Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Per Hansa moves all his family and his possessions from Minnesota into the Dakota Territory. His family consists of his wife, Beret, and three children, Ole, Anna Marie, and Hans Kristian. Beret is fearful and sad, for she has been uprooted too often and the prairie country through which they travel seems bleak, lonely, and savage.
Per Hansa stakes out his claim near the family of Hans Olsa at Spring Creek. Then Beret announces that she is carrying another child. Money is scarce. Per Hansa faces overwhelming odds, and thoughts of the great risks he is taking keep him awake long after Beret and the children sleep. Being something of a poet, Per Hansa thinks at times that the land speaks to him, and he often watches and listens and forgets to keep to his work as he clears his land and builds his house. He labors from before dawn until after dark during those long, northern summer days.
When Indians come and drive away the settlers’ cows, only Per Hansa has the courage to follow them. Only he has the sense to doctor a sick Indian. Beret mistrusts his wisdom and there are harsh words between them. The grateful Indian gives Per Hansa a pony. Then Per Hansa goes on a buying expedition and returns with many needed supplies and, what is more, news of coming settlers.
The next summer, Per Hansa discovers claim stakes that bear Irish names. The stakes are on his neighbor’s land; the homesteaders have settled where others have already filed a claim. Secretly he removes the stakes and burns them, but not before Beret realizes what he is doing. She begins to worry over her husband’s deed. Per Hansa sells some potatoes to people traveling through and awakens the slumbering jealousy of his neighbors.
In midsummer, more people arrive, the settlers who had set out the stakes that Per Hansa burned. They call the Norwegians claim jumpers, but after a fight, they take up other land nearby. Per Hansa manages to sell some of his goods to them. That fall, more Norwegians come. The little community is thriving. Beret, however, depressed by the open spaces and her fear that her husband has done a bad thing, brews a dark remorse within herself. Day by day, she broods over her lonely life, and she covers her window at night because of her nameless fears. At least Per Hansa, on his infrequent trips around to different settlements, meets other people.
When winter comes, Per Hansa rests. He can sleep long hours while the winds blow outside, but his wife worries and frets. He begins to quarrel with her. Soon, however, he notices that his neighbors are suffering hardship and privation. The unmarried young men who settled near the Hansas are planning to desert the settlement. It requires all his ability to convince them to stay and to face the desolate,...
(The entire section is 1137 words.)
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