Next Year Country

Dust to Dust in Western Kansas, 1890-1940

Craig Miner

West of Highway 81, there lies another Kansas. While it accounts for two-thirds of the state's land area, it is sparsely populated and nearly desert dry. Before 1940, it was still distinctly rural-a place that some residents called the "Edge of the World."

Several generations of the Miner family have lived and farmed in Ness County, providing Craig Miner with a rich and very personal backdrop for this heartfelt and compelling portrait of western Kansas. In Next Year Country he recounts the resilience of his fellow Kansans through two depressions and the Dust Bowl, showing how the region changed dramatically over fifty years-not for the better, some might say.

“The sense of place west of the 96th meridian is captured extremely well in this book. Often while reading it, I felt I was transported to western Kansas.

—Agricultural History

“This volume brings the high plains to life. . . . For historians of the American West, and particularly Kansas, the stories Miner tells are not atypical, but the freshness and immediacy of his descriptions of so many modest hopes and dreams begin to add up, drawing the sympathetic reader into the network of small town life. This is the crowning achievement of the book. So many factors were beyond the control of western Kansas farmers and businessmen—the climate, railroad connections, wheat prices, federal programs—that the pluck amply illustrated through Miner’s retelling of small town news seems heroic.

—American Historical Review
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In this striking regional history, Miner blends the voices of real people with writings of small-town journalists to show life as it was really lived from 1890 to 1940. He has fashioned a richly textured look at determined individuals as they confronted the vagaries of raw Nature and learned to adapt to the machine age. And he captures the drama and vitality of rural and small-town life at a time when children could die in a blizzard on their way home from school, in a place where gaping holes of cellars and wells from abandoned homesteads posed real hazards to nighttime travelers.

No mere nostalgic reverie, Miner's book chronicles the hard challenges to these Kansans' ambitious efforts to create a regional economy and society based on wheat, in an area once thought only marginally suitable for cereal crops. His diverse topics include the history of agricultural experiment stations, new approaches to irrigation, and the impact of the tractor and the combine; the role of women's clubs in developing culture, the growth of higher education, and the rise of the secession movement; and how people responded to pests, from prairie dogs to grasshoppers, and to radical groups, from the IWW to the KKK.

Next Year Country depicts the kind of rugged individualism that is often touted in America but seldom seen anymore, a testament to how people dealt with both Nature and transformative change. It is both a love song to Kansas and the best kind of regional history, showing that life has to be taken on its own terms to understand how people really lived.

About the Author

Craig Miner, the "dean of Kansas history," was Willard Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University. His books include the classic West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890 and Kansas: The History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000.