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Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House Books: Stories that Made Me a Pioneer

Updated on December 17, 2015
 Prairie Homestead, Milepost 213 on I-29, South Dakota
Prairie Homestead, Milepost 213 on I-29, South Dakota

My first introduction to these books was when Mom took them home from the library and read them to us as bedtime stories when I was six or so.

By about the third chapter I was so enthralled by Laura's story that I couldn't wait for bedtime any more and started reading the book for myself. And still waited, excited for bedtime for Mom to read the chapters I already had.

Laura's Journey

Based on her true life adventures, the Little House Books follow Laura Ingalls and her pioneer family from age 5, growing up in the 1870s Wisconsin woods through to the first four years of her marriage in De Smet, South Dakota. For most of the series, the Ingalls family is in search of a homestead, forced to move because of crop failure, changing government regulations and the hopes of a small patch of land to call their own.

From a small (and possibly bratty) child, who wants to be good, to an independent young woman Laura shares her fears and foibles with a glaring honesty. She starts out jealous of her beautiful golden haired older sister (Laura's hair is dull and brown.) and when Mary is blinded by scarlet fever, becomes her protector and guide.

I felt her frustration over the haughty Nellie Olsen, her first blushing meeting with her future husband Almanzo and her agony over the aging and eventual death of her beloved dog, Jack. I cried when she was punished, laughed when she played in the haystack and applauded when she got her first teaching job.

My Own Pioneer Journey

I know that Ingalls-Wilder meant to let children know what life was like back in her day. I don't know if she meant it to be a guidebook for homesteaders. But that's how I took it. These books taught me how to build a smokehouse, to make cheese and to cook johnny cake over a campfire, and a few hundred other skills.

Four decades after I'd first read the books, they inspired me to start my own pioneer journey to Colorado.

Me, Hubby and our roommate hitched two trailers up tp a pair of trucks and in our modern Conestoga wagons, drove to the foothills of the Rockies and planted ourselves on 40 acres of wilderness.

Our plan? Just to get back to the land. We'd raise Yaks for wool and dairy, grow a garden, build a dugout or a straw bale.I could feel Pa's spirit rising within me. The desire to have something to call my own. A wish to till the soil and let our hard but loving labor speak for itself.

Were we crazy? Absolutely,

But maybe crazy in a good way. Pa Ingalls maintained his optimism to the end, and I can too.

One of the hallmarks of the Little House series was that something always seemed to go wrong for the Ingalls family. If it wasn't Native Americans (rightfully) reclaiming their land, then it was hail or grasshoppers or Scarlet Fever.

For us:

In the two years we lived on our land, the yaks broke through their corral three times. They went on walkabout and in one case it took us two months to locate them again.

During the winter, our land was inaccessible by truck. To get groceries (and hay for the yaks) we had to hike 1/2 mile across our neighbor's land. Finally in cell phone range (our land wasn't) We'd call a cab, go into town, get our groceries. Then we had to sled our purchases (groceries, hay, propane, gas for the generator) back over 1/2 mile of half frozen mud, snow and slush.

A single trip to the store took as much as a day or two to get everything home.

Through it all, when the work got hard, the days grew bleak and the snow drifts piled thigh-high around us, I remembered Laura's Long Winter. She had made it through and I knew I could as well.

And now that circumstances have ousted me from my dreamed of and beloved farm, I continue to gain strength from Pa's and Laura's optimism, that they'd one day find their forever home. My dream hasn't gone away, just been postponed.

I read this series over and over, at least once per decade, often twice. Read it with your children and grandchildren or just as a guilty pleasure for yourself.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories
The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories
Maybe because her family was often hungry, Laura writes a LOT about food in her novels. I love this cookbook! A history of pioneer cooking, and recipies for some of Laura's favorite foods, from the Stewed Jackrabbit and Dumplings that made a special feast for Mr. Edwards to Salt-Rising Bread and a recipe for a cooling lemonade-like drink made with vinegar, since lemons were rare on the prarie - I tried it and it was surprisingly good.

Did you grow up with the Little House Books and love them?

See results

A beautifully done trailer for the Little house books! Must see!.

A Little House Timeline

Little House in the Big Woods
1870 *
Pepin, WI
Farmer Boy
Malone, NY
Little House on the Prarie
Independence, KS
On the Banks of Plum Creek
1871 to 1874
Redwood County, MN near Walnut Grove, MN
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Begins in 1979
Walnut Grove, MN & De Smett, SD
The Long Winter
De Smett, SD
Little Town on the Prarie
Begins 1881
De Smett, SD
These Happy Golden Years
De Smett, SD
The First Four Years
De Smett, SD

Overview of the Little House Books * the timeline of this book was skewed by the publisher. Laura was actually 3 at the time of this book, not 5.

**This book is the first one in the series where Laura's age is historically correct.

I'm not sure, but I think this MIGHT be my librarian! I'll have to ask her. Maybe a little too much focus on when everyone died, but fascinating nonetheless.

How awesome! A tiny lending library - take a book, leave a book. I want to build one for my neighborhood!

© 2014 Lionrhod


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