This weekend I spent some time reading articles about the Little House on the Prairie books, and how Rose Wilder Lane, one of the founders of what is known as modern Libertarianism and also Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, heavily edited the original manuscripts in order to further her political agenda. I knew this already, to some extent. After all, there is a lot of discussion, mostly from Pa, about being free and independent and about how you can never depend on anyone but yourself. God helps those who help themselves, pull yourself up by your boot straps, et cetera. I was surprised to find, however, that certain details have been changed, hypocritically, that are absolutely central to the story. I knew that the Ingalls family had illegally squatted on land in what is now Kansas, “Indian Territory” land that belonged to the native people and that was not up for settlement, no matter how huffy Pa got at the end of Little House on the Prairie. “I’ll not stay here to be taken away by the soldiers like an outlaw!” Ah, Pa, but an outlaw you were.
What I didn’t know was that Mary’s education at the Iowa College for the Blind was paid for by the government of Dakota. That’s a pretty major detail, since in all the books Laura was teaching school in wretched conditions at a very young age, in order to earn money to send and keep Mary at college. I guess that what poor Laura was doing was earning money just to help keep her family from being completely impoverished and destitute. Poor Laura! Living in that shack in the middle of the god-forsaken prairie, forty below with the wind always blowing and the snow so deep that walking to the schoolhouse was almost beyond her strength, staying with a homicidal woman who threatened her husband with a knife and who was almost certainly suffering from deep depression. Not that I blame her. Mrs. Brewster, the least understood woman in the history of the Little House books. If I were stuck in a similar situation, where my days were spent entirely a) sweeping out the one-room shack, b) cooking two meals a day that consist only of potatoes and salt pork, and c) maybe doing the laundry when it wasn’t minus 40, I’d probably want to murder someone too. And yet, Laura went through this to help with the family’s terrible financial situation, and not to merely send her sister to school. Depressing indeed.
I recently read a book about the Ingalls family; I’ve always kind of wondered about long-suffering Ma, who essentially packed up the family with a cheery countenance any time her crazy husband decided to pick up and move cross-country. Was Ma constantly on laudanum? Or was she some kind of earthly angel? Here’s the depressing answer: Caroline was getting kind of old-maidish – she was a schoolteacher, as well – and Charles was considered to be extremely handsome and dashing. His proposal to schoolmarmish Caroline was a huge surprise to friends and family, who did not think that she was his equal in attractiveness and spirit. THEY DID NOT THINK SHE WAS PRETTY ENOUGH FOR CHARLES. Take a look at this picture and see for yourself: