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O pioneers

Until the late eighteenth century, any land located beyond the Alleghany mountains

was believed to be savage, uninhabited land. Thus, it became known as the American

frontier. According to Turner, the definition of frontier means, "the meeting point

between savagery and civilization and a region of sparse settlement." 1 With the

overwhelming number of frontiersmen invading this uninhabited land, many myths about

winning the West arose, some containing truth, while others neglecting to tell the truth

about treatment of Indians. Many of these myths referred to them as being the victims of

white man's progress. In the short tale, O Pioneers, written by Willa Cather in 1913, tells

a tale of the oncoming future of the Great Plains. Although this tale tells about the great

fortune of the plains, it forgets to mention the heartaches of the Native Americans.

Willa Cather was born December 7 , 1873 in a town west of Winchester, Virginia.2

In 1884, the Cather's moved their four children to a town called Red Cloud in Nebraska

where they arrived to a place uninhabited, but with much fortune and hard work ahead of

them. 3 In 1890, Willa attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she gained the

knowledge and creativity to write such beautiful work. In her first works, Willa's

animosity towards Nebraska was relevant in her work. 4 After she went east in 1896 and

became editor of McClure's Magazine and gained success, her feeling toward Nebraska

changed, which was evident in "The Bohemian Girl," in 1912. 5

When she published O Pioneers in 1913, many of her memories of childhood and

life on the prairie were depicted in the tale. For example, a phrase in the tale O Pioneers is

a memoir of the Divide when she was a child:

"The variegated field, are all one colour now; the pastures, the stubble, the roads,

the sky the same keaden gray. The frozen ground is so hard it bruises the foot to walk in

the roads or in the ploughed fields." 6

After the quick rise of her successful career, Cather wrote many more wonderful

works that revolved around her home . . . the Divide. Willa Cather died on April 24, 1947

in New York City as a celebrated person and a talented author.

The Great Plains, America's largest openland frontier, may be defined as the region

between the 98th meridian on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west and

extending from southern Texas up to the forested area in northeastern Canada. 7 The

climate of the Great Plains is distinguished by its unpredictable weather, low rainfall, high

winds and immoderate temperatures throughout the seasons.

When the settlers from most European countries came to inhabit the new,

unsettled land, they had no idea what was in store for them concerning weather and the

Indian tribes of the land. The plains Indians created the worst threat to the white man that

began to advance into the frontier. These tribesmen were difficult to control since they

were nomadic and took their homes with them and lived off the land. 8 The Indians

followed the buffalo, as it was their main source of food and clothing. When the white

man drove the buffalo off the land, the Indians were forced to stay on reservations created

by the white man. Reservations were made because the frontiersman couldn't obey their

property regulations.

In the book, O Pioneers, it does not reflect upon the Indians right for the land, in

fact, it disregards them from the life of the Divide. In 1854, treaties with the tribal

Indians began, which paved the way for white settlers to open up the plains territory. 9

These treaties initiated settlement of Nebraska, where the tale O Pioneers takes place.

The aborigines occupied the land as tribal land, but as Klose states, it was not privately

owned. Therefore, the government made the treaties so the territorial ownership by the

tribes would not be recognized, keeping the whites out. However, intrusions could not be

stopped. The white man did not want free, fertile land to go to waste on the Indians

when, Christian men lived in want." 10 The federal government found it impossible to

enforce the obedience to its own laws much less agreements with Indians. An example of

this land intrusion in the book O Pioneers is stated on page 3811, when Alexandra

Bergson, the main character in the book, wants to buy 1,400 more acres of land, the only

concern is where she will get the money to buy it.

"The thing to do is sell our cattle and what little corn we buy at the Linstrum

place. Then take out two loans on our half-sections."

In this conversation she is having with her two brothers, there is no concern for the

Indian Tribes. Alexandra, like many other frontier men and women, ignore the fact that

the Indians have rights to the land. Instead, many Native American tribes were forced off

their land or their "mother" as many Indians refer to it as. Many settlers think the land is

only good enough for white Christian men and the land is of no worth to the Native tribes

of the plains.

The only mention of any type of Indian on the Divide is the character Ivar.

Although, there is no formal introduction that he is an Indian, the characters of the book

refer to him as "Crazy Ivar" because he is said to be able to talk to animals. I believe that

Ivar is an Indians because many Native Americans believe they are one with the earth and

nature. An example in the book which leads the reader to believe he is an Indian is, "he

disliked the litter of human dwellings: he preferred the cleanness and tidiness of the wild

sod." In my opinion, this refers him as being one with the land. An example of the

pioneers forcing Ivar off his land is stated on page 52, "when Ivar lost his land through

mismanagement over a dozen years ago." Indians usually lost their land if they had any in

the times of the "winning of the west." This example again states that the Native tribes

were eventually forced off their home land and as a result went to live on the white man's


In the short tale, O Pioneers, by Willa Cather, 1913 tells a tale about the oncoming

future of the Great Plains. Although this tale is told about the great fortune of the

pioneers, the book and the myths that were created during this time about the Winning of

the West, forget to mention the heartaches and loss of land among the Native tribes.

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