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"With Great Price" {1}
    by John M. Gaus (Volume 20: Page 210)

Professor Bjork’s history of the Norwegian and Norwegian-American migration to and settlement of the region from the Upper Mississippi Valley to the Pacific coast is marked by a scholarship that is humane and imaginative. His creation from newspapers, letters, interviews, and institutional documents of one of the great stories of American settlement has clearly been guided by an affection and insight free from sentimentality. This we would expect from his earlier Saga in Steel and Concrete. And the reader may learn more not only of the migration of a particular people, of the settlement and growth in complexity of vast regions, of particular romantic, tragic, or inspiring episodes, but also of personally observed routes, rivers, passes, ports, and cities, and remote settlements. He will also, at the end, have light thrown upon the process of “development” in this country, and perhaps therefore have more mature questions to ask himself as to the contemporary and evolving development taking place throughout the world today.

The scope and content of Dr. Bjork’s study is integrated with earlier studies published by the Association, such as those by Qualey and Blegen and of younger scholars such as William Mulder. He is less concerned with the analysis of the conditions in the old country, and hardly at all with the movements to the eastern and Middle Western United States, except in the general interpretation of their significance as “interplay of European heritage and American environment” resulting in “a synthesis that underlies much of American history.” He picks up his story with “one tiny phase,” as he [211] modestly terms it, “of the latter-day volkerwanderung . . . to that part of the North American continent that lies west of the Great Divide,” from California to Alaska, including the Rocky Mountain area, the Great Basin, and the Inland Empire. He begins with gold-rush days in California and the Mormon settlement of Utah (“From Babylon to Zion”). He notes the migration from older Norwegian settlements in the Middle West of those who found frustrations there comparable, in part, to those which had started them or their parents from Norway. He notes the tendency of the Norwegians settling in California and Utah to disperse to found new communities, some mining, but chiefly agricultural, and later in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. By the decade 1890- 1900, the coming of the railroads had changed the conditions of settlement and the economy of the Pacific Northwest, and legislation relating to land and other natural resources as well as business opportunities alike created conditions more favorable to those coming from the older-settled Norwegian-American families of the Middle West than their countrymen in Norway. Dr. Bjork keeps in mind the economic conditions in the East as well as those in the Far West and the interrelations of technology, agriculture, and industry throughout, in his interpretation of the successive movements into Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. His maps locate Norwegian settlement here, as well as in California and Utah earlier.)

Throughout this account there are descriptions of individuals and groups, of particular episodes, and of the founding of institutions. But so important are the ideas and institutions of both a transplanted and an evolving culture, notably the churches, the press, and educational and related associations, that he devotes his final chapters to them - “Planting a New Church,” “Life in the Pacific Northwest,” and “Pattern of Settlement.” Here the interrelations with other Scandinavian people mark a special factor in the story of immigrant life; while the characteristic tensions within the [212] older churches and rise of new doctrines and leaders and the resentment of the churches of the old country at these tendencies parallel the religious life on the frontier throughout our history. The hardness and tragedy and sadnesses balance the creation of new communities and careers, the contributions of skills and creative expression, and the rise of new resources and opportunities. All this Dr. Bjork has conveyed from his long explorations in the records which the piety of both the Norwegian Americans, and loyalties of the settlers of the new regions, now grown into great commonwealths, have preserved, or which he has sought out. Through his book there is the tang of the personal or family or community story, the Emersonian touch of “the meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat . . . the highest spiritual cause lurking, as it always does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature; and the shop, the plough, and the ledger.” Emerson would have liked this book. And we, in our day, may learn from it how rich and complex is the process of “development” and nation building in our own country, more than the physical inputs and outputs and gross national or regional products. With great price purchased we this freedom, and this truth is quietly conveyed in Professor Bjork’s work of scholarship and humane wisdom. May it teach us that technical assistance must be more than technical.

Notes

<1> Kenneth O. Bjork, West of the Great Divide: Norwegian Migration to the Pacific Coast, 1847-1893 (Northfield. Minnesota, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1958. xvi, 671 p. Illustrations and maps. $7.50). This review by Professor Gaus appears in Journal of Economic History, vol. 29, no. (June. 1959), and is here reprinted with permission of the author and tile editors. Ed.

 

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