I read all of the “Little House” books when I was a kid, and absolutely loved them. The books have been republished many times over the decades. Spin-off series and a television show were also made. But how did it all begin?
It all goes back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Laura and her husband Almanzo, like millions of other Americans, lost everything after the stock market crashed. Over the years, Laura had kept detailed journals of her life, and had started writing columns about her life for a newspaper, The Missouri Ruralist.
After Laura’s mother died in 1924, followed by her sister Mary in 1928, she felt moved to write her life story, which she entitled Pioneer Girl. When the Depression hit, she expanded the manuscript, and it became “Little House In The Big Woods”. The book described their family’s life in the dense woods of Wisconsin in the early 1870s, when Laura was a small child. Sales of the book helped the Ingalls make it through the Great Depression.
The book works its way through the seasons of a year, beginning with fall. It’s time to build up a supply of food to get them through the winter. The family hog is butchered, and a wild deer is shot. Relatives came to help them with packaging and preserving the meat. There are descriptions of how they smoked and salted the food to prevent spoilage. Ma and her daughters made cheese and butter. In the winter Pa would continue to hunt, but the pickings were slimmer. He would spend time inside, making his own bullets, chopping the wood that was constantly needed to keep the family warm, caring for the family cow and horses, and telling the children stories. When springtime came, it was time to collect sap from maple trees and make syrup. The relatives gather to share the work, and dance afterwards. When it was warm enough, it was planting season. In the summer, they did the harvesting.
The book mostly describes their lifestyle, which entailed a lot of manual labor. I doubt if many of us would be able to do what they did! But mixed in with the “how-we-did-it” sections are stories of events that made an impression on young Laura, like the time when her family went to the tiny town of Pepin to buy yearly supplies. She had never even seen two houses together, and it looked huge! Her recollections of Sundays at home were quite interesting as well. To get a feel for life almost 150 years ago, this is a great read.