Prairie Fires: Chapter 14 (Part 1)

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 14

(Tweet Link: Part 12) #PrairieFires Part 12. Chapter #14. Let's get as far as we can.

 Dr. Ghost Buster‏ @PlasmaGrrl Replying to @AnaMardoll  My brain keeps parsing the hash tag as "PraireFaeries" and making me think of your awesome books. Seriously, though, your live reading on this is amazing!

Hahaha, omg, #PrairieFaeries would not be wrong, no. Bless, I needed that chuckle.

Chapter 14 opens with Rose being awful, and I mean. Are we even surprised at this point? She's just turned 70, Laura has died, so obviously the reasonable thing to do is leave town to go pal around with friends.

Neta, the family friend who is on crutches and recovering from knee surgery, is left to deal with Laura's things and the funeral aftermath. I pray to every god I know and a few I don't that Neta looted the fuck out of the place. I really do. I hope she stole everything that wasn't nailed down. Rose writes a letter justifying her actions (she was not in her "right mind") then goes back to her house renovations.

The town buys the house from the new owners (the reverse mortgage) to make a shrine to Laura. Rose pressures Neta (who had been given some furniture) to 'sell back' the furniture since (Rose claims) Neta already has "nice things". Neta sells her inheritance for a dollar. Because she is a nice person, unlike Rose, Ayn Rand, or Libertarians in general.

Laura bequeaths her royalties to go to Rose while Rose lives then, once Rose dies, to go to the Mansfield Laura Ingalls Library. OH I BET ROSE WILL LOVE THAT, given her obsession with inheritance taxes.

Roger MacBride re-enters the picture. You remember him as the 14yo son of a Reader's Digest editor who started immediately spending nights and weekends at Rose's house. Yeah. Roger informs the agency in 1959 that Rose no longer wants to keep an agent and oh by the way she wants copies of all of Rose's and Laura's old contracts.

Roger refers to himself as Rose's "adopted grandson" and she changes her will to name him the sole executor and beneficiary of her estate. He's 27 at this time, fresh out of Harvard Law, and has never met Laura. Nothing about this sounds healthy or above board.

Rose and Roger do... complicated things... to wrest away the 10% agent fee from George Bye's estate and his ailing widow. Rose might be legally in her rights here, the contract was unclear. This is mostly a despicable thing to do because Bye loaned her money a bazillion times and Laura probably almost certainly wouldn't have wanted her royalties treated like this. Probably.

Roger makes a right asshole of himself and denigrates Bye's work, claiming Rose negotiated all her mother's contracts herself. This is damn lies. We have someone fresh and new to hate! Roger is lying some more now. Boy, Harvard churned out a charmer. He also positions himself as a friend of Laura's when he never once met her. Roger urges a private settlement of the matter and the publisher is over a barrel and does so. Later Roger will refer to his and Rose's behavior as "blackmail". Charming.

At Laura's death, the annual income of her royalties is $18,000. Rose is 70. She doesn't need to scrabble for every last penny. What the hell, Rose. (I dunno what $18,000 is in today money but the answer is "a lot".) In just the first 6-month period after Laura's death, Rose's royalties were $8,716! Basically $75,000 today! In six months. The agent fee she fought over? A mere $968.

"For the first time in her life, Lane found herself comfortably off. Having refurbished her house, she turned to her protégé. He would be her next renovation."

*breathes into a paper bag*

It's a good thing I don't like Roger! ...oh god, it's like Fraser knew I would say that, because now she punches me in the gut. He's nearsighted and used to be sidelined at school and hit with wayward balls during games. He was lonely and quiet and Rose has had her claws in him since he was fourteen (can I just repeat that? 14!!) and she's turned him into an asshole libertarian activist.

In Harvard he wrote about the electoral college. Before we all get excited, he didn't want to get rid of the electoral college, oh no. He wanted electors to have greater flexibility to ignore the actual votes and elect whoever they wanted. Rose is proud of the fact that Roger sent his high school a letter, grandly informing them they'll not see a penny of donations from him until they stop "indoctrinating boys with socialism". I'm sure they were crushed.

Roger marries a woman who sounds like an asshole and together they butter up Rose, "lavishing her with greeting cards, postcards, gifts, and long chatty letters addressed to “Gramma.”" Rose gives Roger cash and shares worth several tens of thousands of dollars in 1959 money. So... like, $200,000 or more in today money?

With Laura dead, Rose starts re-writing history. This is... this is going to be good.

First she publishes "On the Way Home", which is a record of Laura's move from De Smet to Missouri. Rose has tread this ground several times before. The material was in her Jack London biography, her Missouri book, her "Credo", her Discovery of Freedom, and several interviews and articles. "The version of events that Lane presented in her “setting” for On the Way Home differed markedly from her earlier accounts. She was settling scores."

John Stewart eating popcorn

"In The Discovery of Freedom her parents had been stalwart pioneer folk, surmounting every hardship, thoroughly admirable. Now, she gleefully talked of her mother’s harsh temper, claiming that Wilder had lashed out at her."

a man eats popcorn from an enormous bag

"Her father’s solicitous concern for her mother, meanwhile, was exposed as coming at the daughter’s expense,"

a women eats popcorn

“Oh, why did you tell her?,” she has her father say. “‘I wanted to surprise her.’ You do such things, little things, horrible, cruel, without thinking, not meaning to.…This is a thing you can never forget.” Lane had never forgotten it, and nobody else would be allowed to either.

popcorn rains on a man

There is no way, no way whatsoever, that Almanzo said that, I am crying.

two dogs eat popcorn

Rose goes around insisting that the Little House books are NON-fiction. When people start turning up things like census data, she insists any 'errors' were made by the publisher.


She was alert to the tiniest hint of doubt. When William Anderson, a thirteen-year-old boy in Michigan, wrote a pamphlet about the Ingallses’ lives, he politely sent a copy to Lane for her approval. He planned to sell it as a fund-raiser at the home sites, which were becoming tourist attractions; it was a model of the free enterprise Lane claimed to love. But his offhand description of the Ingallses living in the vicinity of Silver Lake in 1879 “with a few settlers as neighbors” provoked a scathing response. The Ingallses had lived “approximately sixty miles from any neighbor,” Lane wrote, and any suggestion to the contrary was an insult: I object to your publishing a statement that my mother was a liar.… You will please correct your proposed publication to accord with my mother’s published statement in her books.… I cannot permit publication of a slander of my mother’s character, and I shall not do so.36 But Anderson was right about the neighbors. Lane’s defense of her mother’s truthfulness was itself untrue.

Okay, a... a 13 year old boy puts together a pamphlet about Laura to sell at the house-shrine. He politely sends a copy to Rose for her to see. He offhandedly mentions that at the Silver Lake the Ingalls had "a few settlers as neighbors". Rose loses her shit.

"The Ingallses had lived “approximately sixty miles from any neighbor,” Lane wrote, and any suggestion to the contrary was an insult. "I object to your publishing a statement that my mother was a liar.… You will please correct your proposed publication to accord with my mother’s published statement in her books.… I cannot permit publication of a slander of my mother’s character, and I shall not do so."

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut the 13yo boy was correct and Rose was wrong.

Allison Mulder  @AMulderWrites  I mean at least she didn't try to adopt him. So there's THAT.


Rose's last book is an expanded collection of her old articles for Woman's Day on needlework and ROSE IS REALLY LOWERING MY STANDARDS ABOUT HOW MUCH I CAN RE-PUBLISH MY OWN MATERIAL. Like, this woman has a handful of acts and just hauls them out over and over and over and over and over again.

Anyway, in a book about needlepoint she ramps up the libertarianism again, arguing that everyone must "survive by his own effort or perish". Readers don't really care? Most of the letters Rose gets are about how to visit the Wilder museum to see the knitted afghans there.

a woman hides her grin by drinking from a wineglass

I just. I like to think that ATE HER UP INSIDE.

"Arise, my minions, and overthrow the government so disabled people can die as a drain on society! Questions?"

"Yeah, does the Wilder museum allow pictures, or...?"

OH MY GOD IT DID. IT DID EAT HER UP INSIDE. "Lane should have been proud of the publication. Despite its eccentricities, the Woman’s Day Book of American Needlework was (and remains) an important historical resource on American fabric arts. But she resented the project, at one point threatening to take her name off it. Perhaps the reason was this: no matter what she did, it all came back to her mother."

The feeling when you recycle YOUR OWN OLD ARTICLES for a book, then threaten to REMOVE YOUR NAME from the published work, because everyone keeps asking about your mom. I... I have to stop there, it's just TOO PERFECT, I can't breath from cackling. We'll pick up tomorrow.


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