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Those who first settled the Midwest, the American Heartland, came from “back East” or directly from Europe. Mostly, they had little to lose and everything to gain by risking everything—including their very lives. Still, they came, by the millions, chasing runaway dreams. In the process, they transformed a land occupied for over ten-thousand years by others who lived vastly different lives and now are mostly vanished. In the process, those who supplanted the Native Americans created a radically new culture—one now in decline. The Luick clan—typical of so many pioneering families of the American frontier—came on the run from hunger-wracked Württemberg, having thrashed a noble. After twenty years of carving a life out of the woods of Michigan, they migrated en masse once more—to the prairies of Iowa in the 1850s. Founding a town they named “Belmond,” after pretty settler Emily “Belle” Dumond, the four Luick brothers and their determined sister launched an empire built on land, livestock and banking. The Luicks and their cohorts forged a physical culture—public buildings, social institutions, latest fashion—that largely looked little like the European or Eastern lands they’d left, yet the intangible culture they made in many ways hardly resembled the social culture (laws, local mores and norms) they’d turned their backs on. Tapping the well-documented Luicks as a case study, this book examines a process replicated tens of thousands of times across America—how strangers peopled an annexed land, then built something totally different than had been in that place before. If we explore that process, we might find clues on how we might forge a new culture now, as the one our ancestors erected fails to respond to a changing world order. In their stories, we find larger truths, useable social stencils as well as sobering caveats.

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