Wisconsin Historical Society Press

A Settler's Year is Kathleen's second work of non-fiction, and her thirty-second published book. This page provides a rich mix of background information about the book and its roots at Old World Wisconsin.

Story Description

A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons provides a rare glimpse into the lives of early immigrants to the Midwest. Evocative photographs taken at Old World Wisconsin, the country’s largest outdoor museum of rural life, lushly illustrate stories woven by historian, novelist, and poet Kathleen Ernst and compelling firsthand accounts left by the settlers.

Here we discover the challenges and triumphs found in the seasonal rhythms of rural life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As we turn the pages— traveling from sprawling farm to tidy crossroads village and from cramped and smoky cabins to gracious, well-furnished homes— we experience the back-straining chores, cherished folk traditions, annual celebrations, and indomitable spirit that comprised pioneer life.

At its heart A Settler’s Year is about people dreaming of, searching for, and creating a new home in a new land. This moving book transports us back to the pioneer era and inspires us to explore the stories found on our own family trees.

This book features the beautiful photographs of Loyd Heath, and is available in hardcover and e-book versions. Use the FIND THE BOOK link below to see a list of booksellers that it can be ordered from.


What Others Are Saying

US Library of Congress logo. 52 Great Reads
Library of Congress Center for the Book

Named to the 2015 list of 52 books "representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands."
Logo of the US National Archives and Records Administration. Noon Lecture Series Selection
US National Archives in Washington DC

This twenty year series features books that reflect the holdings of the National Archives, which include the Wisconsin land applications submitted by settlers under the 1862 Homestead Act.
Color photo of Jerry Apps, author of "Old Farm: A History and Whispers" and "Shadows: A Naturalist's Memoir." Jerry Apps
Award-winning Author of Old Farm: A History and Whispers and Shadows: A Naturalist’s Memoir

"In A Settler’s Year, featuring author Kathleen Ernst’s carefully crafted prose and Loyd Heath’s beautifully rendered photographs, we relive the early settler’s experience in the wilds of Wisconsin. We learn of the challenges of each season of the year, from ‘when spring softens the landscape’ to the long days of winter—the quiet season. And we come to understand what these early arrivals endured as they struggled to make a living in a new land. This is a book with great meaning for those of us who grew up on farms, and a book to be shared with young people eager to know more about pioneer life.”
Color photo of Jim Higgins, Books and Performing Arts Reviewer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Jim Higgins
Books and Performing Arts Reviewer
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"...when the word immigrant is flung about in political discourse like a swear word, "A Settler's Year" is a gentle, visually engaging reminder that just a few generations ago, nearly all the people living in Wisconsin came from somewhere else — and made a new life here through hard work and the support of their neighbors."
Best Books Award Finalist USA Book News graphic US History Book Award Finalist
2015 USA National Best Books Awards
Award Finalist seal of the Midwest Independent Publishers Association. Award Finalist
Midwest Independent Publishers Association

Melds "exemplary text, design, and artwork."


About the Author


Bestselling author Kathleen Ernst writes award-winning mysteries, historical fiction, and non-fiction for adults and young readers.

Her work has earned numerous honors, including two lifetime writing achievement awards, an Emmy for educational television, and an Edgar Allan Poe and multiple Agatha Christie mystery award nominations.

To date nearly 1.8 million audio, ebook, and print copies of Kathleen's thirty-eight published books have been purchased. more>>



Related Blog Posts

Enjoy the author's insights about the story, characters, and settings. Note: additional blog posts will be added during the fall of 2015.

Front cover of the non-fiction book A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons, written by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, illustrated with photographs by Loyd Heath, and published in 2015 by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Why A Settler's Year?

"I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve taken with this book. Why did I spend two years living with this project, and why was I confident that readers..." more>>
Photographer Loyd Heath at Old World Wisconsin. Old World Wisconsin:
A Photographer's Paradise

"Most of the photographs in Kathleen Ernst’s latest book A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons were taken by me..." more>>
Black and white photo of Polish mother and her nine children at Ellis Island, New York, date unknown (Source: National Park Service, Ellis Island National Monument) Immigrant Children

"Immigrating as an adult in the 19th century would have been challenging enough. Can you imagine what the trip might have been like for a young child? more>>
Painting entitled Youngest Son's Farewell created by Norwegian artist Adolf Tideland, 1867 The Ones Left Behind

"Scott and I recently spent two weeks in Norway (lucky us!) and I thought a lot about the conditions that prompted so many people to leave..." more>>

Photo of a young woman doing in Norwegian rosemaling (rose painting) on the wooden shipping trunk painted by Ola Eriksen Tveitejorde, of Voss, Norway, from the collection of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Deborah, Iowa. Immigrant Trunks

"Artistry aside, any immigrant trunk is valuable because it represents the people who struggled to fit their old lives within its confines." more>>
Handwritten travel document in the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Precious Papers

these papers might include a “passport” giving a traveler permission to leave, a statement from the local church attesting to his or her..." more>>
Immigrants And The Erie Canal

"When thinking about the journey undertaken by 19th-century European immigrants, my mind instinctively conjures pictures of..." more>>

Author's Note

There are few topics I feel as passionate about as the lives of early immigrants.

For three decades I've been researching and interpreting them, creating museum events and television programs about them, and writing articles, poems, and books about them.

At its essence the immigrant experience is about people searching for a new home, in a new place. That journey has meaning for almost all of us—whether in our own lives, or those of our ancestors.

A Settler’s Year combines immigrant quotes, and evocative photographs of Old World Wisconsin taken by Loyd Heath, to transport armchair travelers to both the modern site and the not-so-distant past.

Perhaps it will also inspire you to gather and preserve stories of your own family or community. Kathleen Ernst's signature graphic


A Settler’s Year is dedicated to my former colleague and friend Marty Perkins, curator, who devoted his entire 34-year career to Old World Wisconsin.

Marty did it all: dismantling and restoring buildings, fieldwork, educational planning, outreach. His greatest love was research. He knew that all history programming must be based on a foundation of facts.

Photo by Scott Meeker of bestselling author Kathleen Ernst and Marty Perkins at Old World Wisconsin outdoor history museum.Photo of Marty Perkins reassembling the Koepsell House at Old World Wisconsin in 1975. Photo by Old World Wisconsin.

Marty was developing the proposal for A Settler's Year when he passed away unexpectedly. I had the great honor of being invited to step in to make sure that his dream became a reality.

Marty left us all an enormous living legacy at Old World. He will always be missed.


The photos in the book were all taken at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor living history museum that you can visit from May through October.

Google map of the Old World Wisconsin and Village of Eagle Wisconsin area.

Old World is located just outside the rural Village of Eagle in the Southeast corner of the state. Click on the Google map above for a close-up view.

The Past

Here is a very small sample of the many beautiful photos—all of which were taken at Old World Wisconsin—that illustrate A Settler's Year. Click on any image to see larger versions, with descriptions.

<em>A Settler's Year</em> slideshow <em>A Settler's Year</em> slideshow <em>A Settler's Year</em> slideshow <em>A Settler's Year</em> slideshow <em>A Settler's Year</em> slideshow
Visiting Old World's crossroads village and working farms will help you discover more about the diverse European, Yankee, and African-American immigrants who settled the state in the 1800s. Wander the site, chat with the costumed interpreters, and take in the daily activities of pioneer life.

And More

Thanks to the magic of digital media, you can watch and listen to me discussing A Settler's Year whenever you want.

Video screen capture of bestselling author Kathleen Ernst speaking about her second nonfiction history book, A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons, at the US National Archives Noon Lecture series on October 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.

US National Archives Noon Lecture.
Broadcast by NARA and C-SPAN3.
46 min. 46 sec. October 19, 2015.
Click on image above to play video.

Milwaukee Public Radio - Lake Effect program logo. Mitch Teich
Milwaukee Public Radio
12 Min. 51 sec.
September 17, 2015
Wisconsin Public Radio Larry Meiller Show logo. Larry Meiller
Wisconsin Public Radio
35 Min. 06 sec.
August 25, 2015

But wait, there's more. The publisher has created a Pinterest board about this book. Access it by clicking on the logo below.

Pinterest logo.

Where To Buy

A Settler's Year is available from these and other booksellers as a 200 page hardcover and in digital e-book versions.

Logo of the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. HARDCOVER
Buy from Indiebound Books HARDCOVER
Kobo logo. KOBO eBOOK
Apple iTunes logo. iBOOK eBOOK
Books-A-Million logo HARDCOVER
Buy from Barnes & Noble NOOK eBOOK
Google play logo. GOOGLE PLAY eBOOK
Buy from Amazon.com KINDLE eBOOK

You can request a signed and personalized hardcover copy from me by clicking HERE.