Prairie Fires: Chapter 4

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

Friends, it has been a whole year and now it is time for me to re-read Prairie Fires.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 4

As a reminder, we're going through Laura's real life first before we tackle the fictionalization of her life. Laura is 13 and going west. "The Great Dakota Boom was on. California and Oregon each had had their land rush; so had Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. [...] Boosters called it the “sole remaining section of paradise in the western world.""

Much of the land belongs to indigenous people, but white folks are readily ignoring that. "But white prospectors impoverished by the economic crisis of 1873 began sneaking illegally into the Black Hills the following year". Laura's extended family included in that group of shitty white people. "One of these gold diggers was Caroline Ingalls’s little brother, Tom Quiner. In violation of the Sioux treaty, he penetrated the region in 1874 with a group of miners, the “Gordon Party”...But the gold rush they incited sparked the Black Hills War of 1876", leading up to the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn.

There were also the locusts to consider; they were regularly keeping the area completely devoid of any plant life, to the point where army horses were starving from lack of grass to eat.

"The greatest deterrent to farming in the northern Great Plains was obvious: the place was parched. Well-watered areas south and farther west were snapped up, but farmers shied away from the Dakota plains. They knew they were too dry. Early on, aridity was recognized as a problem throughout the entire West, but particularly in the Great Plains. Thomas Jefferson had noted “immense and trackless deserts” in the West as early as 1803. In 1823, Stephen Long, the first government surveyor to journey by steamboat up the Missouri River, met with an Omaha Indian delegation, whose leader told him frankly: “I know that this land will not suit your farmers.” ...The most astonishing fact of the Dakota Boom is that it happened at all. Everyone knew better."

I can't deal with that. "Everyone knew better." And yet, look at modern reactions to things like climate change. A famous scientist / war hero argues with DATA and CHARTS that the Great Plains are totally unsuited for English style farms and gardens, and that the lands should NOT be granted to farmers, just to ranchers seeking grazing land.

"In his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, released in 1878—the year before the Ingalls family moved to Dakota Territory—Powell made the case again. As a solution, he suggested organizing agriculture and irrigation around watersheds, the Mormons had studied the phenomenon of Hispanic communities around Santa Fe who maintained common irrigation ditches, or acequias. The land was so dry that individual water rights had been abandoned for a cooperative model, with each farmer apportioned a share. Powell argued that the West, likewise, could best be farmed cooperatively. He proposed the creation of “pasturage farms”...organized around community-based irrigation and grazing schemes." But that's not intrepid and individualistic enough!

"Unfortunately for Powell, a model based on a competitive rather than cooperative design was already in place." A series of circumstances--deep pockets, lots of money, technological innovations, and an unusually fertile floodplain in the Red River Valley--leads to "a farmer west of Fargo had raised 1,600 bushels of wheat on a mere forty acres. The Northern Pacific Railway had just gone bankrupt, helping to trigger the Panic of 1873; the railroad’s bonds, however, could be exchanged for land, and several bondholders acquired enormous tracts in the Red River Valley." These Red River Valley farms manage to churn out an amazing amount of wheat based on tech, money, hiring experienced overseers, and the area being, well, a FERTILE FLOODPLAIN. Newspapers then trumpet the results as typical for all of the Great Plains.

"Although Powell had remarked on the anomaly of its success, popular magazines failed to mention that the valley was strikingly more fertile than the rest of Dakota Territory. Soon, boosters were calling it the “Nile of the New World.” ...Fundamentally, the question was whether national decisions of significant economic import, affecting thousands of citizens, would be governed by Enlightenment science or by huckster fantasy. ...big business and the legislators in its pocket brushed Powell’s analysis aside. Railroads were not about to capitulate...and his plans as director of the U.S. Geological Survey to limit western settlement would be undermined by intense political attacks."

So to recap, an ACTUAL SCIENTIST tries to prevent a disastrous land rush and the RAILROADS buy enough legislators to stop him because there's money to be made. The lives lost aren't part of the equation.

@zeroefficiency. the vast majority of farmers can raise 0 bushels of wheat in the Dakotas. Wheats Georg, who raised over 1600 bushels in the Red River Valley, is an outlier and should not be counted.

Oh my god. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Oh, and the NEWSPAPERS helped. "Dependent on the business that railroads were driving, newspapers on the Great Plains dismissed Powell too. In 1879, the Fargo Times lured immigrants by distributing forty thousand copies of a special Red River Valley issue. It was illustrated with mouth-watering illustrations of bonanza farms, and a map showing the direct rail route for shipping crops... “Come to God’s country where the pure north wind imparts vigor to the system and disease is scarcely known,” ... “Come where you can get land without money and without price. Land that when you tickle it with the plow … laughs with its abundance.”"

"Rain follows the plow: that was the spurious premise behind such claims, put forward by successive presidents of the Union Pacific Railroad...Powell’s report had refuted it, arguing that there was no scientific evidence for it." That was an ACTUAL THEORY OF CLIMATOLOGY: Rain follows the plow! "The Chicago & North Western Railway, which employed Charles Ingalls through a subcontractor from 1879 to 1880, printed posters advertising two million farms: “Fertile Prairie Lands to be had Free of Cost!—YOU NEED A FARM!”"

It's important to understand that this entire rush was orchestrated by the failing railroads who desperately needed the money to be had shipping people and equipment to places that people and equipment OUGHT NOT GO. It's like if Amazon and FedEx convinced us all to move to Alaska so that our packages would go there. "Profiting from planning towns, selling the land given them by the government, and shipping freight, the railroad had its press agents take rhetorical flights, painting the region as unfairly maligned. ...In 1890, nearly 329,000 people poured in, with more than three hundred towns springing up across the prairies virtually overnight. Trains packed with supplies, farm equipment, and personal possessions deposited people on the bare prairie."

"In Minnesota, the Ingallses had inhabited a place where 23 to 39 inches of precipitation fell reliably every year. In Dakota Territory, they entered a different world, where thirsty crops could expect only 15 to 23 inches annually—if they were lucky. ...When they reached their destination, the railroad camp on the north bank of Silver Lake, they found a cluster of raw shanties, as well as a bunkhouse, cooking shed, and company store."

The railroads own the land and decide where the towns go. The railroads then ship in the goods and set the prices. The towns are company towns, the store is a company store. It's us moving to Alaska to help Amazon and the town itself is an Amazon Prime Town.

I want to note that the camp seems to be 90+ % men and Charles moved his wife and young teenage daughters here. "The Chicago & North Western railroad camp was a rough place, ungoverned except by frontier justice. ...As often happened in itinerant camps, the workers grew restive under the railroad’s payroll policy, which doled out money once a month while keeping men perpetually two weeks short of their full pay, to collect debts owed the company store." Charles is a company man (did he get that job through Docia, too?) and "One fall night, Charles faced down a mob of two hundred men crowding around the store and agitating for full pay. Firing guns, they threatened to break in and wreck the place."

"Hiram Forbes stayed with the Ingallses, settling accounts with the railroad and working a scam on his employer: contractors were not allowed to charge for their own horses but Forbes listed his teams as the Ingalls’, drew pay for their use and pocketed the profit. Wilder called the scam “curiously satisfying.”" I'm not sure which Wilder--Rose or Laura--but we see it's honorable and fine for white men to cheat The Company because of course that's just clever quick wit, but they'd look askance at non-white people doing so.

The winter is mild--12 below zero is mentioned, which FUCK THAT, but I'm from Texas--and the "mild" (i.e., no blizzards) weather brings in the settlers thick as flies. "Occupying the only haven in the region, the family found themselves innkeepers, charging strangers fifty cents a night to sleep on their floor and twenty-five cents for a meal. “They covered the floor as thick as they could lay down,” Charles wrote."

De Smet (the town) is laid out and Charles frames the family's next house: "a two-story building with two rooms downstairs and two tiny attic rooms upstairs, separated only by a paper divider and reached by a ladder. The whole measured a little over fourteen feet wide, twenty-four feet deep, and around seventeen feet high. It was in this building that the family would spend the next several winters." (That's their town/winter house, to be clear. Not the house out on the homestead.)

The Ingalls rush out to live on their claim after a claim-jumper murders someone. "To leave a claim standing empty in those days was to invite illegal possession, even violence. Already settlers were “too durned thick” for Charles Ingalls’s taste." Charles is doing too much wage-labor to really farm properly. "With Charles still working on his buildings in town, the family was unable to clear much of the unbroken prairie and raise crops for cash, or even for sustaining themselves over the winter." (Which is honestly probably a GOOD thing, since farming seems to be wasted effort with this family.)

No no no no. "The money earned from selling the first building in town went to buy a mowing machine and hay rake, and Laura knew it must be running out. Later that summer she noticed her father leaving food for the rest of the family". This is so maddening. These farmers are supposedly farming for the good of the entire nation, so why do they have to buy their own tools, why couldn't the railroad use their massive legislation power to ship them "free" tools, WHY IS CAPITALISM. Charles was a genuinely hard worker who probably could've done so much with the proper tools but instead he didn't have them because he couldn't afford them and I just scream because this is so inefficient.

"On the night of October 14, Laura fell asleep as water dripped on her blanket...When she awoke the next morning...she couldn’t see out the window. It was a whiteout. A blizzard had struck so early in the year that it caught many across the central plains unaware." IN OCTOBER. "Cattle trapped on exposed summer ranges, still in their summer coats, perished by the thousands. Telegraph wires blew down, and snow and ice packed the railroad cuts, stalling hundreds of trains, so that food had be brought to those trapped onboard."

"The storm covered five hundred square miles of Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan, with gales blowing at 125 miles per hour across the Great Lakes, and snow ranging from a few inches to drifts as high as 20 feet. Virtually every ship on Lake Michigan at the time was lost, including the steamer Alpena, bound for Chicago with seventy-five souls on board. The October Blizzard, as Wilder called it, remains one of the earliest on record for the region."

As soon as it's safe to travel, Charles moves his family into the little town house he built. They're joined by a young couple and their baby. (No one is thrilled by being in a cramped space with this couple, but the man is the son of someone who showed the Ingalls charity years before, so it's kinda "what goes around, comes around".)

On November 1, the girls try to attend school in town but another blizzard strikes. (A 3-day blizzard, as it will turn out.) The teacher is an 18 year old girl who narrowly almost gets everyone killed by nearly leading them out onto the prairie. "Blinded by ferocious snow and wind, they nearly wandered out onto the open prairie, where they would have frozen to death. Fortuitously, the group struck the corner of the last building in town."

"Blizzard followed blizzard, packing the railroad tracks so that no plows were powerful enough to push through. When the weather cleared, all the men in De Smet turned out to shovel, but the snow piled up into enormous banks twenty-five feet deep ...Around a hundred people were trapped in town. Everyone kept hoping for a lull or a thaw, but it never happened. With no hope of food or fuel arriving by train, the severity of their situation began to sink in. The two small local stores were stripped of their goods, with the last bags of flour selling for fifty cents and finally a dollar a pound."

"The quality of the housing was abysmal. Solid sod houses would have been more comfortable in the brutal wind, but that construction had been abandoned for cheap goods shipped by rail." God, the railroads even profited off of, and changed how they lived. "Crude board-and-batten walls provided little insulation other than a layer of tar paper, and wind and snow whistled in through nail holes and around windows. Wilder described them as “shells at best.” Heated by a single wood stove, they were drafty and cold."

Coal and kerosene run out quickly, until they're burning hay and axle grease. There's no meat, no fruit, no coffee or tea, no milk or butter. There's potatoes... and grinding the seed wheat for next year's planting. "Rumor had it there was one farmer in the region, about 12 miles to the south, who had raised a crop of wheat in the spring. A De Smet storeowner offered to front the money to buy it. “If we were all to live until spring,” Wilder wrote, “someone must go after it.”"

"Getting caught on the prairie in a blizzard was a death sentence. No one wanted to do it, but eventually two volunteers stepped forward. One was Cap Garland, Laura’s teenage schoolmate and neighbor. The other was Almanzo Wilder." Now we're going to detour to talk about Almanzo a bit, because he'll later marry Laura and FARMER BOY is about his childhood.

"Their parents, James and Angeline Day Wilder, raised cash crops, fine horses, and a family of six: Laura, Royal, Eliza Jane, Alice, Almanzo, and Perley Day." His name may have come from "a Ladies Companion serial about the Romeo-and-Juliet romance between Inez, a blushing Christian, and Almanzor, her fervid Moorish admirer. Almanzo was born at the height of this vogue."

"On an 1860 agricultural census, James Wilder estimated the cash value of his farm at three thousand dollars, with several horses, eight milch cows, and a flock of nineteen sheep yielding seventy-six pounds of wool. ...His wife managed her own lucrative sideline, selling high-quality butter to buyers from New York City. Compared to the Ingallses, they were rich. ...But during the difficult years after the Panic of 1873, harvests in New York were damaged by the same drought causing havoc in the Midwest. Hearing that pockets of Minnesota were still viable, the Wilders decided to follow Angeline’s brother to Spring Valley."

We've talked a lot about the myth vs. reality of the American Family Farm and it occurs to me that the mythical farm is supposed to STAY PUT and be inheritable, yet even the "rich" Wilders had to pull up and move in chasing the rain.

"In Spring Valley, he became friends with a boy he knew as Dick Sears. Years later, Richard Sears would found Sears, Roebuck and Company, but he got his start in life by learning telegraphy and working for a railroad company in Minneapolis. ...It may have been from Sears that Almanzo Wilder heard intriguing information regarding the Dakota Boom. Rumor had it that the Chicago & North Western had designated the future town of De Smet as the end of its division line."

De Smet being a future railroad hub makes the land worth more, so Royal and Almanzo set out to grab some. Almanzo falsifies his age in order to qualify as old enough to claim land under the Homestead Act. Once again: cheating and stealing and lying are fine as long as white people do it for noble white people reasons! "Unmarried at twenty-nine, Eliza Jane, known as E.J., also planned to homestead. It was not an unusual pursuit for women. One scholar has estimated that a third of Dakota homesteads were held by women a decade later."

"One of the horses collapsed and within minutes was dead from colic. It was a terrible blow: Almanzo had been offered two hundred dollars for the animal just days before. For the rest of his life, he would blame E.J. for rushing them." I... don't even know how to untangle that mess, except to note that families have always been messy, I guess.

The three siblings file on claims SIGHT UNSEEN (I suspect they just want to flip and resell the land?) side-by-side each other. "A doctor friend of theirs from St. Paul filed too, on a homestead meant for his son, violating regulations that required the claimant to file in person. He then inveigled the Wilder brothers to help him, paying them twenty-five dollars to build a sod shanty on his son’s claim and strew some clothes around to make it look inhabited. It was a common scam."

It looks like the Wilders are treating the Homestead Act--which was meant to give HOMESTEADS to FARMERS--as cheap land they and their friends can buy up and resell, and they're helping commit fraud in the process. They take 3 weeks to build 4 sod shanties (one for each claim), and then go back home to the family for the winter. When they come back in 1880 in Spring, Royal opens a feed store in town. Yeah, there's no way these boys are planning to actually *farm* for a living. Well, Almanzo "worked his land" so maaaaybe he was thinking he would.

When the October blizzard struck, Eliza Jane fucked back off to Minnesota, being possibly the only person in De Smet with (a) money and (b) pattern recognition.

"In her memoir, Laura Wilder wrote that her family was “shorter of food than anyone,” probably due to their early arrival in the area, compounded by their poverty. Some settlers who traveled to De Smet in 1880 came by train, shipping a season’s worth of provisions".

THERE IT IS. "Royal and Almanzo appear to have been fairly comfortable, with an ample supply of seed wheat for the coming season, boarded up behind a false wall to keep it from prying eyes." So Cap Garland (with Almanzo) risked his *life* to go buy someone else's corn so that Almanzo's seed corn wouldn't be touched. That fucker.

"Charles Ingalls knew about their seed wheat, however, and when his family ran short he would pay the brothers a visit. Accommodatingly, the Wilder boys would pull a plug out of the wall and fill his bucket." Royal and Almanzo bond with Charles over their rugged manliness and how they work on clear days while everyone else "cowers". (Maybe they're conserving energy??)

"Miraculously, they found the farmer they sought. He was reluctant to part with his wheat, but with negotiation and some pressure they prevailed, paying him $1.50 a bushel." You can just imagine what "pressure" two strong teenage boys applied to a single farmer living alone in the middle of a blizzard.

"Month followed month with no respite from blizzards and no trains. Hope momentarily gripped the town one clear day when a herd of antelope was sighted, but the animals were frightened off by an overexcited hunter firing too soon." EAT HIM.

I wish Fraser had put what the price of wheat was at the time, but that may have been impossible due to fluctuating prices. Having said that, waaaaaaay back in 1874 during the boom, "Wheat was selling high at the moment, $102 a bushel." The farmer raised his wheat in the spring of 1880, so it's 1880/81 now. 6-7 years later. It's hard to believe that wheat would drop from $102 a bushel to $1.50 in that time? So I'm assuming Cap and Almanzo got a massive discount with their "pressure"?

The source on that $102 number is: "In 1873, wheat prices reached $102.9 a bushel; see Table I.—Prices in Chicago in Veblen, “The Price of Wheat Since 1867,” p. 157." But another publication claims that the 1890s fluctuated between 25 cents a bushel and 1 dollar a bushel, depending on yield.

@NaomiKritzer. Okay! I found the paper. The price of wheat in the chart appears to be given in CENTS, not dollars.

102.9 cents a bushel would be a $1.02 a bushel, which would fit a lot better.

@NaomiKritzer. I think the high price in the boom was $1.029/bushel, not $102.90. They were paying him a legitimate premium (while probably making it an offer he couldn't refuse.)

Thank you! That makes a LOT more sense, because to go from $100 to $1 in just a few years seemed REALLY strange. There is a known error with ebooks sometimes having the wrong symbols; I wonder if the print book has the cent symbol and that got turned into a dollar sign ($) in the ebook version. From this we learned,

1. Cap and Almanzo didn't utterly rob this guy, which is good.

2. Wheat prices were impossible to plan in advance because the price went up and down depending on supply, so it would be impossible for Charles to budget.

3. If you're an author, errors are GOING to get past the editor and you just have to make peace with it.

4. If you're a reader, please be patient with our mistakes, haha.


Okay, I'm back sorry about that. Yes, Almanzo felt (rightly or wrongly, I don't know) that his seed stock wouldn't be enough to feed the entire town.

I do wonder how they paid the guy, like, whether it was cash on hand or a promised I-owe-you, because if it was ACTUAL cash then he made a pretty good deal it sounds like, but what are the odds that the De Smet town let the boys take ALL THEIR MONEY on a DEATH RUN? There was a VERY good chance a blizzard would hit the boys and they'd be never heard from again, I struggle to believe that everyone gave them a wad of all their precious dollar bills to carry. So... probably a promisary note, and if it was a promisary note, I can well believe the dude being reluctant to sell because people are notoriously bad at paying for food they ate months ago.

"Finally, on April 1, after four months with no fresh supplies of food or fuel, the weather warmed. The first train got through on May 9, but the De Smet mob that greeted it found that it carried farm machinery, a shipment frozen on the line all winter. A riot was in the offing until the crowd found a freight car with provisions, which were broken open and rationed out. The next train carried telegraph poles. They were not for sale as firewood, railroad employees told them, but the townsfolk carried them away nonetheless, sawed them up, and burned them for fuel. No one who had lived through those months, Wilder wrote, could ever think kindly of a railroad again."

"For the first time in American history, the number of millionaires in the country topped one hundred." The fact that this follows after depression and hardship seems noteworthy. Wealth consolidation is not a good thing.

"In 1886, Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood friend Dick Sears made a killing selling gold-filled pocket watches to farmers along the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway line. Sears’s pocket watches, signs of prosperity, also signaled a new anxiety stalking the agricultural community... More than ever, farmers had to be able to tell time, keeping track of the arrival and departure of freight trains that hauled tools, seed, and harvests." Back in Laura's "big woods", you could just wait for a convenient day to pile the kids in the wagon and go to town and sell your furs and crops and shit to the local store guy. Now you sell when the railroad tells you to sell.

We touched on this before but there were "dramatically fluctuating shipping rates. Farmers who couldn’t plan which crops to plant and when invariably felt they were falling behind." Your crops were literally worth LESS, the MORE you hauled in, since price at the market fluctuated dramatically based on total yield. The best way to get ahead in this system was clearly to set your neighbor's field on fire, and isn't that alarming.

"As a result, waves of populist sentiment rolled across the land, and farmers began agitating for railroad regulation. In the 1870s, the Grangers won a series of anti-corporate Supreme Court cases that classified railroads as companies operating in the public interest and subject to regulatory control. The cases were later overturned, but such victories taught farmers that political power lay in numbers."

Farmers in general began to wash out and migrate to cities. Steady work was just... steadier than trying to eke out a cash crop that never really paid off. "Charles himself, throughout this period, found carpentering and other odd jobs in De Smet a more reliable source of income than homesteading." I think it's *really important* to note that Charles has basically been working carpentry and "company jobs" since Laura was... 12? 11? Farming has been an expensive hobby that isn't paying off and only slightly supplements the food at the table.

This is foreshadowing how Almanzo will basically work wage jobs his entire married life, with farming being a hobby that he and Laura engage in to supplement their food and income. Outside of a brief childhood span from birth to maybe 10-11, Laura will never be "supported" by farming alone; there will always be wage jobs in the picture keeping them afloat. Wage jobs which pay more, in most cases, than the farming does.

I think Laura is 14 now? She leaves home for work. "For weeks during the summer of 1881, she sewed shirts in town for a Mrs. White for twenty-five cents a day, sleeping in the attic and eating with the family in the kitchen."

In the books, if I recall correctly, this is around the time where Pa gently breaks to Laura that she has to become a teacher since Mary can't be and Caro has her heart set on a teacher in the family. Laura is devastated by this news (because she wants to be a farmer, not a teacher) and I remember as a child being outraged by the unfairness. Just tell Caro she can't always have what she wants! But the fact that farming has essentially NEVER been profitable for the family and never WILL be profitable for them miiiiiiiiiiiiiight have something to do with the parental pressure that Laura learn a trade. It seems like she has social anxiety and really prefers farming, and she's GOOD at it, and again seriously WHY does this need to be Profitable and Capitalism, why can't we just PAY her to MAKE FOOD? Just not, you know, on land that belongs to indigenous nations! Somewhere else! Preferably somewhere suitable for English style farming!

"Charles Ingalls was working as hard as ever but not getting ahead. During the summer of 1881, the family was living at the homestead, but he had to hire a local boy, Ernest Perry, to break ground for him while he continued working in De Smet. He planted a little corn, but apparently felt he could make more in the building trade. Both he and Laura were working for wages. Their dream now was that Mary could attend the Iowa College for the Blind, in Vinton, Iowa." Again, this is not something they ought to have had to *pay* for. They manage to raise the necessary funds to send Mary to college (with state support and assistance, hooray for safety nets).

For the winter of 1881, they move back into town so Laura and Carrie can attend school. They play cruel pranks on the teacher and honestly it's the teacher I feel sorry for. The teacher leaves and is replaced by "an even more problematic teacher: Eliza Jane Wilder.

"At the time, she believed the teacher’s resentment stemmed from Charles Ingalls’ position on the school board and E.J.’s assumption that Laura expected special treatment. In her autobiography, however, Wilder acknowledged playing the ringleader among the students. ...Wilder admitted to circulating a rhyme among her chums, a cruel twist on a taunt from E.J.’s own school days:

Going to school is lots of fun
By laughter we have gained a ton
For we laugh until we have a pain
At lazy, lousey, Liza Jane."

Eliza had been "imprudent" to share the old taunt with the students, which honestly sounds like she was trying to connect with them and talk about her own time as a student. "Their father shook his head over it but did not reprimand either one... Shortly thereafter, the school board visited the school to see the chaos for themselves. Eliza Jane was soon dismissed, and the board hired another teacher to finish her term."

"For a time she admired Cap Garland, but one night after a revival meeting Almanzo Wilder asked to see her home. Startled, she wondered why he’d approached her; later she learned that he had done it on a dare. But what started as a lark became a habit, and he was soon seeing her home on a regular basis." It's worth noting that I never really get the impression that Laura *wanted* Almanzo so much as she felt like she had to marry *someone*. Non-marriage had to be some kind of option--Eliza Jane isn't married and she's a teacher and homesteader--but if you're set on being a farmer's wife and doing all the things Ma did for the family, I guess you need a Pa. I have a lot of feelings about that from my own upbringing; if you wanted to be a wife and mother (and I did), you had to marry *someone*, even if you didn't just adore any of the available offerings.

"The spring and summer of 1883 found the sixteen-year-old Laura once again working to support her family. First she was hired as companion and helpmate to Martha McKee, a seamstress, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Mary." She's a live-in worker again, and I'm wishing I'd counted up all the times she didn't live with Ma and Pa because she was off working. It's adding up to be quite a lot. And this is the planting season, but she's off the farm working.

The wife predicts: "You’ll marry that Wilder boy yet, because you’ll be afraid you’ll hurt his feelings if you say no.… A man of his age doesn’t fool around with a girl so long for nothing." I find that so distressingly sad; whether Laura was one or not, there surely were girls who married because they didn't feel like 'no' was a viable option. And given that Laura remembered and related the words, it seems like the opinion left an impression on her.

At another job, "[Laura] sewed from seven in the morning to six in the evening, with only a few minutes’ break for noon dinner, earning fifty cents a day for eleven hours’ labor." Child labor! What makes our great country super-great! Per the Libertarians!

Charles brings in his first harvest but he can't afford proper tools and is stuck with older ones that hurt and tire him out and again I find this genuinely distressing. The railroads could've lobbied to supply farmers with *actual tools*. "“Pa was very thin and tired from the hard work,” Wilder wrote, and she knew that he was “not very happy” in De Smet, now “thickly settled.”" He wanted to go to Oregon but Caroline put her foot down and said she was done moving. Good on Caroline. If Charles was thin and tired from hard work, starting over in Oregon wasn't likely to help him.

The newest teacher is the first one Laura likes and he inspires her to write and read with new fervor, so that's nice and good. A small school a dozen miles out of town needs a teacher but they can't afford decent wages so Laura is tapped. She's 16 and the mandatory minimum age is 18, but everyone looks the other way in order to save money.

"Five children attended the Bouchie school... It should have been a simple two-month job, but Laura Ingalls was young and inexperienced, the conditions grim, the students difficult, and the Bouchie family, with whom Laura was boarding, a nightmare." This sounds like babysitting more than teaching and I am having a lot of feelings about them paying Laura sub-standard wages because of her age (and probably also gender).

The wife/mother where Laura is staying is abusive and screams and rages at her husband all night, every night; two of the "students" are her age and taller than she. Almanzo drives her home on the first weekend and then every weekend. "...even when the temperature dropped to forty-five below with a stiff north wind. On that occasion, Almanzo told her that he had been hesitating, standing beside his horses at a hitching post in De Smet, when Cap Garland passed by...and said, “God hates a coward.”"

I love Cap Garland, just so you know.

"[Laura] finally warned Almanzo that her motives in accepting his services were purely selfish, not romantic, and that he need not return if he was expecting anything. In his laconic fashion, he acknowledged the caveat and kept on coming."

"Asleep on the couch one night, she was awoken by Liv Bouchie screaming, accusing Louis of kicking her. Peering through a crack in the curtains, she saw the woman standing poised over her husband, a butcher knife in her hand. Laura could tell he was bracing himself when Mrs. Bouchie turned and took the knife back to the kitchen, continuing her angry muttering. Laura could not sleep for the rest of the night. She never told her parents what transpired, wanting to finish her contract."

"Like any fickle sixteen-year-old, Laura cast an eye around her social circle. She was interested in a number of boys, especially Cap Garland; but when Cap asked her to go sleighing one day that winter, she found she didn’t want to “make the change.”" I still read Laura as very ace and aro, although I'm never sure how much of myself is seeping in when I read people that way. In the summer of 1884, Almanzo asks her to marry him and she says yes. She's 17 and engaged, and her goal is to finish high school. Her teacher holds her back on purpose so the whole class will graduate together, but she has to take work and so she never graduates. I will die angry about this. That asshole should have *asked*.

Almanzo is informed that his mother is planning a lavish church wedding that he can't possible afford, so he and Laura decide to elope. WHY DON'T PEOPLE COMMUNICATE.

Laura ends her memoirs on a hopeful note, awed by her "new estate" when Almanzo takes her to their marriage home. She's proud of marrying the town hero, and proud of her wages. She worked hard and she's not going to be poor anymore or live with strangers. "But on the back of one of the last pages of her memoir, she wrote two sentences that floated free of the larger text, an allusion to the fact that—unbeknownst to her at the time—there was a heavy debt on the new house."

"It was “nobody’s fault,” she wrote, “and is another story anyway.”"

Dun dun duuuuun. To be continued in Chapter 5.


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