Before the turn of the twentieth century, many Swedish men emigrated to the American Rockies as itinerant laborers, drawn by the region’s developing industries. Single Swedish women ventured west, too, and whole families migrated, settling into farm communities. By 1920, one-fifth of all Swedish immigrants were living in the West.
In Up in the Rocky Mountains, Jennifer Eastman Attebery offers a new perspective on Swedish immigrants’ experiences in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico from 1880 to 1917 by interpreting their letters home. Considering more than three hundred letters, Attebery analyzes their storytelling, repetitive language, traditional phrasing, and metaphoric images. Recognizing the letters’ power as a folk form, Attebery sees in them the writers’ relationships back in Sweden as well as their encounters with religious and labor movements, regionalism, and nationalism in their new country.
By defining personal letters as a vernacular genre, Attebery provides a model for discerning immigrants’ shared culture in correspondence collections. By studying their words, she brings to life small Swedish communities throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Jennifer Eastman Attebery is professor of English and director of American studies at Idaho State University.