Rain Follows the Plow
"The West has always been and always will be a place where there's a struggle to survive, and where nature strikes heavy blows at you. . . That's geography. And I think part of that conquering of the West seeped into the American character. In many ways, the West has been a geography of hope for the country as a whole."
For forty years, homesteaders had passed over the western prairies on their way to better land, but now even this rough, arid soil was desirable, thanks in part to railroad company advertisements that described it as lush farmland and to a growing belief that settlers had actually changed the onetime "Great American Desert" by plowing the earth.
speed the plow.... By this wonderful provision, which is only man's mastery
over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains ... [the plow] is
the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts
a desert into a farm or garden.... To be more concise, Rain follows the
During the 1870s and early 1880s, unusually heavy rainfall made these claims sound plausible, and within ten years nearly 2 million people had sunk their roots into the prairie soil. But when the wet years finally came to an end, the high plains became again a place where only the most determined could hang on.
we look at these people sitting in front of their sod houses ... we think,
What squalor, living in a dirt house. We see women in maybe an elegant
dress but without shoes on and we think, These people were poor. But what
I see is pride. What they’re really saying is, Look how rich we are. We’re
stinking rich, our muskmelons are this big.... These are not people who
are embarassed by their situation. They are drenched in pride.
Nebraska Land, Sweet Nebraska Land!
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© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA