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James Marshall's illuminating study of dispossession on the frontier begins with the autobiography of a pioneer who met repeated failure. Writing in his old age, Omar Morse (1824-1901) loked back on the successive loss of three homesteads in mid-nineteenth century Wisconsin and Minnesota. The frontier as Morse encountered it was a place of runaway land speculation, of high railroad freight rates, of mortgage foreclosures, and of political and economic chaos. Stoic and resilient in adversity, Morse nevertheless expressed the anger of those for whom the Jeffersonian ideal of an independent yeomanry proved to be a cruel illusion. Marshall moves from Morse's narrative to the historical record of the thousands of similarly dispossessed pioneers and to the legacy of their failure. Politically, their anger was expressed in a grassroots movement that led to formation of the Populist party in the 1880s and 1890s. Culturally, dispossession became a theme in their literature, exemplified in Mark Twain's and Charles Dudley Warner's The Gilded Age and in novels by such Realists as Edward Eggleston, Joseph Kirkland, and Hamlin Garland. Land Fever thus presents the underside of disappointment that has long been the great ignored reality of the splendid success myth of the American frontier.

Blends scholarship with sensitivity to create an exciting book for all serious students of Americana. -- Choice

An authentic nineteenth-century American voice crying in the desert. It is worth hearing. -- Journal of American History

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Omar Morse, Pioneers, Land tenure, Wisconsin, Minnesota


United States History

Land Fever: Dispossession and the Frontier Myth
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