The movement of millions of ordinary people westward across the American continent was one of the great folk migrations of all time, stretching over two centuries and thousands of hard-traveled miles. Using a canvas as broad as the country itself, Gerald McFarland turns this journey into a resonant personal experience by retelling the stories of five generations of a single, real family—who are, in fact, his own pioneer ancestors.
A Scattered People is a true-life saga that takes us from colonial settlements along the east coast to the California shore at the dawn of the twentieth century. Its cast is as rich as a historical novel’s: a born-again Christian farmer in eighteenth-century Connecticut; a Davy Crockettish rifleman in frontier Virginia; an infantryman at Antietam; a bold teen-age girl who forsakes Kansas for a New Mexico schoolhouse. They become our witnesses for the era’s key events: the American Revolution, the Indian wars, the Gold Rush, Bleeding Kansas and Harper’s Ferry, the Civil War, the Chicago Fire, booms and busts, political battles and technological upheavals. By fits and starts, by foot and oxen, covered wagon and rail, the succeeding generations make their way west, and we watch a family tree—and a nation—develop and grow.
What motivated men and women to take the risks of such moves, and what actually awaited them in each new home? By recreating in close focus that fundamental act of democratic aspiration—pulling up stakes and moving west—A Scattered People gives us an intimate and surprising new sense of the meaning of the American Dream.
About Gerald McFarland
Gerald McFarland is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and the son of Marguerite Ward, whose birth in 1900 closes this book. His previous books include Mugwumps, Morals, and Politics, 1884–1920 and Moralists or Pragmatists? The Mugwumps. He lives in Leverett, Massachusetts.