My Ever Dear Charlie: Letters Home From the Dakota Territory Edited by Arthur Gibbs Draper, Globe Pequot Press, $12.95, Softcover; 800-243-0495.

my-ever-dear-charlieThe Charles Draper family homesteaded on the Dakota plains from 1886-87, a year with a notoriously ruinous winter. Snow fell in November and temperatures were -40 degrees through March. In order to meet the “proving” requirements of the 1862 Homestead Act for her husband’s quarter section of rangeland, Fanny Draper lived in a sod hut with six children, her elderly father and her “put-upon” brother. Her husband spent most of the year at his bank job in Missouri, supplying the funds that kept the cupboards full. Nonetheless, the letters Fanny and the others wrote home attest to her wit, fortitude and resourcefulness as the head of the family. The letters never seem mundane and are a keen addition to the personal narratives of the homestead era. She wrote to Charles while bouncing a crying baby on her hip or by lamplight in a dark hut covered with snow. The ill-advised venture only lasted a year, yet her attitude from the beginning was: “altogether it is not pleasant but there are parts that I enjoy.” —Cynthia Green

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