In no civilized country have the cultivators of the soil adapted their home life so badly to the conditions of nature as have the people of our great Northwestern prairies. This is a strong statement, but I am led to the conclusion by ten years of observation in our plains region. The European farmer lives in a village, where considerable social enjoyment is possible. The women gossip at the village well, and visit frequently at one another’s houses; the children find playmates close at hand; there is a school, and, if the village be not a very small one, a church. The post wagon, with its uniformed postilion merrily blowing his horn, rattles through the street every day, and makes an event that draws people to the doors and windows. The old men gather of summer evenings to smoke their pipes and talk of the crops; the young men pitch quoits and play ball on the village green. Now and then a detachment of soldiers from some garrison town halts to rest. A peddler makes his rounds. A black-frocked priest tarries to join in the chat of the elder people, and to ask after the health of the children. In a word, something takes place to break the monotony of daily life. The dwellings, if small and meagrely furnished, have thick walls of brick or stone that keep out the summer’s heat and the winter’s chill.
Now contrast this life of the European peasant, to which there is a joyous side that lightens labor and privation, with the life of a poor settler on a homestead claim in one of the Dakotas or Nebraska. Every homesteader must live upon his claim for five years to perfect his title and get his patent; so that if there were not the universal American custom of isolated farm life to stand in the way, no farm villages would be possible in the first occupancy of a new region in the West without a change in our land laws. If the country were so thickly settled that every quarter-section of land (160 acres) had a family upon it, each family would be half a mile from any neighbor, supposing the houses to stand in the centre of the farms; and in any case the average distance between them could not be less. But many settlers own 320 acres, and a few have a square mile of land, 640 acres. Then there are school sections, belonging to the State, and not occupied at all, and everywhere you find vacant tracts owned by Eastern speculators or by mortgage companies, to which former settlers have abandoned their claims, going to newer regions, and leaving their debts and their land behind. Thus the average space separating the farmsteads is, in fact, always more than half a mile, and many settlers must g6 a mile or two to reach a neighbor’s house. This condition obtains not on the frontiers alone, but in fairly well peopled agricultural districts.