So what did I get from the book for my efforts? Here's a partial list of key points I want to remember:
There were more interesting bits (including some pretty wild planting practices meant to ensure the fertility of the land!). I have two main disappointments. First, Valencius doesn't mention the interaction of white settlers and Indians all that much. She is much more interested in the contradictions between how free white settlers and black slaves viewed the "health of the country." Secondly, I felt she focused almost exclusively on those contradictions in the second half of the book. Not everyone in early Missouri and Arkansas was a slave owner; it would have been interesting to see more about how the people who were doing their own cultivation viewed their relationship with the land.
Anyway, I'm done now. The chapter on race motivated me to read Richard Peck's The River Between Us next (young adult - won't take long); then it's on to a book I promised to read earlier this summer - more historical fiction about the Civil War, A Difference of Opinion by Nancy Dane.