Reflections on The Long Winter

Reflections on The Long Winter #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

It seems like The Long Winter is one of Laura’s most popular books. I think it’s because it’s just a very memorable book. They almost starve, people. Not hard to forget that! But even more than that, it’s very different from the prior books in its more straightforward approach to Pa and his failures. After all, every book up to this point has been all about how wonderful Pa is and how he’s able to get them out of so many scrapes. Sure, Pa anticipated a bad winter when he saw the muskrats’ burrows, but he didn’t think too much of it. (That and Ma talked him out of his worry.)

This is where I start to get really uncharitable. I don’t like Mary. At this point, I’ve spent six books with her (2 with a blind Mary), and she just keeps getting worse. Starting with things like, “‘It must be one of Laura’s queer notions,’ Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove. ‘How could cattle’s heads freeze to the ground, Laura? It’s really worrying the way you talk sometimes.'” (page 50). Well, first of all, they were frozen to the ground, Mary, and second of all, stop being so judgey. And, I also realized that whenever I thought of Mary, I would picture Claire Danes’ cry face in Little Women. 

OK. Now I really want to talk about the Ingalls’ family busting their asses to send Mary to college. Why? I know it was a good experience for her in a life that wouldn’t be full of much excitement, but it almost broke the family. Like the time during The Long Winter when the family was running out of money. Ma quietly grabbed her pocketbook (the one that held “Mary’s money”). Pa stated loudly, “Mary, it may be the town’s running short of supplies. If the lumber yard and stores are pushing up prices too high…” Pa then paused so Mary could be a good girl to volunteer her money. The family was at risk of freezing, why did Mary get a choice? It’s at this point that I have to remind myself of the book’s fictional nature. (Deep, cleansing breaths.)

One other odd point that I really noticed reading this book was the sometimes odd sentence structure, such as “Teacher came to the door and boys and girls must go in to their lessons.” Appropriately in the past tense, that sentence would read “When Teacher came to the door, boys and girls had to go in to their lessons.” I feel like the sentence structure is supposed to emphasize the point as a lesson to the younger generation. Let’s face it, you know in her old age Laura was probably appalled at the behavior of young people!

What I Remember

What I remember most is Almanzo and Cap driving to find everyone food. Funny how stories of bravery really stick in your mind!

Have you read The Long Winter? What did you think? Am I mean for not liking Mary?


The Music of the Little House

The Music of the Little House #LauraIngallsWilder | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

The Ingalls and Wilder families sure loved their music. How fortunate they were for Pa’s skill with a fiddle. Between his stories and his music, the nights when they weren’t too tired from work were filled with good ol’ fashion family fun.

Where and when Pa picked up his skills is presumed unknown, but the catalogue of music in the Little House books has provided a great insight into the music and its dissemination through post Civil War America.

Below, please enjoy a brief listen to the music Pa played to entertain his family.

Buffalo Gals

The late Pete Seeger’s version of “Buffalo Gals” is accompanied by a banjo, but is still emblematic of the quick, fun melody of the song. A lot of kids who grew up watching the Looney Tunes should recognize this song. It frequented many of the cartoon sketches on the show. Can’t you just see the Ingalls family dancing a jig to this song? This song appears in Little House in the Big Woods. 

Life Let Us Cherish

This lovely duo, Vivian & Paul Williams, play Civil War music, including “Life Let Us Cherish,” a lovely melody that was one of the many songs Pa played immediately after the grasshopper invasion in On the Banks of Plum Creek. It’s easy to understand how such a sweet tune could help the family deal with the dramatic economic loss they’d just suffered.

Polly Put the Kettle On

Banjos and an accordion join a fiddle during this performance. Pa played “Polly Put the Kettle On” during the fateful Christmas Eve in On the Banks of Plum Creek. The fiddle can be a somber instrument, but this definitely isn’t one of its somber songs. Again, I can picture the family, thankful to be together dancing around their small house.

Bonnie Doon

Pa played Scottish poet Robert Burns’ Bonnie Doon as a tribute to his own Scottish lass. A beautifully sang and altogether haunting version can be found here. And, really, how prescient is this song about the heralded life of yore in fair and fertile Scotland for those of us who relish learning about the Ingalls’ pioneering life?

And last, but not least, I had to share this promo video for the PBS Special, Pa’s Fiddle: America’s Music.

Are you a fan of Pa’s music? I love the down-home feeling of a fiddle, which is so in vogue in today’s music. 

Pa Knows Best




Over the course of eight books, Pa shares plenty of advice and wisdom with his family, but mostly Laura. The well-intentioned advice not only taught Laura, but has taught thousands (millions?) of young readers about how to be a good, reliable person. Pa began the series sharing his advice in the form of story, but he looked to the brevity of platitudes to help him teach his girls when time was short and he was tired from tons of work.

Here, in one image, I’ve gathered my favorite advice. The advice that I think truly encapsulates the message of the books.

Pa Knows Best | #LauraIngallsWilder | The 1000th Voice Blog


Click on the image if you, ya know, actually want to see it!

What was your favorite advice from Pa? 

De Smet Musings

A couple weeks ago my family gathered in De Smet, SD for a family reunion. I, of course, was beyond excited and found myself talking about Laura constantly. But in the world of Laura lovers and experts, that’s totally normal!

De Smet isn’t unfamiliar to me. I grew up less than an hour away and went to an old-school dentist there as a child. Oh, and, you know Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t fully associate De Smet with Laura until I was older, but it’s still a special place to me.

We rented the lodge at Lake Thompson. It’s a former farm house that was probably built in the early 1900s. The land was privately owned until actually very recently. After the water rose on Lake Thompson (I’m told during one rain), the South Dakota Game Fish & Parks purchased the land to turn it into a state park. The other notable thing about Lake Thompson is that it’s South Dakota’s largest glacial lake at about 18,000 acres, so not small.

Reading is Fun! | Today's De Smet | The 1000th Voice Blog

It immediately became clear to me how much my family enjoys books, which seemed so apropos a few short miles from where Laura Ingalls Wilder blossomed into a woman.



South Dakota is super windy. The wind’s force was on display during our visit. On day one, there was no way anyone was hopping onto the catamaran. Luckily, that changed by day two.



I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to see everything Laura-related during this visit because I’ll be back. One thing I couldn’t miss, though, was the Pageant Play.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Play | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog


Skip and Barnum happily pulled visitors along; unfortunately we were pulled along by the mules, Molly and Dolly.

Skip & Barnum | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog


The play was fun, and Claire even payed attention. On the way back to the campsite, Claire practiced her words like Laura did.

Sun Set Over Big Slough | De Smet Musings | The 1000th Voice Blog


Although it was hazy all weekend, we did get to see a pretty sunset over Big Slough, just like Laura saw!

All in all, it was a great weekend, that I hope to repeat again. And one final Laura moment, my uncle suggested we travel to the Ozarks in two years for the next family reunion!

Reflections on On the Banks of Plum Creek & By the Shores of Silver Lake

Reflections on On the Banks of Plum Creek & By the Shores of Silver Lake | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

Like Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie, I almost think of these two books as the same one. I’m not really sure why. Plum Creek shows a young Laura moving into her first real house and going to school; while Silver Lake shows a teenage Laura on the precipice of her life. I’m sure my mind likes to combine the water-related place names. I do mix up the names from time to time. Is is On the Banks of Silver Lake and By the Shores of Plum Creek?

On the Banks of Plum Creek shows us a continually optimistic Pa who just keeps missing the mark. Quite literally so that one Christmas when he barely makes it home. But I still love Pa, even though he decides to bet big and doesn’t win. Actually, I probably love him because he tries to make a big bet to help improve his family’s life. Also, I love that he makes good on his promise to Caroline that the girls would be educated. And thank goodness for that education that helped Laura and Carrie later on in their careers.

By the Shores of Silver Lake starts several years after Plum Creek with yet another move. The real life interim between the books was a very difficult time for the family as they moved back and forth several times, lost a new baby, and Mary contracted the illness that would cause her to lose her vision. But the story opens hopefully as all Little House books do. Laura’s practically a teenager and taking on so much as the rest of the family recovers from illness.

Silver Lake is really the peak of my dislike for Mary. As portrayed in the book, she seems to be very jealous of Laura’s health and, most of all, her vision. It’s understandable, but her jealousy manifests itself in meanness and a much more focused attempt to act superior that we’ve seen thus far. She constantly scolds Laura for her descriptions of her surroundings, even though she states that Laura really paints a picture with her words. I just really don’t like Mary.

What I Remember

I only have vague memories of reading these books as a kid. For some reason that makes me sad. But, I don’t actually recall a lot about the books I read as a child and young adult. Every now and then I do remember some part of a book I read. For instance, on the way to the bathroom today I remembered a book I read in my early teens about a young teenager who goes to fat camp to lose a few pounds and feel better about herself. Well, she calls it a spa, not fat camp. But, why do I remember this? I honestly have no idea, but the four or so minutes it takes me to walk to and from the bathroom are a strangely prolific time for my mind. I drink a lot of water.

Did you read these books as a child? Do you remember anything? Do you remember all of the books you read as a child? Do you get a lot of ideas while showering or going to the bathroom? I sometimes think I need SNL’s Bathroom Businessman concept, but not because it takes too much time!

(Sorry for the video of a video; it was the best I found on YouTube.)

Poetry Friday: #LauraIngallsWilder Style

Poetry Friday: #LauraIngallsWilder Style| a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

Of all the things that she was, did you know Laura was also a poet? She didn’t write about it in the Little House book, but Laura began writing down her thoughts in verse from an early age.

Oh read me a story and let me forget
This brain racking worry, this wearying fret
Read me of when the har was still strung
When at my Lord’s coming the joy bells were rung;
When all hearts were merry and the world was still young
When honor was common and knavery rare
The men were all gallant, the women all fair;
And when the sweetest sad music was heard in the air
Sailors knew that mermaidens were combing their hair.
So come read the tale, dear, and let us forget
This present day hurry and struggle and fret.
as published in William Anderson’s  A Little House Reader

Doesn’t losing oneself in a good book sound wonderful? We know that the Ingalls and Wilder families entertained themselves in the winter evenings with music and reading. Without the radio to entertain as families did in the 50s and the TV of today, the family actually had to entertain each other!

You can read more of Laura’s poems in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairy Poems. What do you think about Laura’s poem? 

An Interview with Sarah Uthoff

An Interview with Sarah Utoff | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

My Laura Ingalls Wilder series continues today with an interview with Laura Ingalls Wilder expert Sarah Uthoff. Sarah hosts a podcast and speaks about Laura Ingalls Wilder and one room schools around the country.

An Interview with Sarah Uthoff | A Little (or a lot) About Laura | The 1000th Voice blog

My first question truly starts at the beginning. Please tell me a little about your first experience with the Little House books. How did you discover/learn about the books? Did you immediately fall in love with them?

Someone told my mother when she found out she was going to have a little girl that she needed to get the Little House books for her. So she did. I really don’t remember a time before they were being read to me, but I always did love them. My mom used to make us record these little oral history tapes and in one of the earliest we found (I must have been 3 or 4) she asked me what my favorite thing to do was and I said “play Laura” and I’ve been playing Laura ever since.

I love that you played Laura at such a young age. My daughter’s 3 right now, and I’ve read some of the scenes to her. She’s enjoyed it, but only in brief spurts.

You’ve made a name for yourself by researching Laura Ingalls Wilder. How did you make the transition from the three year old playing Laura to the Laura expert who hosts a radio show, speaks at conferences and helps organize Laurapalooza?

I think I owe a big part of it to my mother who was a big believer in supporting things your children are interested in. It’s because of her that I visited almost all the Laura sites as a child and for years she would give me a life membership into one of the Laura organizations every Christmas. She even suggested on the way out after my first county level 4H presentation that my next one should be about Laura which helped get me started on presenting. She continues to be a source of support so she should get credit. My other family members were supportive too. My grandmother on one side made me my Laura dress and that grandfather always was willing to play Pa when I was playing Laura. My other grandmother made me a Laura doll and that grandfather made me a little covered wagon that I still use in my display.

Really though I think reading Laura’s words just makes you want to learn more. As you dig into the books there are layers upon layers and although I think you get a lot out of reading the books without background knowledge the more you know about 19th century life the more you get out of them. Once you figure that out you want to know more and start digging. Different people are attracted to different parts of the story and focus their research efforts there. A big part of my interest has always been sharing that knowledge. I keep looking for more and better ways to do that and I think that explains why people recognize my name and why I keep working on getting Laura into new arenas.

It must all start with great moms and support from your family! They sound really great.

I’ve definitely noticed a lot more depth to the books that I didn’t notice as a child, so this reread has been a really fun and eye-opening experience for me. What piece of knowledge about Laura have you uncovered or come across in your digging that you think is the most interesting? Also, excluding the fact that the Little House series is at least somewhat fictionalized, what surprises most people about Laura’s life when you speak to them?

One of the things that surprised me the most was when I was taking a tour of the Watkins Woolen Mill I was watching them demonstrate how they twisted a skein of wool. As his hands moved I suddenly realized what he was doing was the same actions Laura described as making a hay twist. I never could quite picture it before and suddenly it was clear that whoever came up with the haytwist must have been familiar with how the wool was twisted. It was a nice surprise of a part of Laura showing up where you didn’t expect it.

I’d say the thing that shocks people the most are the TV fans when they find out everything in the TV show isn’t real. You get a lot of people who seem to think that the show was a documentary of Laura’s life, which it definitely wasn’t. That comes as a true shock to people and sometimes they won’t even believe you. I’ve heard about TV show fans arguing with the people at De Smet that the marker in the cemetery there for Laura’s baby must have the wrong name on it because Mary’s baby died in the TV show. (Actually Laura’s baby died on the show too, but that was after ratings were down, maybe that didn’t register as much.)

Hay twisting is just one of the manual task descriptions, amongst other descriptions, that I’ve actually gotten lost while reading. It sometimes seems like pioneer people had at least a third hand to help accomplish the task.

The TV only fans seem to be an odd group, but that’s coming from someone who really doesn’t want anything to do with the TV show. Mostly, though, it blows my mind that people don’t realize the TV show is at least somewhat based on the books. ::sigh::

Apparently the Little House realm is filled with at least a few people who identify with Mary over Laura. Someone who played Laura as a child would probably pick her as their favorite. Is that correct?

That’s an interesting comment. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone tell me they identified with Mary over Laura. Normally Laura, Pa, and Almanzo come up and then often people re-reading the books later in life will sometimes realize they totally underappreciated Ma, but Mary doesn’t come up. In fact when I could get my friends at school to “Play Laura” which wasn’t very often because they weren’t as accommodating as my family was, it was always a struggle to get someone to play Mary. Everyone wanted to be Laura and it was often a heated discussion. I normally ended up taking the part because she really is crucial to a lot of the scenes you could act out, especially with a group of people, but there wasn’t a lot of people clambering to take the part.

You have to have a lot of respect for Mary later in life. She got dealt a bad hand and really truly lived her moral belief in the importance of acceptance and faith. It’s a lot easier to fight for your morals, than to live by them, and she definitely did live by hers. As a younger child though, the definitely was “showing off how good I was” as she says in the later books that makes her kind of annoying sometimes.

Mary did get her own spin-off book “Mary Ingalls on Her Own.” I was disappointed with it. Not only did it ignore some of the few facts we know about her time there, it also planted some myths that I don’t know if we’ll ever get out of the fandom. Plus, the author wrote Mary as kind of a lite version of Laura, instead of as Mary herself and as I say post-childhood Mary was really an interesting person in her own right, she didn’t need to borrow any of Laura’s personality to carry a book on her own.

Mary definitely has a quiet courage that doesn’t really show well on the page, especially next to bold Laura. 

We know that Rose Wilder Lane had a controversial role in the Little House books and her parents’ lives. I find her incredibly fascinating. What are your thoughts on her?

Rose is definitely an interesting person and well worth a quality biography in her own right. I’m sorry that she hasn’t had one. She lived an interesting life. As far as her role in the Little House books I think that is pretty clear to anyone who looks at it objectively. While a full scale study based on existing manuscripts to the published version hasn’t yet been undertaken, I think anyone familiar with the publishing industry and with the published writings of Wilder and Lane and their correspondence correctly identifies their roles in the process. The original writing was Laura’s, but if it hadn’t been for Rose I doubt they would have been published. It was Rose’s connections that got Laura an agent and then a publisher and she handled most of the business end with both. Rose was also the one who wouldn’t give up and it was through her influence that books went from memoir to picture book to chapter book. Rose also definitely edited the books, but here’s the big “secret” all books that aren’t self-published are edited. That is usually what’s wrong with so many self-published books, they lack editing and it truly does make a difference. Ursula Nordstrom who was the head of the children’s department at Harpers (considered a major force in children’s book publishing in the early 20th century)said there were only two authors’s books that didn’t have to be edited, E.B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder. White took forever on a book and edited them themselves. Lane edited Wilder’s.

Rose was a very interesting woman who made an impact in many parts of American culture. I’m pretty sure though she wouldn’t have liked me at all and a choice between Laura and Rose, I’d take Laura every time no matter what the question was.

Do you have a favorite Little House book? If so, which one and why?

Also, do you have a favorite book about Laura?

My favorite Laura book growing up was always the one where she was the closest to my current age. Now I am, sadly, older than Laura in all the books, I tend to see them as one big book in multiple volumes so I don’t really have a favorite. If you press me, a lot of my favorite stories come in On the Banks of Plum Creek. The best designed book in the Helen Gentry-Garth Williams version is the Long Winter. I could go on quite a while about that.

I think that was another great interview! You can find Sarah at Stay tuned for more Laura related goodneess!

Reflections on Farmer Boy

Reflections on Farmer Boy | a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

When it was published in 1933, Farmer Boy was the second book in Laura’s Little House series; it would later become the third book. Telling the story of a year in Manly’s life, Farmer Boy seems greatly out of place in the entire series. To be honest, it’s probably my least favorite book. But I will admit that it probably makes the Little House series more relevant to boys. They can relate to young Manly’s boyhood motivations and desires the way many young girls (and the adult women they become) relate to young Laura.

Aside from the gender of the main character, one main theme of Farmer Boy stands out from the rest of Laura’s book: success and its results, mainly food, lots of food. Manly is really a little porker in this book; or, actually, he would be a little porker if not for all the manual labor he does (that and the calories spent keeping his body warm during the cold winters). Manly’s mother always kept a jar of donuts out on the counter; in the story, Manly would frequently stop and shove several into his mouth every trip he would take through the kitchen. Then there’s the breakfasts of large stacks of pancakes and the enormous suppers every night.

In her intro to The Little House Cookbook, Barbara Walker makes note of this difference. She concludes that after a lifetime filled with hunger, she wrote Farmer Boy as “her own fantasy of blissful youth surrounded on all sides by food.” (Quote taken from Wendy McClure’s Wilder Life.) Writing Farmer Boy, must have been both a treat and a struggle as she compared Manly’s childhood to her own.

What I Remember

Well, it’s not a big surprise, but my most clear memory of reading this as a child was the very beginning when the visiting teacher borrows Manly’s Pa’s bull whip to deal with the trashy older kids from Hardscrabble Hill. Funny how such a beating can stand out in your life, huh?

I also vaguely recalled that Manly loved horses, and, boy, did he ever. The entire book consists of him begging his father or otherwise trying to prove to him that he’s old enough to take care of the horses. 

What do you think of Farmer Boy? Did you enjoy it as a child, or was it also your least favorite book?

Don’t you hate when you have stupid typos, like lease for least? That’s what I get for writing so quickly.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Life in Dates

a little (or a lot) about Laura | Laura Ingalls Wilder | The 1000th Voice blog

There seems like no more perfect way to kick off my Laura series than by posting a really long dateline of her life (and those who were a big part of her life). Let’s just say, I really know how to let loose.

Here goes:

Birth & Early Life

1885 (February 13) Almanzo is born in Malone, NY

1867 (February 7) Laura is born in the Little House in the Big Woods in Pepin County, Wisc.

1868 The Ingalls family moves from Wisconsin to Rothville, Mo. and onto Independence, Kan.

1870 (August) Caroline Celestia “Carrie” is born in the Little House on the Prairie near Independence, Kan.
(August/September) The Ingalls family moves back to Wisconsin.

1874 The Ingalls family moves from Pepin to Minnesota, living in Lake City, South Troy and Walnut Grove

1875 (February 1) Freddy Ingalls is born. He dies nine months later in South Troy, Minn. The Wilders move from Malone to Spring Valley, Minn.

1876 The Ingalls family moves to Burr Oak, Iowa to help run a hotel.

1877 (May 23) Grace Ingalls is born.
The family moves from Burr Oak back to Walnut grove where Charles becomes the town butcher and Justice of the Peace.

1879 Charles Ingalls accepts a position on the railroad and moved to eastern Dakota Territory. The family joined him in the fall.
The family spent that mild winter in the Surveyor’s house, which Laura wrote about toward the end of By the Shores of Silver Lake.

1880-1881 The family survives the Hard Winter, which was portrayed in The Long Winter. It was the most severe on record in the Dakotas.

1882 (December 10) Two months after her 16th birthday, Laura is offered her first teaching position. She goes on to teach three terms in one-room schools and still attends school in DeSmet.

Marriage & Adulthood

1885 (August 25) Laura marries Almanzo, whom she calls Manly.

1886 (December 5) Laura gives birth to Rose. A rose in the winter is far more rare than a rose in June.

1889 Laura gives birth to a son who dies later. Laura never wrote about this, but Grace wrote a brief entry in her diary (partially reprinted in A Little House Reader). Grace said the baby looked like Almanzo.

1890 The Wilders left DeSmet to spend a year recuperating at the Wilder family farm near Spring Valley, Minn. From there they move briefly to Westville, Fla.

1892 The Wilders return to DeSmet.

1894 Following years of struggle, the Wilders move to Mansfield, Miss.

Career Begins

1911 Laura’s writing career begins with publication in the Missouri Ruralist.

1924 Caroline Ingalls dies.

1928 Mary Ingalls dies.

1932 Little House in the Big Woods is published by Harper & Brothers.

1932 Rose’s Let the Hurricane Roar is published.

1933 Farmer Boy is published. It later becomes the third book in the series.

1935 Little House on the Prairie is published.

1937 On the Banks of Plum Creek is published

1938 Rose’s Free Land is published. The Saturday Evening Post pays her $30,000 ($450,000 in 2010 dollars) to serialize her novel. It remains in print as Young Pioneers.

1939 By the Shores of Silver Lake is published.

1940 The Long Winter is published.

1941 Little Town on the Prairie is published.

1943 These Happy Golden Years is published.

1949 (October 23) Almanzo dies in Mansfield, Miss.

1954 The Laura Ingalls Wilder medal recognizing lifetime achievement of a living children’s author or illustrator is inaugurated by the American Library Association.

1957 (February 10) Laura dies in Mansfield, Miss.

1962 On the Way Home is published.

1971 The First Four Years is published. It was found among Rose’s possessions by her heir.

1974 West From Home is published.

I told you I know how to have fun! Join me tomorrow for some more Laura posts that are legitimately more fun than this one!