Vivid New Biography Collection Records Life of Iowa Pioneers


"The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil: Biographical Sketches of Central Iowa Pioneers and Civil War Veterans"

“The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil: Biographical Sketches of Central Iowa Pioneers and Civil War Veterans”

Nehemias Tjernagel illuminates trials of settlers and Civil War Soldiers

STORY CITY, Iowa – Descendent of the Norwegian pioneering Tjernagelfamily Nehemias Tjernagel was deeply fascinated by the lives of pioneers and Civil War soldiers in Southern Hamilton and northern Story Counties. On the eve of World War I, Tjernagel recognized a unique opportunity to capture history before its oral informants slipped away and, consequently, he undertook a purposeful, systematic process of interviewing and data collecting. For six decades Tjernagel’s detailed, meticulous work on the lives of immigrants, pioneers and patriots has lain dormant. Now, his grand niece, Margaret Harstad Matzke, together with the Story City Historical Society have unearthed his work and has presented it in the new historical nonfiction book, The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil: Biographical Sketches of Central Iowa Pioneers and Civil War Veterans (published by AuthorHouse).

Most know about the Yankee pioneers that traveled out west and settled along the rivers of the western plain. But halfway through the 19th century, the virgin prairie of central Iowa was transformed by settlers, many of them west coast Norwegians, into the farms that feed the world over even today.

The stories and biographies in The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil are shaped by three elements: immigration, pioneering and preservation of the Union, which defined the experience of the Norwegian settlers of Iowa in the 1850s. Tjernagel recorded their struggles, successes, sacrifices and interactions with one another, illuminating the complex realities of frontier life as people from a wide variety of backgrounds worked together to form a community. Tjernagel also reveals the evolving attitudes of the settlers.

These settlers accomplished the impossible to later become passionate protectors of the Union, joining the forces of Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. Ideal for students and scholars alike, The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil is a thorough, indexed gem of recorded history that will prove invaluable in knowing the full experience of Norwegian pioneers and Civil War soldiers of the Midwest for generations to come.

Nehemias Tjernagel was born at Follinglo Farm near Story City in 1868, and died there 90 years later. He was a musician, composer, writer, world traveler and farmer. Editor Margaret Harstad Matzke is Tjernagel’s grand-niece and a graduate of Valparaiso University. Before retiring with her husband in Tacoma, Wash., she raised a family and worked in both medical and industrial laboratories.

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