Bad Lands: An American Romance, by Jonathan Raban, was first published in 1996. This book is not about the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, but rather a little populated part of southeastern Montana. These are the prairies, flat relatively featureless grasslands, and to show how few people live in this area now, go to this Google map link for a community called Mildred MT, and see how far you have to zoom out until you can browse any street view images.
In the early part of the 20th-century potential homesteaders from eastern USA, and even towns in Europe, were attracted to this area by articles in newspapers and magazines advertising opportunities for owning plots of 320 acres. For a town dweller, 320 acres must have seemed more than adequate, and many came, built homes and attempted to live off the land. For a few years, their hard work was to some extent rewarded, but then in 1917 a dry spell began, and lasted several years. Not only that, but there was a series of extremely cold (20 to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) winters. Since then, there have been various other droughts including the dust bowl years.
Some homesteaders, in an attempt to extract more from their farms, took out loans and bought tractors and other equipment, but then slowly went bankrupt when they couldn’t afford the repayments. It was an American dream gone wrong, and many pulled out and moved further west. You need much, much more than 320 acres to provide a decent living in this part of the prairies.
Here’s an interesting perspective from the Wikipedia entry for the book “Because many of the settlers felt they had been betrayed by those who convinced them to move to the area and farm there, another societal development is observed: a fiercely independent and rebellious attitude of anti-authoritarian distrust towards Corporate America…and to a much greater extent, the United States Government.”
Raban describes all of this in a very readable way, giving examples from various family histories of those who left and others who remained.
Here’s another review of the book by Ron Scheer, with some photographs of the region.