Monday, July 2, 2012

The Pioneers Had Major Government Help: Lessons from La Crosse

I'm looking forward to reading Skidmore College historian Eric J. Morser's Hinterland Dreams. It looks like he has landed another roundhouse punch on the myth of the government-free pioneers. From the very beginning, prosperity and growth depended on federal, state, and local government activism. Morser builds each episode up from an individual story, and summarizes the book's thesis in his prologue.

The federal government
* "built military outposts that shattered indigenous resistance in southwestern Wisconsin,"
* "made Indians dependent on American traders for their welfare," and
* "financed explorers who advertised the commercial possibilities of the region."

State government in turn
* "invested in transportation projects that drew settlers to the middle western frontier,"
* "built a legal system that helped lumbermen flourish in places such as southwestern Wisconsin," and
* "granted municipal leaders in La Crosse potent new regulatory and financial tools."

Local government used those powers and
* built and policed "urban railways, electrical lights, and the local telephone system."

Lawmakers and judges
* "enabled organized workers and women in town to participate in La Crosse's commercial growth in new ways and to help redefine its political economy."

Rugged individualism -- actually, the pioneering work of linked families -- was real too, and took place within this framework. Our family stories ignore it at their peril.

Eric J. Morser, Hinterland Dreams: The Political Economy of a Midwestern City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Harold Henderson, "The Pioneers Had Major Government Help: Lessons from La Crosse," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Debbie V. said...

Sounds like a good one - I've added it to my to-read list.