They pack things up in a covered wagon, leaving major furniture behind “because Pa could always make more” (and I am sure because it would have taken another wagon just to load bigger things like beds and tables), say a poignant good-bye to grandparents and cousins without knowing when they would be able to communicate again, much less see them again, cross the frozen Mississippi River only the day before the ice starts to break, then endure traveling unnumbered days (with no DVDs, radios, iPods, or McDonald’s!) and make camp in a new place almost every night.
Finally they reach Kansas, where they see wide open space with “nothing but the rippling grass and the enormous sky” which seemed to curve over them in a perfect circle, quite a contrast to the Big Woods. But they traveled on still to Oklahoma, passing through a dangerous high creek in the process. I felt almost as sick as Laura said she felt til they were safely on the other side.
When they finally choose a spot to settle, then the long process of making a home begins: making a tent of the wagon covering, hauling logs, making the cut-outs at each end so they can stack together, making doors (without nails!!) Once again I was impressed with the industriousness and knowledge of both Ma and Pa as well as everyone’s bucking up under what we would consider hardship. I can’t quite imagine having a dirt floor or making beds on it: wouldn’t everything constantly get dusty? Yet everyone seems patient with the time it takes to get everything done step by step. When Pa is finally able to build a bed frame and they fill a straw tick with dry grass from the prairie (which almost makes me itchy just to think about), Ma says she is “so comfortable it’s almost sinful.”
The Ingalls had word that the Indians would soon be leaving, but there were still plenty of them around, giving Ma a fright when they would show up at her door and apparently want something to eat. Wolf packs, fire in the chimney and then on the prairie, “fever ‘n’ ague” (which Laura said later was probably malaria) which would likely have taken the whole family if someone had not come upon them when there were sick are just a few of the trials the family experienced. I could empathize with Ma’s long nights alone when Pa had to make the four-day trip back and forth to the nearest town.
And in this book we meet dear Mr. Edwards, one of my favorite characters, and have one of my favorite parts of the series during the Christmas he makes a trip at great hardship to himself so the girls can have Christmas — and they are so thrilled with the little gifts they receive.
There are a few remarks about Indians that we would consider racist today, but I think they were primarily motivated by fear. Pa tried to keep the peace and calm other neighbors’ excited feelings against the Indians. Other books I have been reading debate the controversy of settlers encroaching on Indian territory, but I don’t think most of the settlers had the big picture we do today in retrospect: most of them weren’t personally trying to run the Indians out: they just knew the government said there was land to be homesteaded.
Little House on the Prairie is a fascinating account of what I imagine many pioneer families dealt with in traveling in covered wagons and settling new territory. But even more than the historical interest, the warmth of the family and their character makes this book one of the most special children’s books written.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)