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Rachel Calof's Story
Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains
ed. by J. Sanford Rikoon
In 1894, eighteen-year-old Rachel Bella Kahn traveled from Russia to the U.S. for an arranged marriage to Abraham Calof. Her memoir focuses on her life between 1894 and 1904, as she and her husband carved out a life as North Dakota homesteaders. Her riveting narrative recalls the hardships of pioneer life— especially the crowding of extended families into the 12' x 14' dirt-floored shanties that were their first dwellings. "Of all the privations I knew as a homesteaders," says Calof, "the lack of privacy was the hardest to bear."
Under harsh and primitive conditions, she bore and raised nine children. The family withstood many dangers, including droughts, hailstorms, and blinding snowstorms. Calof persevered, drawing on a strength and resolve that is everywhere apparent in her narrative. Never sentimental, her memoir is a vital record of struggle and triumph on the frontier.
J. Sanford Rikoon explores Jewish farm settlement in the Heartland and initial efforts in North Dakota. Elizabeth Jameson examines how Calof "writes from the interior spaces of private life" to reconfigure our versions of the American West.
Paperback, 176 pages. Published by Indiana University Press, 1995.