The Great Plains Identity
While New England and Dixie are the most well-known and fully formed cultures in the [u]nited States, there are other regional cultures that deserve attention, as well as the ability to grow and flourish consistent with the logos, the inner essence and end goal, of their being. One of these is the culture of the Great Plains, called ‘The Breadbasket’ by Joel Garreau in his book The Nine Nations of North America. Its approximate location is shown in this image:
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nine_Nations_of_North_America, 27 Nov. 2017
The sort of cultural health we are writing of is extremely difficult at the moment due to the corrosive effect of the selfish, commercialistic non-culture of American exceptionalismthat permeates so much of life in the States. But it is hoped that even this brief look at the past of the Great Plains States will encourage a move towards reviving the forgotten cultural inheritance of this region.
Rather than remaining despised hinterland subjects of the Elite in Washington City, fit only for economic exploitation, the people of the Plains, re-embracing their history and their forefathers, could forge a different way forward as New Germany or New Scandinavia, seeking their place in the world along with other distinct cultures that are in a similar position of suppression but that desire a greater measure of freedom: Catalonia, Lombardy, Wales, and so on.
Below is an historical sketch taken from ‘Ethnic Group Settlement on the Great Plains’ that hopefully others in the Plains will build upon in the future for the sake of their cultural well-being. It is written by Frederick C. Luebke of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1977).
None of this is yet the goal, however. One will notice the marks of Modernity (like denominationalism) even in this step back from the void that iscurrent American life. Work will need to go on until all the accretionsof the SecondEurope, which came into being after the Great Schism of 1054 -Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and humanism/atheism - have been removed, until we have arrived back at the faith of the First Europe, the Europe of the Orthodox Church, the Europe of Sts Ansgar, Boniface, Olaf, and Sigfrid. That is when life will truly begin to flourish in the Plains, in Western Europe, and in all the places inhabited by her children. That is when true cultural identity will take shape.
But first, for the Plainsmen, there must come the realization that there is something better for them than the ‘idea of America’. May MrLuebke’s work help in that.
. . .
By far the most numerous immigrant people to settle in the Great Plains states were the Germans. They were most heavily concentrated in Nebraska, where in 1900, persons of German stock (first and second generation, or the immigrants and their children) accounted for 18 percentof the total population. In Kansas, they constituted a significantlysmaller proportion of the population (9 percent). Much less numerousin the sparsely populated Dakotas, they nevertheless formed 14 percentin South Dakota and 10 percent in North Dakota. Even in Oklahoma,which was not opened to settlement until the 1890s, the Germans wereby far the most numerous single ethnic group.12
Although they formed heavy concentrations in certain specific areas, the Germans were widely distributed, and at least a few could be foundin nearly every county on the plains. The proportion of farmers amongthem was very high, and consequently they were more numerous in thehumid, eastern counties of Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas than incounties solidly within the Great Plains region. Similarly, they tended tobe more numerous in the countryside than in the towns. Occupationally,the town Germans were especially successful as merchants and craftsmen,serving their countrymen from the surrounding farms.
. . .
The census data can be somewhat misleading because the Germanswere first of all a culture group rather than a people to be identified witha particular country. Thus, most Swiss, Alsatians, and Austrians who cameto the Great Plains states were also Germans in language and culture, andalmost all persons registered in the census of the Great Plains states ashaving been born in Russia were actually Germans whose families hadmigrated 50 to 100 years earlier to Russia, settling in Bessarabia, the area north of the Black Sea, and the Volga River region. There, at the invitation of Russian rulers, they lived in exclusively German communities.Having been granted significant cultural and political autonomy whenthey came, these Germans learned in 1871, to their great dismay, that theirspecial privileges had been withdrawn. Faced with programs of Russificationand conscription into the imperial army, substantial numbers of theseGermans decided to emigrate. Beginning in 1873, the flow continued until World War 1.14
The Russian Germans went to many lands, but the United States attracted most of them. Oriented to an agricultural way of life, they naturally sought out the cheap lands of the Great Plains. In contrast tothe Germans from Germany, the Russian Germans retained a remarkable sense of cohesion and formed tightly knit communities, highly integratedon the basis of their religion and their origin in Russia. Most who came to Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma emigrated from the Volga region, while the Dakotas received those from the region north of the Black Sea. Similarly, Catholics among them settled in specific communities in North Dakota and Kansas, but are almost entirely absent from Nebraska. Mennonites founded large communities in Kansas, Oklahoma,and South Dakota, but they are less common in North Dakota,Colorado, and Nebraska. Meanwhile, Lutheran and Congregational communities of Russian Germans are numerous in Nebraska, Colorado, and the Dakotas.16
Russian Germans are most significant, both proportionately and inraw numbers, in North Dakota, where they dominate the central andsouth central part of the state. This area extends southward into South Dakota between the Missouri and the James rivers. Another South Dakota area of concentration lies in the southeastern part of the stateon the fringe of the Great Plains. In Nebraska, Russian Germans are especially numerous in Lincoln and west along the Burlington Railroad. Another important district is centered in the North Platte Valley around Scotts bluff. A similar concentration is located in the South Platte Valleystretching west and southwest to Denver in Colorado. Kansas has two main enclaves-the Mennonite area north of Wichita and the Catholiccommunities of Ellis County near Hays. In Oklahoma, the Russian Germans are found solidly within the Great Plains west and northwestof Oklahoma City.16
The Russian Germans are especially important in the developmentof the Great Plains area. They revolutionized wheat production in the southern plains through the introduction of Turkey Red wheat, a hardwinter wheat especially suited to the Great Plains environment. Unusually thrifty, hardworking, and persistent, the Russian Germans succeeded agriculturally where others faltered. They provided a substantial reservoir of labor for the construction and maintenance of railroads in the West, and in the early twentieth century, their labor, organized chiefly on afamily basis, made sugar beet culture a success in Nebraska and Colorado.17 Their descendants remain on the plains today and constitute a major element contributing to contemporary Great Plains conservatism.
Other German-speaking immigrants on the plains were the Swiss, Austrians, and Alsatians. These groups were rarely numerous enough to form strong colonies of their own. Consequently, the Swiss Germansusually merged with Germans from Germany, although identifiable colonies developed in Platte County, Nebraska, and near New Basel, Bern,and Gridley, in Kansas.18 Austrians are usually difficult to identify. While some were clearly German-speaking people from various parts of the Austrian Empire, others were actually Polish, Slovenian, or other non-Germangroups. Although Alsace became part of Germany in 1871, Alsatians often indicated France as the country of their birth. Finally, it should be noted that some of the persons classified as English-speaking Canadians in the census data were actually the children of German emigrants who lived in Canada for some years before moving on to the United States.
The second largest group of immigrants on the Great Plains is formedby a combination of English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and English Canadians.The most numerous group of English-speaking people were the Irish. Inveterate haters of the English, they continued to stream to Americain the decades after the devastating famines of the mid-nineteenth century. Desperately poor and lacking education and craft skills, the Irish did notordinarily possess the means to establish themselves on farms. Hence, they tended to congregate in the towns, where they worked as common laborers and as railroad workers. Nevertheless, Irish farm colonies werenot unknown on the Great Plains. Perhaps the best known is O'Neill, Nebraska, and the several communities founded by the Irish CatholicColonization Society during the 1870s in Greeley County, Nebraska.19 An undetermined number of persons listed as Irish-born in the censusmanuscripts were Scotch-Irish Protestants from northern Ireland.
. . .
Of the Scandinavian people in the Great Plains states, the Norwegiansare the most numerous. At least half settled in North Dakota,where they are by far the largest single ethnic group. Most common inthe eastern counties of the Red River Valley, they are also numerous inthe north and west, surrounding the Russian Germans who occupy thesouth central part of the state. They were predominantly farmers and haveadhered strongly to Lutheranism. More homogeneous than their culturalcousins, the Germans, they were, nevertheless, often divided by disputesbetween pietists and the orthodox within their churches. Their immigrantculture, however, conditioned them to favor cooperative economic andpolitical ventures. Thus, their attitudes help to explain the curious mixture of conservatism and radical progressivism that has been characteristic of North Dakota politics in the twentieth century.
In South Dakota, the Norwegians have been outnumbered only bythe more widely distributed Germans. Concentrated in the eastern countiesof the state, they have not been numerous on the Great Plains proper. Afew are found in the northeastern part of Nebraska, but they are almostentirely absent from the southern plains states.22
The Swedes constitute the second largest Scandinavian group.Swedish settlers found Nebraska most to their liking. Already in the 1860s, they formed strong rural enclaves in the eastern part of the state, andby the 1880s, large colonies had been established on the plains, mostnotably in Polk and Phelps counties. Like the Norwegians, Swedes tendedto cluster according to the province of their origin. Although they weremore secular-minded than the Norwegians, the Swedes also tended todivide among the several churches, with the pietists favoring the MissionCovenant, Baptist, and Methodist churches, and the orthodox retaining their traditional adherence to the Lutheran church. In Kansas, the Swedes founded a very substantial colony in McPherson County on the easternedge of the Great Plains, immediately northwest of the great Russian German Mennonite region. Buttressed by a full complement of ethnic institutions, including Bethany College of Lindsborg, the Swedes have been remarkably successful in politics, much like the Norwegians in North Dakota. In the Dakotas the Swedes have constituted a substantial minority, though dominated by the more numerous Norwegians.23
Like the Norwegians, the Danes have avoided the southern plains.They are most prominent in Nebraska, where at Blair on the Missouri River they established the only four-year Danish college in the UnitedStates. Their most substantial concentration on the Great Plains is locatedat Dannebrog in Howard County, Nebraska, and in rural Kearney County, Nebraska.24
. . .
Source: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1165&context=historyfacpub, downloaded 19 Nov. 2017, pgs. 411-2, 413-5, 417-8
None of this is yet the goal, however. One will notice the marks of Modernity (like denominationalism) even in this step back from the void that is current American life. Work will need to go on until all the accretions of the Second Europe, which came into being after the Great Schism of 1054 - Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and humanism/atheism - have been removed, until we have arrived back at the faith of the First Europe, the Europe of the Orthodox Church, the Europe of Sts Ansgar, Boniface, Olaf, and Sigfrid. That is when life will truly begin to flourish in the Plains, in Western Europe, and in all the places inhabited by her children. That is when true cultural identity will take shape, when the forced Latinization of Roman Catholicism and the endless splintering caused by Protestant theology and social contract individualism come to an end in the unity-in-diversity found in the Orthodox Church.