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Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier

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Overview

They will tell you the life they lead is different, perhaps not as different as in the old days of the frontier, but certainly unlike life in most of America in the later twentieth century. And they'll tell you the rest of the country doesn't understand them, and never consults them when decisions are made about what should happen to the land they occupy. They live in the contemporary American frontier. They are people like eighty-four-year-old Margaret Stafford, living without electricity or running water on ...
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Overview

They will tell you the life they lead is different, perhaps not as different as in the old days of the frontier, but certainly unlike life in most of America in the later twentieth century. And they'll tell you the rest of the country doesn't understand them, and never consults them when decisions are made about what should happen to the land they occupy. They live in the contemporary American frontier. They are people like eighty-four-year-old Margaret Stafford, living without electricity or running water on land she homesteaded in eastern Montana, 21 miles from the nearest paved road and 43 miles from the nearest town. And Jerry McComb, a United Parcel Service driver in southwestern Texas whose daily delivery route covers an area larger than Connecticut and causes him to stop more often for stray cattle than for traffic lights. Or Alex Joseph, the polygamist mayor of Big Water, Utah, population 328, where one of his nine wives is also the town attorney; Audrey Ward, who ended up in remote Quemado, New Mexico, by answering her future husband's personal ad in a national magazine; and Mark Maryboy, a young Navajo Indian fighting on behalf of his people with ballots instead of bullets. One hundred years after the Census Bureau and historian Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed the end of the frontier, there are still 132 counties within fifteen western states in the Lower 48 that meet the criterion once used for locating the frontier: fewer than two people per square mile (the equivalent of 600 residents in New York's five boroughs, or the population of Indiana dispersed across the entire continental United States). On the centenial of the "closing of the frontier," author Dayton Duncan set out in his battered truck Conestoga to explore the vast, sparsely settled domain "miles from nowhere." He went to meet the seldom-heard-from Americans who live there, to hear their stories and see for himself what their lives are like: counties the size of states, with no docto
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A perceptive and engaging observer, Duncan ( Out West: An American Journey ) set out in 1990 aboard the GMC Suburban truck he dubbed the Conestoga to describe life in several vast, underpopulated Western counties ``where a land-hungry nation nibbled but lost its normal appetite.'' Duncan is no questing William Least Heat Moon or quirky Ian Frazier, but he ably melds history and reportage: as in the past, the schoolteacher and the rancher are the frontier couple. Although most frontier dwellers approach a cowboy stereotype, Duncan meets New Agers in Colorado's Saguache County; he notes a parallel to the days of the old frontier, when land was also marketed to people on the basis of dreams. Yet he also finds modernity, ``the first commuters' gold rush,'' in Nevada, and regularly tracks the ``irreducible minimum''--establishments a county can't function without--citing hairdressers and video rental stores. He concludes with a reasoned rebuke to the academics who argue that economic, climatic and social distress will depopulate these regions. ``They have overlooked the irreducible minimum,'' he argues, claiming that sparsely settled places may undergo difficult adjustments but will persist. (May)
Library Journal
Duncan traveled more than 30,000 miles of what he calls the contemporary American frontier, which consists of the 132 counties within 14 Western states that have fewer than two persons per square mile. For readers living in mainstream America, Duncan's tales sound like a report from a foreign country or a different time period. The strength of the book is in the accounts of people he meets in the nearly uninhabited--and sometimes nearly uninhabitable--regions. The residents are fiercely independent survivors who spend most of their lives battling the elements, yet they possess a deep love and respect for their surroundings. The same frontier spirit epitomized by the fur trappers and gold seekers of the late 1800s is alive and well, and Duncan, through his observations, descriptions, and characters, brings it back to life. This vastly entertaining and eye-opening reading experience is recommended for most collections.-- Melinda Stivers Leach, Precision Editoral Svces., Wondervu, Col.
Booknews
Duncan (a writer, no university affiliation) explored the American West, focusing on those counties with fewer than two people per square mile. He sketches the people he encountered, including ranchers in the Nebraska sandhills, a New Mexico bar owner, a priest and UPS driver along the Texas-Mexico border, and the descendent of a Seminole Negro army scout in west Texas. He also describes the communities they belong to, and the geography of the areas where they live. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803266278
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Dayton Duncan
Born and raised in a small town in Iowa, Dayton Duncan has been a reporter, humor columnist, editorial writer, chief of staff to a governor, and deputy press secretary for presidential campaigns. He lives in Walpole, New Hampshire. His books include Out West: An American Journey, also available in a Bison Books edition.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Travels in a Conestoga 1
Chapter 1. Big Dry 23
Chapter 2. Violence 62
Chapter 3. Escape 99
Chapter 4. Boom and Bust 133
Chapter 5. Below the Irreducible Minimum 173
Chapter 6. Rainbow of the West 188
Chapter 7. El Despoblado 217
Chapter 8. Dumping Ground 239
Chapter 9. Old Frontier, Contemporary Frontier 281
Epilogue: a Census of Nowhere 293
Contemporary Frontier Counties 299
Selected Sources 305
Index 311
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2004

    Now this is some real travel writing

    I didn't really like Duncan's 'Out West', a book about Lewis and Clark, but this book is great. He goes to unusual places, meets freaks, weirdos, and regular people, and gives some historical insight but he doesn't allow historical accounts to constitute half the book. He also includes plenty of pictures and maps. There are few, if any anecdotes that appear meaningless or uninteresting. I wish I had gone with him on this trip.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2009

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