At Cheyenne Frontier Days We Don’t Really Celebrate ‘Prairie Madness’
We celebrate Cheyenne Frontier Days in all it’s romance, but for an old pioneer one thing wasn't fun - “Prairie Madness.” Thank God it’s all a thing of the past now, except for our incessant wind.
Prairie Madness, or Prairie Fever, was an affliction in settlers of the Great Plains. Having come from the East, they were at risk of mental breakdown. It was extreme isolation to live on the prairie. It brought depression, along with changes in character and habits. Some even committed suicide.
One reason for it in Oklahoma was the Homestead Act of 1862, giving people 160 acres if they were able to make something out of it in five years. “Sooners” committed to sticking it out weren't all the self-sufficient type, on farms at least half a mile apart.
In short, it was lonely on levels that we’ve never known. During winters today in Casper and Cheyenne, we still get a little “cabin fever.” On the old high plains, though, drifts left whole homes covered in snow.
Women were said to be prone to crying and careless dress, and men sometimes showed violent signs.
Finally with new forms of communication, transportation and further settlement came a “closing of the frontier,” as described by renowned American West historian Frederick Jackson Turner.
Fans of Cowboy State history may have heard of Dorothy Scarbourough’s 1925 novel that involves severe prairie madness. The book is titled The Wind.