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In 1904, Scandinavian settlers began moving onto the Spirit Lake Dakota Indian Reservation. These land-hungry first and second generation immigrants struggled with poverty nearly as severe as that of their Dakota neighbors, often becoming sharecropping tenants of Dakota landowners. Yet the homesteaders' impoverishment did not impede native dispossession: by 1929, Scandinavians owned more reservation land than did Dakotas. In the words of one settler, who staked a claim with her widowed mother in 1905: "We stole the land from the Indians."
Encounter on the Great Plains captures this encounter to bring together two key processes in American history: the unceasing migration of people to North America, and the protracted dispossession of indigenous peoples who inhabited the continent. Although this historical encounter at Spirit Lake took place in a small corner of eastern North Dakota, it encapsulates the story of conquest and white settlement and the less publicized, but equally important, story of the dispossession and survival of Native Americans. The material wealth and the nationalist mythology of the United States are built upon this history.
Karen V. Hansen captures this moment in time through the distinctive, uniquely American voices of this particular encounter while providing insights into similar cultural meeting points between Native Americans and European immigrants that played out across the western United States.
Karen V. Hansen is Professor of Sociology & Women's and Gender Studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of Not-So-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care and A Very Social Time: Crafting Community in Antebellum New England