howard’s ‘journal’, in that it told about his everyday life. He recounts when he got up, what he ate, where he worked, and when he slept. He shares costs and describes people and events. However, this journal served a dual purpose in that he sent it home too. These were letters to his family as well, who I think also had certain letters published in their local paper. Many people from his home town were interested in what life was like in Kansas, and some were even considering moves themselves. So, he asks after certain family members, gives advise to those who are preparing to come out, and requests supplies like shirts and newspapers.
Since he knew his audience and his audience knew him, some of it can get a bit confusing for modern readers. He abbreviates names, and brings up events that seem out of nowhere to us, with no context, but no doubt made sense to his family. Also, I’m not sure Howard ever met a paragraph. Perhaps they hadn’t been invented yet?
To many people this would no doubt be a dull read, and I can assure you that there have been times in my life where I couldn’t have gotten through it. Now though I find it a soothing and interesting read. I learned new vocabulary and a few times I had look words and information up to completely understand. Which my nerdy self enjoyed immensely. I like to know things and share them, so my husband got to learn a lot of new stuff about settlers as well. He was just as fascinated of course;)
As I’ve matured, ahem, I’ve found myself enjoying books about history and real people much more than I did when I was younger. I’m sure there are all sorts of psychological and sociological reasons for this and I could fill a couple of posts with that information. But, I’m just happy that I find these thing interesting now. It is so much more fun to be engaged by information, than it is just to be looking for entertainment. Know what I mean?