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Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota

Book review by Edna Boardman, Minot, North Dakota

Sherman, William C. Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota. North Dakota State University Libraries, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, Fargo, North Dakota, 1983.


If you have heard off-the-cuff comments about which ethnic group lived where in North Dakota, and wondered if what you heard was accurate, you will enjoy browsing this book. Here is documented proof. In 1965, Fr. William Sherman and some 100 of his students at the North Dakota State University did their best, using official and unofficial sources, to determine the national origins of every rural household in the state, some 46,486 households. They went so far as to interview farmers or their neighbors, even talking to such persons as local funeral directors. There were still problems. Should they take ownership of the land into account? No. They focused only on residence, though more often than not the two were the same. Sometimes people with almost identical backgrounds labeled themselves differently. Were they Russians or Ukrainians? He had to bring some uniformity to the designations, though he knew some would be offended. He discovered that there were some 12 different kinds of German-speaking settlers on the land, with German-Russians the second largest group of all, closely following Norwegians, who constitute 30%. He chose to ignore urban areas, though he believes that cities of all sizes in the state still tend to reflect their rural hinterlands.

The major feature of the book is six double-page maps with each area labeled. Even when the nationality of the persons in an area are very mixed, he defines the mixture. I knew he had done his work carefully when he correctly identified the little German-Russian Mennonite Brethren group in which I grew up. (Not all Mennonites are German-Russian.) Also, some friends who say their forebears came from Missouri were correctly labeled. In short paragraphs, Fr. Sherman treats the institutions around which the people gathered.

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