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The Crowded HillLeRoy Oliver MacLeod

Hoosier Connection: LeRoy MacLeod was born in Anderson, Indiana, and attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He wrote four books set around Browns Valley, near Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Works Discussed: Driven, "Drouth," Three Steeples, The Years of Peace, The Crowded Hill

LeRoy Oliver MacLeod was born in Anderson, Indiana, on October 20, 1893. His early life centered around Browns Valley, which is located approximately ten miles away from Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he lived on a farm with his family. He obtained a degree from DePauw University in English composition. He married Irene Ruth Miller, and they had two children together before their eventual divorce. He moved out west and lived in Colorado and California, and was remarried in 1928 to Geraldine Seelemire. Finally, he moved to New York and eventually retired in 1958.

An Indiana farm
An Indiana farm

MacLeod’s primary career was in advertising, but he did write four books during his lifetime. The first of these was Driven, a book of poetry published in 1929. A few of the poems in Driven contain references to Indiana’s landscapes, describing the farmland that much of it had become by that point in time. The longest poem in this collection, “Drouth,” describes an Indiana farm family during a drought year. This poem in part is a depiction of nature’s effects on the family. The lack of water is ruining their crop, and their lives, already difficult, become hellish. Their farm becomes both the means by which they stay alive and the bond that holds them back from happiness.

MacLeod’s second book, Three Steeples, a Tragedy of Earth, is the story of a small Indiana town and the events that surround the construction of a third church there. The main character goes to school and becomes a preacher, eventually dying inside the church when it catches fire. Although nature certainly is not the focus of this novel, many passages illustrate the condition of Indiana’s environment within the setting of the book. Toward the beginning of the novel, for example, fields of corn are compared to a tired army, made to continue traveling all summer long. This feeling of the land being weary and over-used is a recurring theme in MacLeod’s work.

Later, nature’s endurance is compared to humankind's failure to endure. According to the speaker, even after human bones have disintegrated and the people's names forgotten, the stone that their grave marker is made out of will retain the record of their lives. Eventually even that will be wiped away by nature. Essentially, he is saying that no matter what negative changes humankind has caused, nature is more powerful than humans, who are only a small part of the greater whole.

In 1932, MacLeod wrote The Years of Peace, followed by its sequel, The Crowded Hill, in 1934. They are based around a farming family in the Wabash Valley of Indiana and are set in the 1860s and '70s. The one very negative aspect of these two books is that some of MacLeod’s characters are blatantly racist. However, the novels are full of descriptions of farmland in that area. The topic of worn-out land comes up again in The Years of Peace. Two of the farmers discuss how, when they first arrived in the area, they thought the land would be able to continue producing the same crops forever. At the time of their conversation, they are starting to see some of their neighbors encounter problems with the need to let land rest. They comment that some farmers whose land used to be river bottom or prairie land probably are still laboring under the illusion that their land will indefinitely hold out in its richness.

Other environmental issues also arise in MacLeod's writing. There are many references to the deforestation that occurred to create the farmland initially. In The Crowded Hill, one of the characters looks out from her roof over the surrounding area and describes the land around her:

To the right of the woods the forest, as long as fifty years ago, had been cut and burned for fields; and the borders had since been crowded back to double and triple the clearing, so that southwest winds had plenty of room now to swoop down for a good blow at the trees in the pasture here, still guarding the big house. (18)

Later in the same novel, the main character decides to clear out ten acres of thicket full of a range of growth:

Tyler directed them to look at what they couldn't help seeing—the familiar thicket of every description: trees from a few inches to seventy feet high, grapevines, poison vine, blackberry and rose briars, tangled grass and leaves. Rabbit paths ran through it, and here and there a wider path with gray wool quivering on the twigs as though left there purposely to keep the sheep from getting lost if they ever came again. "I want to clear this all out before spring—the whole business. Then I want to ditch it and the next year stick a plow in it." (117)

These comments are typical of the ideology of farmers of Indiana at this time: once the growth is gone, the land can be drained of the water that would hinder farming. What farmers failed to recognize is that the land would continue to try to reclaim these areas in their original state.

One of MacLeod’s characters shows definite consciousness of the negative impact of deforestation in The Years of Peace. He is considering draining some of his land with tile; however, he changes his mind when he imagines the area cleared to look like the rest of his land. Despair fills him as he pictures the natural beauty destroyed, and he swears that he will leave that section of land alone.

MacLeod’s work is important to Indiana’s environmental literature because it illustrates not only the state of much of the land during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it demonstrates the attitudes of Indiana’s farmers toward the environment. Although they seemed to have no qualms about destroying the forests and draining the wetlands, they were gradually becoming aware during these years that the land would not indefinitely support their crops, and that it would require care to keep it from losing all of its fertility.



MacLeod, LeRoy. The Crowded Hill. Baltimore: Waverly, 1934.

---. Driven. New York: Covici-Friede, 1929.

---. Three Steeples, a Tragedy of Earth. New York: Covici-Friede, 1931.

---. The Years of Peace. New York: Century, 1932.

Shumaker, Arthur W. A History Indiana Literature. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1962.

Vanausdall, Jeanette. Pride and Protest: The Novel in Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1999.


MacLeod, LeRoy. The Crowded Hill. Cover image.