Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 13:2 (Spring 1993). Copyright © 1993 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


Elizabeth Hampsten wrote Settlers' Children: Growing Up on the Great Plains to answer some basic questions about the lives of children during the settlement era in North Dakota (with a few examples added from South Dakota and northwestern Minnesota). "What was it like for children in the first years of settlement ... what did they think of their childhood?" (p. 3) she asks. To provide the answers she examines memoirs and other autobiographical materials written by people who were children on the Plains and also examines the writings of some plains mothers who detailed the lives of their children. Most of these people are "obscure" or unknown, although Hampsten does use the writings of Hamlin Garland to illustrate some concluding points. This is not a standard history by any means; in fact, it is not a history at all. Hampsten is an English professor and while she deals with the past in this book, she does so from the perspective of literary analysis and without the sense of time and context an historian would bring to the work. The result is a book that is extremely frustrating for an historian to read and review. The raw materials are fascinating and readable. The author's understanding and interpretation of them is questionable.