Gateway to the Classics: Boy Life on the Prairie by Hamlin Garland
Boy Life on the Prairie by  Hamlin Garland

Front Matter


This book is the outgrowth of a series of articles begun as far back as 1887. It was my intention, at the time, to delineate the work and plans of a boy on a prairie farm from season to season, beginning with seeding and ending with threshing, and I wrote some six or eight chapters in conformity with this plan. It occurred to me then that twenty-seven was too young to begin to write reminiscences, and I put the book aside until such time as it might be seemly for me to say, "I remember." I was resting easy in this attitude when a friend startled me by saying, "Yes, that's right, put it off till you have forgotten all about it!"

There was enough disturbing force in this remark to set me at work. The life I intended to depict was passing. The machinery of that day is already gone. The methods of haying, harvesting, threshing, are quite changed, and the boys of my generation are already middle-aged men with poor memories; therefore I have taken a slice out of the year 1899 in order to put into shape my recollection of the life we led in northern Iowa thirty years ago. I trust the reader will permit my assumption of the airs of an old man for a single volume.

At the same time let me say, "Boy Life on the Prairie" is not an autobiography. It is not my intention to present in Lincoln Stewart  the details of my own life and character, though I lived substantially the life of the boys herein depicted. I have used Lincoln  merely as a connecting life-thread to bind the chapters together. Rance  is the hero of the book, so far as any character can by courtesy be so called.

I ploughed and sowed, bound grain on a station, herded cattle, speared fish, hunted prairie chickens, and killed rattlesnakes quite in the manner here set down, but I have been limited neither by the actualities of my own life, nor those of any other personality. All of the incidents happened neither to me nor to Rance,  but they were the experiences of other boys, and might have been mine. They are all typical of the time and place. In short, I have aimed to depict boy life, not boys; the characterization is incidental. Lincoln  and Rance  and Milton  and Owen  are to be taken as types rather than as individuals. The book is as faithful and as accurate as my memory and literary skill can make it. I hope it may prove sufficiently appealing to the men of my generation to enable them to relive with me the splendid days of the unbroken prairie-lands of northern Iowa.


The ancient minstrel when time befit

And his song outran his laggard pen,

Went forth on the mart and chanted it

In the noisy street to the busy men,

Who found full leisure to listen and long

For the far-off land of the singer's song.

Let me play minstrel, and chant the lines

Which rise in my heart in praise of the plain;

I'll lead you where the wild-oat shines,

And swift clouds dapple the wheat with rain.

If you'll listen, you'll hear the songs of birds,

And the shuddering roar of trampling herds.

The brave brown lark from the russet sod

Will pipe as clear as a cunning flute,

Though sky and cloud are stern as God,

And all things else are hot and mute—

Though the gulls complain of the blazing air

And the grass is brown and crisp as hair.

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