April: The Untold Heroism of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Ma

I finished a reading challenge! *Pats self on back*

Then again, this month’s challenge asked me to pick a book from my childhood, and Little House on the Prairie‘s target audience is, what? Fourth graders? Regardless! It was still 335 pages (with large font and more than a few pictures…), and I carved out time to finish it. I don’t remember when I first read it as a child, but I remembered next to nothing of the story.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder

In case you aren’t well-versed in children’s literature, I thought I’d give a quick recap of how the book came to be. The author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote these stories based on her childhood, which involved multiple moves in covered wagons. She was born in Wisconsin in 1867. In 1869, the Ingalls family hit the road toward Kansas, where they lived for a year or two in Indian country. Well, her father had heard incorrectly that white settlers could move to that land. And, therefore, after the entire tale of Little House on the Prairie, the family had to move again. Oh! Spoiler! My bad…

In the book, she portrays herself around 5 years old, but she was actually only about 2. With that in mind, I don’t know how much of the story (and recalled conversations) is actually true. She published her first book for children, Little House in the Big Woods, in 1932. The other eight books followed through 1943.

Here’s what I kept thinking: This wasn’t that long ago! In my mind, the late 1800s and early 1900s looked like Model T cars and metal industry, not gingham dresses and covered wagons!

And here’s my other thought: Caroline Ingalls or “Ma” was the living epitome of a supportive wife.

Again, Laura was only 2 when all of this supposedly happened, so maybe she missed a few hot-tempered, furiously whispered conversations between her ma and pa, but, holy guacamole. Also, let’s remember that Laura had an older sister, Mary, and a baby sister, Carrie. So, Ma, Pa, and three small girls.

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There she is, y’all. Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. She looks just about done with his crazy ideas.

I’ll prove my case in support of Ma’s amazing submission.

Page 3:

One day, in the very last day of winter Pa said to Ma, “Seeing you don’t object, I’ve decided to go see the West. I’ve had an offer for this place, and we can sell it now for as much as we’re ever likely to get, enough to give us a start in a new country.”

“Oh, Charles, must we go now?” Ma said. The weather was so cold and the snug house was so comfortable.

“If we are going this year, we must go now,” said Pa. “We can’t get across the Mississippi after the ice breaks.”

So Pa sold the little house.

Page 9, after crossing the Mississippi River in their covered wagon:

Next morning Pa said, “It’s lucky we crossed (the ice-covered river) yesterday, Caroline. Wouldn’t wonder if the ice broke up today. We made a late crossing, and we’re lucky it didn’t start breaking up while we were out in the middle of it.”

“I thought about that yesterday, Charles,” Ma replied, gently.

What. In. The. World.

This woman had three very small daughters. Her husband informs her he wants to move to an uninhabited place, and she’s like, “Well, it might be a bit chilly, but OK.”

THEN, after they cross the icy Mississippi, they hear the ice cracking that night. And she GENTLY tells him she thought they may all plunge to their icy deaths? Honestly, I might have been hollering and kicking some shins at this point.

Let’s continue on.

So, they cross the prairie, from Wisconsin through Iowa and Missouri and south to Kansas. Then, all of the sudden, Pa says:

“Here we are, Caroline! Right here we’ll build our house.”

Laura and Mary scrambled over the feeding box and dropped to the ground in a hurry. All around them there was nothing but grassy prairie spreading to the edge of the sky.

(A bit more description of the landscape…)

Right away, he and Ma began to unload the wagon.

That’s it? Her man stops in the middle of the road in the absolute middle of nowhere, and she’s like, “All righty! Let’s unload the wagon!”

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“Right here, dear! I see a tree, so we can build a house! Who needs civilization, anyhow?”

They were a two-day wagon ride from any kind of civilization. They could see the smoke from the Indian villages. Y’all, this woman had three, tiny girls!

What a different time it must’ve been.

I can see how he won her over, though. I mean, after he finished building her a chimney…

Side Note: I am incredibly impressed at how much these people could accomplish. I mean, he could just stop in the middle of the road and build a house for his family. Pretty impressive. But maybe not overly convenient.

…he ran his fingers through his hair.

“You look like a wild man, Charles,” Ma said. “You’re standing your hair all on end.”

“It stands on end, anyway, Caroline,” Pa answered. “When I was courting you, it never would lie down, no matter how much I slicked it with bear grease.”

See? Maybe men these days have been going at it all wrong. Modern men use Axe. This man used bear grease, and his woman followed him blindly across the country in a covered wagon. Something to ponder.

We then see Indians walk into Ma’s kitchen (OK, her house, as it was all one room anyhow) and take whatever they’d like. She even cooks for them. Often. There’s a prairie fire that nearly destroys everything. Wolves encircle the house, howling. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

After Pa helps some cowboys round up their longhorns, they give him a cow and calf as payment. Pa is very pleased with himself and calls it “a piece of luck!”.

Pa would not charge [the cowboys] any money, but he told them he would take a piece of beef.

“How would you like a good piece of beef?” Pa asked.

“Oh, Charles!” said Ma, and her eyes shone.

Again. My eyes would not shine if my husband brought a cow home. Yes, I understand there weren’t Publix grocery stores back in the prairie days, and this was a boon to their entire lives. However, Pa clearly found himself a good woman in Ma.

Then, at the very end of the book, Ma and Pa spend hours and hours planting potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, peas, and corn.

“Pretty soon they would all begin to live like kings,” page 315 reads.

AND THEN…

Pa hears the soldiers are coming to remove white settlers from the land because it was actually Osage Indian territory, and the Osage Indians weren’t pleased with the encroachment.

Apparently, the Ingalls family packed up the next day and headed back to Missouri.

“I’ll not stay here to be taken away by the soldiers like an outlaw!” Pa said. “If some blasted politicians in Washington hadn’t sent out word it would be all right to settle here, I’d never have been three miles over the line into Indian Territory. But I’ll not wait for the soldiers to take us out. We’re going now!”

“What’s the matter, Charles? Where are we going?” Ma asked.

“Durned if I know! But we’re going. We’re leaving here!” Pa said.

And so, they pack up their wagon, give the cow to a neighbor, and head out.

Ma sighed gently and said, “A whole year gone, Charles.” But Pa answered, cheerfully: “What’s a year amount to? We have all the time there is.”

Again. Durned if I would’ve “sighed gently” had my husband read the map wrong and built the house three miles into Indian Territory. There would’ve been many an “Are you freakin’ kidding me??” conversations, and I believe I would’ve struggled to keep the Fruit of the Spirit in the forefront of my mind.

And that was it. Pa makes a joke about rabbits having fun eating their newly planted garden after they left, and Ma simply replies: “Don’t, Charles.”

Get it, girl. I think that man deserves a little sass. Good for you.


Well, I know this post ran a bit long. English-major tendency. However, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed rereading this book. I can’t wait to read it to my kids when they’re a bit bigger. At least there are pictures to keep their attention.

I deeply admire those tough women of yesteryear. Whew. I assume I have that kind of fortitude buried waaaaaay down deep, but let’s hope I get to stick with “Where should we go for dinner?” as our toughest discussion of the day.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. I LOVE this and your take on Ma Ingalls is spot on!

    Like

    1. seemamaread says:

      Thanks! I think she’s spunkier than she appears, but I love how Laura wrote her with this droll sense of humor. I can’t imagine being a prairie wife!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dana says:

    I love the Little House books! Please read the whole series. I’ve done so many times. Farmer Boy, The Long Winter (you think surviving on the prairie was rough? Try doing it during constant blizzards with everyone in town starving to death), and These Happy Golden Years are my favorites. Also, I can’t believe you missed the opportunity to comment on Pa’s possessed ghost eyes in that picture. Creepy…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seemamaread says:

      Yesssss! I just like how Ma looks DONE in that photo.

      Like

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