A piece from Atlas Obscura by James Gaines, about something called “prairie madness,” that afflicted settlers in the plains of areas like Nebraska piqued my interest. At the time of the phenomenon, people who settled in the plains were thought to have been suffering from the effects of isolation.
Both fictional and historical accounts of this time and place often blame “prairie madness” on the isolation and bleak conditions the settlers encountered. But many also mention something unexpected: the sounds of the prairie. Smalley wrote that during winter “the silence of death rests on the vast landscape.” And a character in Manitoba settler Nellie McClung’s story “The Neutral Fuse” writes a poem about the droning soundtrack of the plains, “I hate the wind with its evil spite, and it hates me with a hate as deep, and hisses and jeers when I try to sleep.”
It’s only recently that investigators have begun speculating that a combination of certain sounds (and lack thereof) could have been causing the symptoms settlers were experiencing.
📷 Image source: Wikimedia Commons