Tales from the Tread: ‘The Go-Backers’ | SteamboatToday.com

Tales from the Tread: ‘The Go-Backers’

Covered wagons making their way across America's heartland is a recognizable image in our history. With each "white canvas caravan," the tale of settling America's western frontier unfolded, nurtured by the 1862 Homestead Act which allowed any American to put in a claim for up to 160 free acres of federal land.

Thousands of personal diaries and letters, as well as modern TV and books, provide further evidence of the vision of hearty homesteaders succeeding in making a new home for themselves through perseverance, grit and determination. All of this is true to an extent. But what is missing from these stories is the stark reality that seven out of ten homesteaders failed. Sickness, injury, natural disasters, isolation, barren land and more forced these once hopeful families to turn back on their dreams and return to civilization.

"No one likes to write about their failures," wrote author and historian Peter Decker in his new book “The Go-Backer.” "Hardly any attention has been given to these go-backers, especially by historians."

Join the Tread of Pioneers Museum and Bud Werner Memorial Library at 6:30p.m. April 10 at Library Hall, as Decker shares his new book, “The Go-Backer” — the derogatory name given by those who did succeed at homesteading to those who did not succeed — and the stories, trials and tribulations that threatened survival on the wild Western frontier.

About Peter Decker

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This is Decker's third time speaking in Steamboat Springs. He has published five other books on Western U.S. history subjects and is a passionate speaker on these subjects, including Native American history. In “The Utes Must Go,” Decker gives detailed and sometimes horrific accounts of how and why the Ute tribe was decimated by warfare and U.S. treaty manipulations.

Decker's career history is significant. He is a college professor, author, policy analyst and rancher. After earning his doctorate in American History at Columbia University, Decker served in the Army as a company executive officer in continental U.S. and overseas as an advisor to the Royal Laotian Army during the height in 1959-60 of the Laotian civil war. He returned there in 1970 as a correspondent for the Associated Press to cover the United States' illegal bombing in Laos.

Decker taught history and public policy at Duke University after he gained experience in the latter field when he took leave from Columbia in 1968 to join the staff of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, serving as a policy analyst and speechwriter during the Senator's presidential campaign.

Decker moved permanently to his Ridgeway ranch in 1980. In 1987, Colorado's Gov. Roy Romer appointed Decker to the position of Commissioner of Agriculture for the state. Currently, in addition to writing and speaking engagements, Decker is president of Decker & Associates, an agricultural consulting firm.

 Candice Bannister is the executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum.

If you go

What: “The Go-Backers” with author and historian Peter Decker

 When: 6:30 p.m. April 10

Where: Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: Free

More information: treaofpioneers.org