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~ Kathy M.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Recent Reads: Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

First of all, I am wondering if any of you fellow bloggers are having issues uploading pictures using Blogger?  The first one will go on fine, but for the past week, I have to try several times to get the other ones posted.  I can't figure out the rhyme, reason or pattern for this.  If you have any tips, I would love to hear them.  

Now, on to my most recent reads.  I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I am researching Oregon pioneer history for my book and new series of blog/websites.  My friend Carly suggested that I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I happened to have the three below in my Mom Cave, so I got right to work.  I finished Little House on the Prairie, and have a couple of pages left to read of On The Banks of Plumb Creek.  By tomorrow, I'll be onto By The Shores of Silver Lake.  

I have read the whole series many times over the years, beginning when I was in 5th grade and the librarian at Ida Patterson School recommended them to me.  They were placed in the corner by the window, and I loved them.  They fascinated me to no end, and spurred on my imagination.  At that time, I didn't even realize that my own people had experienced many of the same adventures that the Ingalls did.

I looked forward to opening up the first page of The Little House on the Prairie.  I didn't have the Little House in the Big Woods, which is the very first book.  From what I remember, in that one, Laura and Mary were surrounded by their cousins and grandparents and they went to a family dance and fell asleep on coats.  There was something about a panther, and Christmas, and Laura getting her rag doll Charlotte.  Carrie was also born there, in the big woods of Wisconsin.  (I found out last week that my great-great-grandfather John Letsom also lived in Wisconsin around the same time that the Ingalls did...around 20 years before Laura was born.)  

But anyway, back to this book.  To tell you the truth, I found it nerve wracking.  Pa got to make all the big decisions, because he was the head-of-household.  He was feeling too crowded in the big woods, and game wasn't as easy to come by anymore.  Too much traffic was going by his house.  So, he packed up the family, put a cover on the wagon and set off on a great adventure.  He made Jack, the family bulldog walk the whole way.  I didn't think that was very nice, to start things off with.  Word was out that the government was going to remove the Indians from Oklahoma, and allow settlers to set up homesteads.  Pa wanted to get a head start and choose the perfect site for their little family.  

When they were almost to their perfect spot (40 miles from Independence), they were crossing the creek and a flash flood happened.  Ma had to drive the wagon as Pa jumped in the water to guide the horses to shore.  Laura had asked if Jack could ride in the wagon, but Pa didn't answer.  Sure enough, once they finally made it across the creek that had turned into a raging river, Jack was gone.  For several days.  I was pretty pissed at Pa, if you want to know the truth.  What would it have hurt to put that dog in the wagon?  Jack finally found them, but he was too tired to even eat once he did.

Pa cut wood, found some neighbors, built a log cabin and stable, and dug a well.  Things were going well, except they had planted themselves right on a major Indian trail; they got malaria and then a prairie fire came along and nearly burned up their home.  One night, wolves surrounded their home in a circle and howled at the moon.

They were all set up and comfortable, outside of the fact that the Indians would occasionally come in and steal their food, furs and tobacco, and Jack had to be chained up so that he wouldn't bite them.  Then, one day, all the Indians met and were this close to killing all of the settlers.  A kind and wise Osage Indian (which happens to be the Indian blood that my Grandma J. had running through her veins) spared the Ingalls family.  Soon after, the Indians used the trail in front of the house, and exited in a miles long parade.  Maybe they were the first ones on The Trail of Tears?

Not long after that, word came that the government was going to kick the settlers off the land, and that the Indians were going to stay there instead.  So the next morning, they put the cover back on the wagon and moved on.  Pa was not going to wait to be kicked off his own homestead like a common criminal.  He was furious.  All that work!  But, he calmed down and said that somebody else would use their home someday.  I think he was a wanderlust type of a guy and was making the best of the situation as he looked toward the future. 

After leaving Indian Territory, the Ingalls made their way to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. They traded their horses and covered wagon tarp for land, a dugout home and stable, and for a couple of oxen.  They were on the banks of the delightful Plumb Creek, and were pretty happy.  Laura struggled with being naughty during this time.  She was 7 and Mary was 8.  Carrie was growing up, she must have been around 2.  

Things were going great, there in Minnesota.  Pa planted a huge wheat field.  They were going to be rich when the wheat was harvested.  Buying the materials on credit, he built their home, a really nice one with two stories, glass windows, a lean to and a super great cookstove for Ma.  Laura and Mary walked the couple of miles to town to school, and they all went to church on Sundays.  This is the place where the girls first met the dreadful spoiled Nellie Oleson.

If only the millions of huge grasshoppers hadn't attacked, wiping out everything that they could eat, including the wheat field, all the grass for the livestock, the garden, the plumb trees ... everything.  Stupid grasshoppers.  Plus, there was a drought, and they barely had any water at all to drink.  Then, there were the blizzards to deal with on top of it all.  Pa had to tie a rope from the house to the barn, so that he could go each morning and milk the cows, and the wind would blow so hard that most of the milk would splash out of the bucket. 

Pa had to walk a couple of hundred miles for two summers in row to find work (because the grasshoppers had laid their eggs and ruined things the next year too).  While he was gone, balls of fire came screaming across the prairie and nearly burned their new home down.  Ma, the neighbor guy, Laura and Mary saved the farm.  Disaster after disaster for this pioneer family.  It wasn't an easy life!

I barely remember By The Shores of Silver Lake, and haven't started reading it yet.  The book cover says that they moved again, to a railroad camp in the Dakota Territory, and that this is the book where Mary goes blind.  The cover says that Ma and Pa also have another child, which I didn't remember.  On the t.v. show, they adopted Alfred, but now I am worried that in real life they have a baby who dies.  God, I hope not.  Oh, I just found out that he did die, when he was 9 months old.  Probably Jack dies in this one too.

It is just one thing after another for these people.  How could we have loved these books so much when we were little and come back time and time again?  I guess because we were kids and just thought that stuff only happened in the olden days, and couldn't ever happen again.

These books are not for the faint of heart, but they are wonderful, and are so valuable as documented Americana.  If you haven't read this series of books or if it has been a long time, I highly recommend it.  I'd start at the beginning, it is your first time.  There are nine of them.  Happy reading!

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Pamela said...

Certainly a favorite of mine. Have you seen the picture books? They are good for younger children and makes them excited for the "bigger" books.

Pamela said...

Oh, I'm so happy I came back. I would have missed all the delightful facts--made all the more interesting by the tie-in of your family. I didn't remember all the misfortunes of the family--probably because I was a child and didn't realize the devastation involved. Wonder what our grandkids will say about things that happened in our day.

SJ @ Homemaker On A Dime said...

That's an awesome story! Haven't read it but because you summarized it, now I know :) I don't have a chance to read books now so I use the audiobooks route. Have a great day, Blend!

Lesa said...

I read these so many times in elem school. Last year, I read a bit of The Long Winter in the school library and thought OMG!! Sure see things differently as an adult-- I read somewhere that Pa might have been bipolar-- hmm.

Yes, they do have another little girl in the later books named Grace.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Pamela, SJ and Lesa! Thanks so much for stopping by. SJ, your girls might enjoy these books.

Lesa, of course, Grace! I had forgotten all about her. But on one of those websites I linked to, they said that she did have a baby brother who died when he was 9 months old.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for pointing me toward this old post of yours, Kathy! =) I haven't read the other two books in the series yet, so I stuck to the part about Little House on the Prairie.

I admit that I found Pa very cold at some points. The incident with Jack and the creek practically traumatised me, and I thought he was unusually unresponsive to Ma when she became (justifiably, I say!) emotional. I don't doubt his love for Ma and his daughters, but I'll admit that reading those parts really bugged me. =(

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