Prairie Fires: Chapter 6

[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 6

Chapter 6! We're now in Part 2 of Laura's life.

"Over the coming years, [Laura] would step by cautious step seize control of their circumstances. She would prove adept not merely at penny-pinching but at finding ingenious ways to generate income, husband their minuscule resources, and protect their assets."

If you recall, when we last left off Laura and Almanzo are leaving De Smet in defeat and headed to the Ozarks while the larger country around them struggles with depression. I do think it's interesting that Laura will take a journey from being the younger spouse who leaves financial decisions to her husband to being the one holding the financial reins in the relationship. She's significantly more frugal than Almanzo, which he probably realized by this point in their marriage, and he must also have felt very much like a failure after repeatedly blowing all their money on farming ventures that didn't work out.

"The Gilded Age was collapsing. By 1894, the Panic had set havoc in motion. Fifteen thousand businesses failed, including 156 railroads and 574 banks. The economy came to a standstill, with the unemployment rate topping 18 percent. Cotton was selling for five cents a pound and wheat for less than fifty cents a bushel." Considering that earlier we saw wheat selling for a dollar a bushel, that's a 50% cut. Ouch.

"Riots, thievery, and homelessness set the rich against the poor. During a wildcat strike at Chicago’s Pullman factory, workers were ordered to accept a 20 percent wage cut. In response to the outcry, William Howard Taft—later elected president and eventually named chief justice of the Supreme Court—wrote offhandedly to his wife: “It will be necessary for the military to kill some of the mob … enough to make an impression.” The press encouraged such callousness: the Chicago Tribune once urged homeowners pestered by tramps to spike handouts with “a little strychnine or arsenic” and poison men as if they were vermin." JESUS CHRIST. How was that even legal? Were they pretending to be a parody? I cannot fathom how a newspaper could legally advise people to commit COLD-BLOODED MURDER.

"In his second inaugural address, delivered just as the economy came crashing down, President Grover Cleveland,...preached self-reliance and frugality. The functions of government, he sonorously pronounced, “do not include the support of the people.” Serious question, Grover, THEN WHAT IS IT FOR? Like, what is the actual point of government if it's not to take care of the governed? I declare Grover Cleveland bad.

"Voters would long remember the obscene spectacle of Grover Cleveland and his lack of charity in a time of need. No Democrat would be elected president for the next sixteen years; Republicans would hold majorities in Congress for a solid three decades." THANKS, GROVER. Christ, what an asshole.

"It was in these torrid temperatures and an atmosphere of national crisis that the Wilders set off on their flight out of South Dakota, headed south to the Ozarks. They were not alone on the exodus. Between 1890 and 1895, some forty thousand people left the state. ...the Wilders had paid their debts, sold everything they could, and economized ferociously. Their covered wagon carried what few possessions they had left." They have $260 in cash and that is the sum total of their savings. That's so little for a family of three.

"Everywhere they saw crop failure, with grain standing only a few inches high, “worst crops we have seen yet … burned brown and dead.” Farmers were giving up and mowing the fields for hay. To her daughter, Laura emphasized that their party was different from the hordes of other emigrants. Unlike them, the Wilders were not just aimless wanderers who didn’t know where they were going, Laura maintained, trying to preserve a sense of purpose and a tentative grasp on social superiority."

I find that so interesting. Laura is objectively terrible, but she's terrible in an interesting way. The introduction waxed rhapsodic about how Laura taught children to be "poor without shame" but once again we see that Laura was a massive class snob who needed to be superior to poor people who were the wrong kind of poor to her. WE'RE not like those people wandering aimlessly, she says; WE have a sense of PURPOSE. How do you know they don't have purpose, Laura? You're like that one XKCD strip.

"According to Rose, Laura even asked Almanzo to take separate roads from the other migrants. He was puzzled by her attitude, suggesting that fellow travelers might make good company." A reminder that they have to travel 670 miles and that people can and do DIE on these trips, so company isn't just a nice thing to have, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

"His wife disagreed: “We’re not covered wagon folks!… We got above that … Pa and Ma’ve got a home of their own, and we had one, and we’re going to have one again. We’re not just traveling!”" Laura is essentially arguing that since they're not homeless--just temporarily between houses--that they're too good to be among 'covered wagon folks'. Laura, you are an ass. "At one farm, she and Emma went to the house to buy milk. “It was swarming with children and pigs,” she wrote; “they looked a good deal alike.”" ...Laura, remember how hurt you were when the shopkeeper only called Mary pretty and not you?

We come to one of the few things I disagree with Fraser on: She finds it startling that Laura identifies with Native Americans, while I find what Laura says re: Native Americans to be a very 100% White Woman Thing. To quote the book: "'If I had been the Indians I would have scalped more white folks before I ever would have left it.' She still remembered the Minnesota massacre, identifying with the perpetrators. It was a startling statement for a woman of her day."

But Laura isn't "identifying with" the Native Americans in any meaningful ally sense. She's talking about how she would have done more, been better, fought more fiercely, etc. She's so sure she'd be a better native than *actual* natives. That's pure privilege right there. Laura doesn't want to listen and learn and see things from the POV of people who aren't like her; she's so sure she understands their POV already that she thinks she'd be better at their lives than they are. I dislike even the framing that Laura "identifies with" Native Americans, when I think it's more accurate to say that she liked the idea of cosplaying. If she could fancy herself native then she thinks her feelings of ownership towards the land would be more secure.

This is one reason why so many white people want so badly to have a Native American ancestor in their bloodline; they feel less like intruders on the land if they can fancy themselves native in any tenuous sense. Laura's family, both immediate and extended, stole the land from its rightful occupants. Then she fantasizes how, if she were in their place, she'd have done more to keep the land. By believing the natives didn't 'do more', she can justify her family harming them. Grappling with her privilege would have included the realization that the native people did everything they could in order to stay and the Ingalls (and others) drove them off anyway. Unfairly. Cruelly. Murderously. But she didn't.

"As they rolled along the hard, hot roads of Nebraska and Kansas, Laura anxiously watched the countryside, waiting to come across land where the drought had not taken such an implacable hold. She and Almanzo were constantly assessing the fortunes of fields and crops, looking for alternate sites in case Missouri proved disappointing. ...they had met emigrant wagons coming out of Missouri, including a man who complained about the isolation of the Ozarks." So as they're going TO the Ozarks, people are already coming OUT of the Ozarks. Foreboding, but we'll pause here.


"After a difficult childhood and the grueling first years of her marriage, the second act of Laura Wilder’s life began with a titanic struggle to tame yet another wilderness, alone with her crippled husband and a seven-year-old child."

Again, and I know I keep harping on this, but the fact that Almanzo couldn't farm because he was disabled is almost certainly why the Wilders were able to drag themselves out of debt and tell their story to the world. Why? Because it meant he got wage jobs that earned money rather than continuing to fail at farming year after year. If he'd been able-bodied enough to do the latter, we might have never heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wish the book examined that more closely rather than taking Laura's view of Almanzo's disability being a detriment on the family. I see it as their lifeline.

Almanzo and a real estate agent locate 40 acres of scrub for $400. "They came back ecstatic to have found land they could afford, full of its promise, with a “snug” log cabin near town so Rose could walk to school. There was cold, clear, year-round spring water, and hundreds of apple saplings left by the previous owner, which had only to be planted in cleared land to create a bounteous orchard."

"On September 21, 1894, the Wilders took possession of the land. They put $260 down for it, arranging a lien for the rest, $140 at 6 percent interest. The only name on the warranty deed was Laura Wilder. She owned the land. The likely reason for placing their most important asset in her name would have been to protect it from her husband’s creditors, past, present, or future." In the early 1800s, "married women had not been allowed to enter into contracts or to own personal property or real estate" but property law was reform in the second half of the century to help married couples avoid losing property during foreclosure.

In other words, if your wife owns the farm, creditors can't take it over the husband's debts. Kind of an odd reason to extend us the right to hold property but I'll take it.

"Whether the Wilders feared future debt, or whether they had left De Smet under the same kind of cloud that had prompted Charles Ingalls to leave Burr Oak in the middle of the night, remains difficult to determine." Given what we know of Almanzo, I can 100% believe he skipped town on a few inconvenient debts.

"The prospects of their new land lay more in the imagination than in tangible assets. Only four or five of the forty acres were cleared. Shrubs, trees, and rocks were its only abundant features." Oh my god. Almanzo is almost incapable of farm work and they bought a piece of land which is 90% uncleared. What were they thinking.

"The hundreds of apple saplings left by the previous owner had been heeled into a trench, lying on the ground with their roots covered with soil for protection. To plant them, the Wilders would have to clear acres of land." GASP. THE APPLE TREES AREN'T EVEN PLANTED?! "No matter, they thought, since in any case they would need lumber for fuel, and could sell extra firewood to pay for food over the winter." THEY PLAN TO BURN THE APPLE TREES FOR FUEL?!

I feel faint. They planned to BURN the APPLE TREES for FUEL.

"this property, on the other hand, was neither bottomland nor even “second bottom” but rather ridge land, covered by scrub brush, timber, and so many stones that the couple took to calling it “Rocky Ridge.”"

"Hours after the Wilders arrived on their new land, another family came passing through, in even more desperate straits than the Wilders: homeless, dressed in patched clothes. Rose remembered her mother reaching into the pocket where she kept the revolver. The man asked humbly for work, saying his wife and five children had had nothing to eat for several days. Over his wife’s objections, Almanzo unpacked the last of their salt pork and cornmeal. She cried out, “Manly, no! We’ve got Rose,” but he ignored her, sharing the food and asking the man to return the following day with an ax. He arrived before dawn and cut a full load of wood, which Almanzo sold in Mansfield. It was a welcome bit of income. The stranger stayed for some weeks, helping to clear the land and put a roof on a small barn on the property." I just.

Okay, I am going to say that I understand the hesitation of sharing the literal last of your food with strangers when you have NO food and NO money. (They put down ALL their money as down-payment for the property.) Though I do have questions about the "putting down ALL their money as down-payment" when they literally only have one meal left and no other cash; how was this supposed to work? But I digress. Having said that I understand being reticent, I would point out--AGAIN--that Laura is only alive because people, time and time again, gave her food out of their own mouths. How can she be so *violently* opposed to charity?

I very much do not like having people in my space and I do read Laura as socially anxious, so I understand why this would have been hard for her to implement, but: why not ask this family to stay with them???? Almanzo *cannot* farm easily because of his specific disability. And it's like Laura (and possibly Almanzo himself) is so steeped in ableism that they can't TALK ABOUT and ADMIT that they need help. They are not going to be able to farm 40 acres of rocky scrub land between the three of them. Laura has to either generate some sons, and fast, or they need to go full commune and get another family or two in this mix. Or they could give up farming and move to town and work wage jobs. Those are the three options. (Spoiler: they do the latter.)

Rose goes to school in the winter. "But most days, Rose ate the same thing, which she concealed from her better-off classmates: brown bread spread with bacon fat. They could not afford butter. Rose felt their poverty as a burden, ashamed of her peasant food, her clothing, and the donkey. Wealthier children rode horses to school." I wonder if it was harder for Rose being an only child. Laura was the "poor kid" at many of her schools, but she had Mary to play with and later Carrie. They were poor together, and could make fun of the rich kids between them. Rose sounds isolated here, with no other equally poor children to bond with. That would be difficult.

[Coming back to the apple trees, several folks have pointed out that maybe they meant to sell the trees they cleared in order to plant the apple trees. Maybe? But they don't have the time/ability to plant them all before winter hits, it sounds like? idk. Fraser doesn't say if Laura and Almanzo are able to plant hundreds, PLURAL, of apple trees before winter hits, but I'd be shocked if they did.]

Oh wait, Rose isn't the poorest girl in school; her isolation is self-imposed because she's an asshole. "she did not make friends among the well-dressed town girls and found herself forced to sit next to those she considered social inferiors—“the horrid, snuffling, unwashed, barefooted mountain girls,” she called them. Her mother was not the only snob in the family." Your mom went to school barefooted, Rose, so don't hold your nose so high.

What the hell was going ON in this family that Laura was teaching Rose to be such a snob about class divisions? (And was this a racism thing? I know "mountain people" can be a euphemism for non-white folks, depending on the area in question.) I don't know enough about the Ozark mountains history and demographics to know why Rose is against the mountain girls--whether it's just class or also race--but something is very rotten in this family.

I point out again the premise of the introduction: that Laura taught children to be "poor without shame". Yet her family hates poor people. Repeatedly! Not just one incident, but rather dozens! Laura came from very deep poverty, having to stay house-bound in winter because she didn't have the clothes/shoes necessary to not freeze to death outside. Almanzo came from relative wealth. I would love to know who was teaching Rose snobbery. Was the bulk of this coming from Almanzo and his richer class biases? Did Laura just absorb and parrot his prejudices? Or was she ashamed of her impoverished background and turned that outward onto others who didn't "deserve" to get out the way she did? It can be hard when we grapple with our privileges in the face of other people's oppression; maybe Laura cowardly decided to believe that poverty was everyone's fault but her own.

"[Rose] felt superior, as well, to the “professor,”...Rose loathed the institutional green walls of the classroom, to the point of trying to convince her mother that they made her physically ill. She also despised her textbooks, preferring her mother’s old grammar." Look, children are children and I hope you will not judge me too harshly when I say Rose sounds insufferable.

"[Every night] Almanzo sat listening to his wife read, soaking his damaged feet in hot water. “Working the hilly, rocky fields hurt his feet cruelly,” his daughter wrote; they ached so sharply that he had trouble sleeping at night." Okay, they did plant a FEW trees. "The following spring, the Wilders began making improvements to their fledgling farm in earnest. Rose helped plant corn, while her father arduously set out apple trees on twenty acres of newly cleared land." I don't know if they laid out an organized orchard or if it was just "plant the trees where the land will allow them" haphazardly all over the property.

"In town, they sold baskets of berries Rose picked. They dug a root cellar out of the hillside. Sometime over the next two summers they were able to save enough to buy a cow and pig, and finally there was butter for the bread." I really do not understand where money is coming from for things like seed; were the Wilders sending money to help them? (Father Wilder will, if I recall correctly, buy and gift the land to them before he dies.) I guess they must have sold the horse team when they got there? and the wagon? Except, no, surely Almanzo would have needed horses in order to clear tree stumps?? I don't know. They are selling firewood, I know that, but if everyone in the area is clearing land likewise then surely firewood wouldn't be worth that much money?

"During the presidential election of 1896, the arcane issue of the money supply—a debate over maintaining the gold standard versus allowing a standard based on both gold and silver—took center stage. Populists and Democrats argued that farmers and labor needed the infusion of silver, which would lower interest rates and allow them to obtain loans more easily. Rose remembered the debate in Mansfield, with townsfolk sowing propaganda in their flowerbeds. “To me,” she wrote, “a yellow aster still stands for the hated gold standard; the white aster … would have taken us back to prosperity.”" I was too lazy to stick a Beto sign in my yard and these people were out here planting FLOWERS. Hardcore.

A reversal of fortunes is coming.

"For the first few years, the Wilders continued to socialize with the Cooleys, who were running a restaurant and hotel in Mansfield." Frank Cooley "went into partnership with a drayage firm, hauling water to homes or businesses with no well or pump of their own. He also served as an agent for the Waters-Pierce Oil Company, delivering kerosene. With a steady income, the Cooleys were on a firmer economic footing than the Wilders, but at the end of 1897 they suffered a terrible misfortune." Frank dies of pneumonia at 37 and Almanzo takes his job.

"Almanzo’s physical struggle with chopping down trees and setting out the apple orchard, which was not expected to begin putting out fruit for several years, made it apparent that even modified farm labor was more than he could bear. He was simply “unable to do a full day’s work,” his wife would say years later. The couple once again deferred their dream of the independent farm life, opting for Charles Ingalls’s solution: move to town and work for wages. Buying Frank Cooley’s team and wagon, Almanzo Wilder took up his friend’s job, making kerosene deliveries and hauling passengers and freight from the train depot. The job allowed Almanzo to sit for periods of time, a welcome relief. Laura went to work as well, keeping account books for the oil company. She also sold butter, ten cents a pound. Eventually, she began cooking meals for railway passengers and taking in boarders."

"Later that summer, they rented a yellow frame house on Mansfield’s main avenue, Commercial Street, only a few blocks from the square. Rent was five dollars a month. The proximity to the train station brought Laura customers". I reiterate my thesis that Almanzo's inability to farm saved the family by forcing them to take wage work, which was *inherently* more secure and economically safer than farming.

Eliza Jane has failed at her government job and marries a rich widower, who promptly loses all his money AND James Wilder's money on rice farming in Louisiana. "Eighty-five, thin and frail, the elder Wilder realized that most of his investment would be lost. But he had done what he could for Almanzo, buying the Mansfield home that he and Laura were renting and presenting the deed to his son...He died several months later." Man, it's no wonder that by time Laura gets around to writing about Eliza Jane, she's been graduated to "arch-nemesis" in Laura's mind. Almanzo and Laura must have hated her for convincing James to invest all his cash in her husband's schemes. I mean, *I* hate Eliza Jane at this point and I started this wanting to like her.

"James Wilder’s gift made all the difference. Without rent to pay, the Wilders could now save some of their earnings, which they invested in adding acreage to the farm."




Why are they unable to admit this to themselves? They really do seem to think that this is just temporary! That Almanzo's disability--which has been with them for YEARS now--will just... clear up any day now??? Like, Charles at least fancied himself a farmer for forever until finally quitting of old age, but when he quit, he QUIT. Sold the farm, moved into town, stopped buying land. Laura and Almanzo are like "okay, we can't farm, but let's sink all our wages into MORE FARMLAND because of reasons" and it makes NO SENSE except as continued dogged refusal to face reality!

They can't even think Laura is likely to have a son; it's been YEARS since her last pregnancy. Either she can't conceive after that last hard birth, or Almanzo can't conceive after his stroke, or something, but they have to know there's not Farm Sons a'coming. I just. This is the part that makes NO SENSE. They have money. They have jobs. They know how HARD it is to earn and save that money. So they sink it into VALUELESS scrub land bordering their already-valueless scrub land. YOU ARE WORKING DAY AND NIGHT TO FINANCE A HOBBY DREAM THAT WILL NEVER COME TRUE.

I know, I do know, how *hard* it is to give up a dream. You guys, I used to quilt. I was a GOOD quilter. But it was hell on my back and I had to stop "temporarily" and I was "temporarily" stopped for YEARS. A few months ago when we held the Great Divorce Garage Sale, I sold all my old quilting material and it was SO HARD and I WEPT and was GUTTED but I had to admit to myself that it wasn't going to happen anymore. I can't do it. But that was just "quilt stuff taking up space and I could use the space back and also the money from selling the machine"! If I were Laura, I would be spending all my wages, FOR YEARS, on buying more quilt material even knowing I can't quilt. I cannot. I CANNOT.

We pause here because the kittens are being naughty and need seeing to.


When we last left Laura and Almanzo, they had moved to town (in the Ozarks) and were doing wage labor because Almanzo's disability precludes farming. His father buys their town house and gifts the deed to them, so they use their finances to... buy more farmland. It's not even GOOD farmland that will appreciate in value; it's shitty scrub land bordering their existing shitty scrub land. Which is apparently not being worked or rented; I guess it's just lying fallow? Nor is it clear what happened to the "hundreds" (PLURAL) of unplanted baby apple trees that the previous owner left in a heap for them to plant.

I do find it interesting that James Wilder apparently bought the house they were renting outright and gave them the deed, RATHER THAN giving them the cash. Laura has been incredibly ableist about Almanzo and it's clear that it was hard for her to accept that farming was not in his future. Did James worry that an infusion of cash would be too much temptation for her/them and that they might sink it into their farm? If that was his motivation then he was bang-on but boy-howdy that is depressing.

"James Wilder’s gift made all the difference. Without rent to pay, the Wilders could now save some of their earnings, which they invested in adding acreage to the farm. ...They had already purchased an additional six acres in 1897; in 1899 they added forty more, and a few years after that another twelve, for a spread of nearly a hundred acres." One hundred acres that they're not DOING ANYTHING WITH at this point.

One hundred acres of land of dubious resale value. I just. Laura. Stop.

"They saw their interval in town as temporary, always intending to return to Rocky Ridge. ...Meanwhile, the town was booming around them. Turn-of-the-century Mansfield—the “Gem City of the Ozarks,” as it fashioned itself—was the fastest-growing city in Wright County, with a population of more than five hundred." That's five hundred, as in "five people for every acre Laura owns". I went to a church of 300+ members with 500 on Easters and Christmas and hooboy that is not a lot of people. You know everyone real fast, or can do anyway.

[slur redacted] "But for all its growth and glitter, Mansfield had an ominous side, rooted in the slave-owning past. It was a whites-only “sundown town,” where blacks were not welcome after dark. They were allowed to camp by day at “N***** Springs” but were warned not to overstay their welcome: a sign at the public well read “N*****, don’t let the sun set on your ass.”" James Loewen has a book called "Sundown Towns", btw, in which he researches sundown towns exhaustively and concludes that MOST towns in our country are or were sundown towns. IIRC, he was researching whether cities with "white" in the name were usually sundown towns and ended up finding that the answer is yes but also that most towns that *don't* have "white" in the name are/were ALSO sundown towns.

"Meanwhile, Almanzo kept making deliveries, while Laura hustled to cook and serve meals to train travelers and keep books for the oil company...They were investing every spare dollar in Rocky Ridge."

Laura receives word that Charles is seriously ill. "By the spring of 1902, at the age of sixty-six, he was dying." His eulogy in this section is maddeningly passive: "He had witnessed the Osage banished from their prairie home and the grasshoppers descending upon his." How about we make it a lot clearer: He actively and knowingly helped drive the Osage from their homes. "Witnesses" aren't usually how we describe people who commit criminal acts.

"There was a final irony to the timing of his death. ...the nemesis of Charles Ingalls’s life—Melanoplus spretus, the Rocky Mountain locust that in its trillions had devoured his crops and rendered him destitute—now abruptly and mysteriously went extinct. The last living specimen was collected in 1902, the year Charles died." I maintain to the last that they were Charles' fault. The end.

"Caroline and Mary faced a precarious financial future. After a lifetime of unrelenting labor, Charles Ingalls had accumulated little to show for it. He left them the house they lived in and not much else." It's really astonishing to me that no mention is made of Laura asking Ma and Mary to move home with them. They have room, what with Rocky Ridge having an entire vacant house on the property. I'm reticent to say that children owe their parents anything, but considering how much Laura will plunder the lives of Caroline, Charles, and Mary for content for her books, it is... jarring that she apparently made no effort to care for them.

Put it this way: if my sibling got rich writing about our childhood and including intimate details of my disability, then failed to share that money with me or let me live in their extra house, there would be WORDS. Caro makes shirts, takes in washing, and eventually takes on boarders as well. Mary sells nets she makes herself. (Fly nets for horses. Not, like, fishing nets.)

Carrie... Carrie, baby, what are you doing. Okay, I need you to remember that Carrie has ALWAYS been weak, small, and sickly because (a) probable malnutrition and (b) Caro had malaria whilst pregnant. "For the next few years, Carrie Ingalls’s salary at the De Smet News helped as well. In 1905, though, she left for a recuperative stay in Boulder, Colorado, to improve her asthma, and then struck out to stake a claim on her own Dakota homestead". WHY. She cannot POSSIBLY have seriously thought she could be a farmer. Could she? She worked in NEWSPAPERS, if anyone was positioned to know that the "own a farm!" was railroad marketing bullshit, she was!!

"Back in Mansfield, Laura Wilder’s life likewise continued to be filled with odd jobs. But a striking difference in her appeared at this moment, a new determination. Shortly after her father’s death, distinct signs of literary ambitions began to emerge." This was probably a creative outlet borne from grief and a desire that her father not be forgotten, BUT it reads a lot like a willingness to plunder the past once one of the main witnesses is dead. There's a lot of stuff about her notes and drabbles from this time, which is really only relevant because men later tried to erase her from her own stories and claim that Rose wrote everything.

"Wilder was not the only member of the family who was starting to write. Between 1900 and 1902, teenaged Rose had been surreptitiously taking copious personal notes in her textbooks... She was quick to eviscerate objects of her contempt, including fellow students, teachers, and even friends. Playing “Truth” with Paul Cooley, she extracted a promise that he wouldn’t get mad, and then listed his faults until he began stammering and turned “purple.” Hmm, on the one hand that is a power move I usually approve of. On the other hand, Rose continues to be insufferable. We'll call this one a draw.

"Under a paragraph about the Neo-Platonists, she wrote, “Nothing is certain, but if nothing is certain, how can we be certain that nothing is certain?” Expressing such witticisms in class, she was told to go stand in the corner. ...On one occasion, asked to paraphrase Tennyson’s “Break, break, break! On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!,” she told the teacher that it was impossible to summarize poetry: a literal interpretation could not capture the poet’s intent." THE SUMMARY IS TO PROVE YOU READ THE MATERIAL, ROSE.

"When another student gave a satisfactory response...“I stood up,” Rose recalled, “slammed my books on the desk, said in fury, ‘I will not stay here to listen to such stupid, stupid…!!’ and went home.” According to her, she did not return for the rest of the year." that-escalated-quickly-dot-gif.

"Her outbursts may have gotten her expelled. She later boasted that she rarely completed any full year of school, “because for some reason I was ‘mad at the teacher.’” She claimed her departures were voluntary, but one wonders whether authorities would have agreed. Her parents, of course, were veterans of the lackluster education available to rural students. Almanzo had never liked school, and Laura, on one dramatic occasion, had been sent home by Eliza Jane. It was common for older children, particularly boys, to miss school, since they were needed in the fields. But deliberately refusing to attend for months or years on a whim suggests a particularly intractable form of insubordination."

Yeah, I'm genuinely surprised that Laura let her pull this. If we are to believe her later writings (which, again, weren't history but fiction), Charles stressed the importance of school whenever Laura didn't feel like going. Laura hasn't seemed like a very "hands on" mother and I wonder if she just kind of gave up and let Rose be free range rather than try to curb her passions at this stage. We also know that Laura was taught literally NOTHING about raising a child, to the point where she didn't know not to take an infant out on a -15F winter sleigh ride with her husband. And she was left to fend for herself when she was Rose's age and teaching students who are also Rose's age. She may not have had any idea what to DO with a kid. Not like you can walk to the nearest Borders and browse the Parenting section.

Rose writes Mary Sue teenage fanfiction about herself and Laura and I'm not making this up. "Ernestine was as much Rose as made no difference, and her parents likewise: her father the town drayman, her mother a hot-tempered child bride, married at nineteen and scarcely more mature than her daughter, with long brown hair and “furiously blue” eyes. In that stultifying time, an unmarried girl was thought “ruined” if seen in the wrong company, and the tale’s mother and daughter fight bitterly over Ernestine’s dalliance with a “traveling man” who rolled into town. ...Saved from scandal by vigilant parents, Ernestine becomes hysterical, laughing and crying as she confesses a secret tryst, and her mother slaps her across the face." Authors write fiction and it's a mistake to read too much into their writing as supposed windows into our lives, but MOST of Rose's fiction was stolen from her own real life, so it's tempting to wonder if this was Based On A True Story or not.

"In 1903, when Almanzo’s sister Eliza Jane, now widowed, came to Mansfield for a summer visit, she left with the Wilders’ daughter. Rose had impetuously decided that she must attend her ninth and final year of school in Crowley, Louisiana, to learn Latin". Ah-ha, so Eliza *was* an influence on her. Their writing styles reminded me a lot of each other, so I did wonder.

"Later, rumors swirled that Rose may have been pregnant, spirited away by her aunt to hide the truth. They can safely be discounted, but the episode was nonetheless tinged with sexual overtones..." CAN THEY BE, THO. I'm just saying, "she's gone to live with her aunt for a year" was a Thing and that's all we'll say about that. "Eliza Jane turned out to be a less than attentive chaperone. Rose often stayed out until midnight, albeit with her virtue “not at all endangered.”"

"I was 17 … and spent afternoons sitting in a boat … and reading a novel.” The novel was The Leopard’s Spots,...Thomas Dixon’s admiring trilogy about the Ku Klux Klan, a work that would inspire D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation". I... Um. So, like, there's a big difference between reading a thing and including in your memoirs or whatever that you read the thing. Unless you're recounting reading the thing in horror in a way that changed you. Rose will go on to openly be a massive racist and antisemitic asshole so this isn't, like, me drawing on breadcrumbs, just an observation.

Eliza has fallen on hard times after her elderly rich husband dies. "Louisiana’s Napoleonic inheritance law restricted a widow to what had been earned during the marriage," and I'm struggling to feel bad for her given that it's Eliza and she's dreadful. Normally I would be right there with "oh no, his children from a previous marriage got all the money and she was left destitute" but I mean. Eliza. If she had inherited the money, she would have set it on fire.

Laura and Almanzo finally get apples from Rocky Ridge and Laura uses the apples, butter, cream, and eggs to tempt more boarders to the city house they own and live in. God, I cannot imagine how bone tired Almanzo had to be, working a day job and then going to the farm to haul apples away by the bushel.

Rose returns home. "Her reputation, however, may have been in jeopardy again. In a later diary entry, she wrote that at seventeen, she went “further to smash in struggling with sex. Not that it was really a struggle; I was a rag-doll in its hands.”" Look, I am all about sex-positivity so I hope Rose smashed every consenting person she wanted to, but I'm going to again point out that is AT ODDS with the conservatives most invested in Laura's legacy as Our Lady of Libertarian Freedom.

"Sometime late in 1904, around her eighteenth birthday, she hopped a train for Kansas City and began working as a telegrapher for $2.50 a week, barely enough to afford a rented room and the handfuls of salted peanuts that sufficed for meals. ...In April 1908, Rose followed one of her beaus to San Francisco. His name was Claire Gillette Lane, and he was one of the notorious traveling men her parents had warned her about." Claire works for the San Francisco Call (a newspaper) and he lands Rose a byline in the paper. Look, if you're going to smash a traveling man, get his employer to hire you.

"Journalistic standards regarding accuracy, attention to detail, and proper sourcing mattered little. ...They used techniques borrowed from fiction, including the colorful depiction of stock characters and the use of dialogue, often invented." OH NO. "Rose Wilder’s first efforts were no departure from that model. Her messenger boys, urchins all, spoke to the reader in a winning working-class manner. Her write-up of the night on Russian Hill when an operator broke the trans-Pacific record by receiving a message from the island of Oahu was highly dramatic, painting the scene as if for the theater, complete with sound effects. “With a deafening roar, a blinding glare, the electric spark leaped out. Crash! crash! crash!” Thus Rose Wilder learned her trade." HELP NO MAKE IT STOP.

This is going to stick with Rose and why her later writing is so bad; she never unlearns these awful habits.

Rose marries Claire when she's 22. "The marriage would be unhappy almost from the start, a chapter in the struggle with sex that Rose later acknowledged, implying that the two had little in common beyond physical attraction. Candid photos taken at the time show her dressed in a loose shift or nightgown, with flying uncombed hair and a postcoital flush, hands splayed across her breasts and fingers spread to show off her wedding ring." Gotta wonder if she was pregnant already. There's no record of it, nor of an earlier pregnancy, but miscarriages exist and abortion has always been with us so who knows.

@XianJaneway. And there may have been a baby given up. I'd give real money to know if there's a secret Wilder heir running around somewhere.

Oh, yes! That too. Gods, I still need to read "The Girls Who Went Away".

Laura and Almanzo were not present at the wedding, hadn't met their son-in-law, and probably couldn't afford to attend. "No longer would she have to bow to her mother’s instruction or feel the inferiority of being unwanted, “on the shelf.” Instead, for the rest of her life she would strive to become her mother’s instructor." SADIE, SADIE, MARRIED LADY.

[miscarriage] Soon Rose was pregnant. Let me count... they married on March 24, and she has a stillbirth on November 23... that's 8 months later. The baby was judged six months old, but you can't always trust historical doctors on that sort of thing. That had to be a big blow to Rose. And I'm not sure how much she knows about the little baby brother she had which died so soon after Laura gave birth.

[fertility] Rose undergoes an unknown surgery a short time after (possibly a complication of the miscarriage?) and the surgery may have left her unable to bear children. We'll probably never know, but it would be so interesting to know if she had an abortion earlier in life. Unsafe abortions can muck up fertility and cause later complications. Or maybe Rose was just deeply unlucky. Some of you have already noted that Laura's low fertility may have been influenced by her lifetime of malnutrition, and Rose hasn't exactly been swimming in three square meals her entire life either.

@spoowriter. Given that Caroline, Laura, and Rose all lost baby boys, I’ve often wondered if there was a genetic issue there. None of the other Ingalls girls had children at all so there’s no real way to know but....

@emccoy_writer. And if there was an earlier child, that could have primed the immune system; rh negative can usually have one kid before the immune system notices & goes NOPE, iirc.

[fertility] Quick, someone test them for the Anne Boleyn blood theory. (Rhesus negative is a bitch to google if you can't remember the name.) My evidence-free conspiracy theory about Rose having an abortion and Rhesus negative blood could actually work!

Laura "delivered an address at a historic “Woman’s Land Congress” in May 1910 in Arcadia, a town some 150 miles northeast of Mansfield." The Land Congress' "aim was to induce people to settle on twelve million undeveloped acres in the state". HOW ABOUT NO, LAURA. Reason the first: You know Homestead Act farming doesn't work and ruins people. Reason the second: that land belongs to non-white people, who you supposedly Identify With, so maybe you could agitate for it to be given back. Reason the third: WTF???


And she's going to do so for the rest of her life, career, and legacy! It's so maddening! Like, it is one thing to not be able to admit that you screwed up with your life, I get THAT. But it is very much another thing to proactively go encourage people to live a lifestyle that YOU YOURSELF could not make work! Imagine if I was constantly urging people to quit their jobs and become Etsy sellers, and writing articles about what a lucrative career Etsy selling is for EVERYONE ON ETSY ALL OF THEM, and then it came out that I'd tried to be an Etsy seller and lost money at it.

And the fucking hypocrisy of Laura "identifying with" Native Americans but doing her damned best to ensure that their land can't be easily restored to them by selling it off as fast and hard as she can to white people. This isn't innocent, okay? Like, it can be thoughtless--cruelty can be thoughtless!--but it's not innocent. She loves to wax rhapsodical about the beauty of the land and how if SHE were native then SHE wouldn't have given it up to the white people. All the while, she does her best to encourage white people to keep taking land as fast and hard as they can. That's not "identifying with", okay, that's just bandaging her conscience.

Anyway, Laura enters the world of journalism months behind her daughter and without having seen or been influenced by Rose in all this time. Again, only of note because men later tried to erase Laura from her own ding-dong-dang work. Rose, experiencing lackluster sales with her traveling man husband, engages in lawsuit trolling. "While ad sales were poor, the young couple pulled off a financial coup, extorting a thousand dollars and expenses from the railroad after Gillette Lane suffered some kind of minor accident. Rose was unabashed about their underhanded tactics, boasting “we made such a bluff of rolling in wealth and being able to fight the thing.” They showed up at the railroad president’s office wearing their finest overcoats...and the company paid nearly twice as much."

I'm honestly fine with taking the railroads for all they're worth in an accident, but I need to point out a FEW THINGS. One, Rose is a libertarian (or, rather, will become one) and at least most modern libertarians seem to feel that death and dismemberment should be borne with a grin rather than suing a company for being UNSAFE when you made the CONSUMER CHOICE to shop there. Two, the conservative people who worship Laura as Our Lady of Frontier Freedom are usually the first to sneer at the "McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit" and "litigious society" and "safety regulations" so this is yet another case of Laura/Rose not meeting their standards.

Third of all, I'm hot under the collar at Rose and Claire getting more money because of classism and racism and I just. Government regulations are needed here, why can she not see that??!? How do you come away from something like that GLOATING about how smart you are instead of realizing that is FUCKED UP and what if you'd not had access to fur coats and a snobby accent and pale skin color? "LOL, haha, we really beat the system" should carry with it the realization that there IS a system and that it's RIGGED against people! Hey, Rose, you're a newspaper writer! You know what might be an interesting story to pitch?!?! That time your husband suffered an injury and you got 2x what you expected by throwing a socially-prized dead animal pelt onto your back.

Goodness, I'm all het up tonight.

"It was a prophetic incident. Lane’s biographer, William Holtz, would attempt to tie it to the prevailing contempt for railroads felt by many Americans at the time." LOL, that is *a* way to describe it, sure. It's "litigious society" when people we don't like do it, but it's "prevailing social contempt" when our heroes do it, sure sure.

"It was at this time that Rose began hectically advising her mother on money-making newspaper schemes." Oh, wow, she really took after Eliza Jane in so many ways. "She typed out page after page of editorial advice, leaving nothing to chance, telling Laura exactly what to say to editors, how to approach them, and how to pitch her ideas", something I'm sure Laura definitely appreciated SO MUCH.

Rose writes: "Why don’t you write an article for the W.S. Farmer on the possibilities of a five acre farm in Southern Missouri—not a real estate-y sounding one, but just showing the results which can be reaped from the expenditure of say three hundred dollars." $300 for FIVE acres? Rocky Ridge was $400 for FORTY. Then again, the land was scrub and awful for farming.

"Rose also casually suggested that Laura adapt a yet-unpublished piece that Rose had written for a San Francisco paper about a “certified milk dairy” and send it out under her own name". Oh god, she's offering Laura her written castoffs to 'help' her. Laura asks whether that's ethical and Rose brushes off the question as irrelevant. "Like the fast-talking Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, she had no patience for her mother’s cautious trepidation. Simply “avoid the appearance of evil,” she said." Avoiding the appearance of evil is usually a good guideline? Like, "don't do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the news" was one of the earliest ways my father taught me ethics.

"And she sharply advised her to drop any notion of picking her own cowpeas. Pay someone else to do it, she advised: far better to write for newspapers." Rose... isn't wrong, Laura *should* be hiring out farm work (if they're going to have a farm), but considering that they're both building their writing careers urging folks to FARM FARM FARM, that seems a touch... unethical? hypocritical? something?

"After years of scrimping and saving—hauling freight from the railroad depot, cooking for traveling men, and taking in boarders—the Wilders had put together a financial stake that would take them back to their land, the dream from their earliest married days." Almanzo receives $500 from his father's estate when he dies, and they get another $500 from selling their house in town-- NO NO NO NO NO. Goddammit, Almanzo, that house was a gift from your father so you wouldn't have to farm on your disabled feet that hurt you so much.

They take this $1,000 windfall from James Wilder and "moved back to Rocky Ridge, hiring workers to help them undertake extensive renovations." Laura is the exact damn opposite of frugal, I'm sorry but it's true. They lived in that town house for however many YEARS. She could've rented the Rocky Ridge house out for renovation cash OR for renovation work. Like her father Charles did--home carpentry. And everyone knows you don't spend windfall cash, you save it against a rainy day emergency. But Laura immediately spends it on this house that could've been fixed up some way other than cold precious cash.

And fine! It's her money! She can set it on fire if she wants! But her books extol home solutions and carpentry and do-it-yourself and a penny saved is a penny earned and scrimping every cent out of life. If someone OTHER than Laura did these things:

- Buy things they don't need, for a hobby.
- Leave a resource fallow/untapped/unrented.
- Spend all their money on improving a perfectly serviceable structure.

Then the conservatives would call that wasteful! Laura built up her own mythology as frugal and saving and careful, but she's anything but! She spends money as soon as she gets it. She does NOT keep any kind of savings or nest egg. She owns TWO houses and doesn't rent one out. I'm... I'm really harping on the house rental thing, I know, but when Husband moved out of our house, my FIRST thought was that I needed to rent his room out. I haven't done so because (a) five cats, (b) genuine psychological fear of people, (c) my parents are... complicated and it would be... complicated, but I think about it a LOT. Meanwhile Laura has TWO HOUSES and one of them is EMPTY FOR YEARS.

I know Laura lived a life of financial instability and maaaaaybe she felt the Rocky Ridge land *was* her savings and safer than stashing cash under a mattress. Given that she was living with boarders, that may even have been true. And I guess it's possible that maybe they tried to let the house but perhaps no one wanted it. (Then again, whatever happened to that 18% unemployed rate? Could she not even have gotten someone to live there for 'free' and do farm work for her?) So I'm not going to rake Laura over the coals for bad decisions because god knows I've made plenty. But I am going to point out that her reputation among conservatives as a shrewd saver is nothing more than a myth. She's not.

@kingdomofwench. I also have this question! And again, Mary, Carrie and Ma could have had boarders there!

Ah yes and then there's the matter of the elderly-and-disabled relatives she left to rot and sew shirts to eke out a meager living in De Smet. Even if she feared renting the place to a stranger (who might burn the house down), she knows that Mary and Caro and Carrie are conscientious homesteaders who know what they're doing. It seems.... something that James Wilder would use his good fortune to help his family out but Laura and Rose will hoard their resources from the other Ingalls like flinty pirates. I have so much complicated blood with my parents and I could not wait to move out, but Mom always has a home with me. And it's okay for other people NOT to be that way, but the point is that Laura's worshipers expect this sort of thing.

"The design would overwhelmingly reflect Laura’s desires, and for the Ozarks the farmhouse she envisioned was no little house." Why does she NEED all this space? They aren't going to have more kids and she's done taking in boarders! (Again, it's her money and she can light it on fire for all I care, but I'm poking holes at the mythology of her as a shrewd saver who never wastes even a pin.)

"Almanzo would be called upon for his considerable skill in jury-rigging creative solutions to plumbing difficulties and other practical issues, but the construction process, evolving in stages over the next several years,". YEARS YEARS YEARS OF RENOVATIONS. If this thing was just a shack to start with, would it not have been easier to just build a new house rather than attempt to jury rig plumbing in a structure that's fighting you? They have a hundred acres at this point, there's got to be a second place to build a house.

Also, is Almanzo the only one working for a wage at this point? Laura can't do her boarding/restaurant work this far from town. So not only did they sell the town house--James Wilder's gift to them--they sold her primary place of business where she was taking in boarders and selling home-cooked meals. I mean, yes, she wants to make a go at a writing career, but that takes time and you don't usually quit your day job with one or two sold pieces of writing. Hell, at this point Patreon is my main source of income but I'm not able to quit my day job and BY THE WAY, have you considered my Patreon for all your reading needs? I also have a tip jar! But honestly, a $1-2 subscription from folks for a year is worth more to me than $10-20 now because a steady "income" lets me plan better. Okay, WASN'T THAT FUN? Sorry, I try to limit the self-promo but after yelling at Laura about finances and roommates I got antsy about my own. *blush*

Something else I note about the YEARS of renovations: "but the construction process, evolving in stages over the next several years, would leave an indelible impression in the community that the wife “ran the show.”" Almanzo's hypothetical emasculation, like Rose's sexy times, is one of those things that *I* don't care about but which I think is important because the people who want us to return to "homestead morality" would care very much. Prairie Farmers were supposed to defer to the head of the house, be chaste and modest and thrifty, etc. Laura's real life demonstrates that they were just as messy as we are and it's not a simple thing to "return" to.

"It was an impression she would do nothing to discourage in later years, when she related anecdotes about the creation of a home that would be hailed as a local showplace. Almanzo would have been happy with a simple addition, she wrote, but she felt that such a box-like structure wouldn’t “look right among the trees, with the everlasting hills around it.” She could not distinctly recall his plan, she added, saying, “fact is I didn’t listen to it and so, of course, I had my way.”" Laura (and I think Rose, but I can't remember) isn't a feminist; she's actively anti-feminist in many ways and I think (I need to check) that she opposes giving women the vote. So this is a bit like modern conservative women who run things like Concerned Women for America and similar groups: they want women to defer to their husband and live in the home, and that's why THESE women had to have bustling political careers saying so. (Credit to @SlacktivistFred for pointing out that particular piece of hypocrisy.) It's easy enough to urge women to submit to their husbands when you are exempt from the rules for Reasons.

And it's interesting how unsympathetic Laura is if we jiggle the image even a little bit. Only a few years prior, Laura was marveling at the expense of a heater when Almanzo suffered severe pains from the cold as an ongoing disability from his Long Winter trip to get food for the town. But here she is gloating that she didn't even "listen" to Almanzo's objections re: the expensive renovations. "She could not distinctly recall his plan, she added, saying, “fact is I didn’t listen to it and so, of course, I had my way.”" Renovations that are purely aesthetic, no less: "Almanzo would have been happy with a simple addition, she wrote, but she felt that such a box-like structure wouldn’t “look right among the trees, with the everlasting hills around it.”"

I feel a little sorry for Almanzo. He's disabled and acutely aware that his disability upsets his wife. He's worked two jobs for so long because she can't relinquish her dream of being a farmer. And now he can't convince her to save money. Early on in their marriage, he repeatedly plunged them into debt but the debts at least made sense: mowers and rakes were necessary farming equipment, horses and ponies were investments, and so on. Laura's debts, on the other hand, aren't... really... investments? The land is worth what it's worth; I don't think the renovations to the shack on the property are really "investments" that would pay for themselves in the event of a sale.

In fact, it's interesting that Fraser doesn't draw a comparison here between Laura's flamboyant and wasteful renovations and Rose's later habit of building expensive houses on property she doesn't own. The two impulses feel related. (I like Fraser's book a LOT, but I feel like she's gentler on Laura than Laura deserves. Admittedly, it's easy to be gentle on Laura when Rose makes her look like a saint in comparison.)

"She wanted a home that fit harmoniously on the hillside it commanded, an organic outgrowth of the property, with a beam ceiling hewn from their own oaks and an imposing chimney raised from the rocks “scattered over the fields.”" That sounds lovely, but yes I can see why that would cost more than shipping in cheap materials and just making another cookie-cutter box house. "Perhaps inspired by the “Prairie style” of Frank Lloyd Wright, would bring the outdoors inside by way of large picture windows. Comfortable sitting porches would capture ever-changing views of the woods and fields beyond."

I just have so many mixed feelings about this house!!

I need to reiterate that poor people are allowed to have nice things! That it's okay to want a lovely house to live in! That Laura can set her money on fire for all I care--her money is HERS. BUT! I have some kind of... feeling about the paradigm shift from Charles' approach to houses (aka, "a thing you build in order to live near your work") and Laura's / Rose's approach to houses (aka, "a thing you build to enjoy and be pretty"). In order to build this house, Laura actually QUIT her work. They sold their house-slash-business they had in town and used that money to build this new pretty house on a farm which they KNOW they cannot work.

So whereas Charles built "houses" cheaply--out of wood he cut down, out of sod he dug out, out of cheap company boards--in order to live where he worked, Laura/Rose builds houses expensively in order to work (write) where they live. Nice work if you can get it! But it represents a major paradigm shift and it's so interesting that the bulk of Laura's moralistic work is about Charles' philosophy even as she eschews it for a new philosophy that... probably would have horrified him. A thousand dollars? Sunk into a house? A house that isn't merely functional but instead has wasteful picture-windows and sprawling porches? IN THIS ECONOMY?

Laura couldn't sell THAT lifestyle to conservatives who want to finger-waggle at us about the sexual revolution: "Take your inheritance from your rich father-in-law, quit your job, build a vanity home, and live off the proceeds of lies written as truth!" She sold us Charles' philosophy: "Live as cheaply as you can, even if it means sleeping in a literal hole in the ground, and work constantly until you die at an early age of 66, leaving your survivors penniless and forced to work in their old age/disability." She sold us austerity even as she ran in the opposite direction from it. And on the one hand they're "just" picture-windows, but on the other hand they're rank hypocrisy that makes me want to hurl a rock through them.

I mean, christ-on-a-cactus, even imitating Frank Lloyd Wright, like, that is the peak of not-austerity-at-all.

"Wright, too, had been born in Wisconsin in 1867. In his prairie houses he made use of raw “unfinished” materials, and now so did Laura. ...Exhausted by the labor of hauling rocks, Almanzo was at one point ready to abandon the heavy stone fireplace, buying fire bricks instead, but Laura “argued … begged” and eventually wept." Oh my god, my back hurts, I am physically in PAIN for Almanzo.

"“For the only time in my life, I made use of a woman’s time-honored weapon, tears, and to my surprise it worked,” she said, calling upon a hoary gender stereotype that barely concealed the force of her personality." Laura is so deeply insufferable. How do you look at the fact that your husband is hurting, exhausted, in pain, and your go-to is to deliberately cry at him until he breaks down and acquiesces to your demands for more labor from him in order to meet your aesthetic vision? This isn't loving. It's cruel and selfish.

@CeeEmStone. I think of Almanzo and Mary, Caroline and Carrie. Aging, struggling, disabled... And Laura building the house of her dreams, never cutting a corner to ensure someone else is comfortable or can rest their weary bones.

This. This right here. And it's why I bristle a little when people are like "well, she *couldn't* help Caroline and Mary, she was so afraid of being poor again that she couldn't spare a penny..." People who are afraid of being poor don't blow a thousand dollars on a vanity house. Caroline is having to take out newspaper ads saying that she can make men's shirts cheaply and at short notice, and having to sew her heart out day in and day out just to barely not starve. Mary is blind and will never be allowed a meaningful career or marriage in the ableist society which now deems her useless and discardable. Almanzo is in constant pain.

And, yes, Caroline was a terrible mother (in my opinion, anyway) and Mary and Almanzo's disabilities don't mean Laura's life was any less hard than it was. Maybe it's not fair to ask her to behave more kindly to them. But this is a world with NO social safety nets--and Laura and Rose will politically lobby long and hard AGAINST them--so I do think there's some "What We Owe To Each Other" going on here and Laura is acting with breathtaking selfishness. A selfishness that can't be chalked up simply to "well, the poverty in her childhood was traumatic" because lots of people have impoverished childhoods and don't come out like Laura, so I refuse to erase her agency when making her choices.

"In the end, her living room would be dominated by the fireplace in the north wall, the exterior chimney crafted of “curious rock formations” studded with fossils “which had lain at the bottom of the seas.” By the time they were done, the former mud-chinked shack was gone, and a solid, spacious, and gracious abode, a ten-room home, stood in its place." TEN ROOMS??? SHE MADE ALMANZO BUILD A TEN-ROOM HOUSE? If you count every "room" in my house AND the bathrooms AND the closets, you still don't reach ten! What did Laura need TEN ROOMS for?

@CeeEmStone. This is it. It is... quite a bit of space for two people, to say the least.

What in the name of Satan's left testicle does a retired couple of two need a two-story, ten-room house for? I MEAN. If you have a ten-room house, I completely support you! Just please do not write a book about how thrift is the only good way to American and living in a hole in the ground is true virtue and safety nets are devilish idolatry! My problem is less with The House and more with the Owner! My god, someone is going to have to clean that house and now I'm thinking ahead about the women who moved in to serve as full-time aides for Laura and how Laura and Rose utterly failed to compensate them the way they should have.

@kingdomofwench points out that the paradigm shift I was wrestling with earlier is one of American Consumerism and how spending is lionized under capitalism. Laura needing to build a 10-room house in the style of a famous architect is very much, as she points out, mythos-building and image-building. Projecting an image of yourself as Landed Gentry with Money and Power. And THAT thought--that Laura was building an image for herself--neatly brings us to the last paragraph of this chapter.

"But Laura Wilder was not done. ...she had arrived in Mansfield and remade her world—egg by egg, boarder by boarder, step by laborious step. Now she was ready to pronounce on it." As we've already noted, Laura's books are not history. They're not truth. They're a fictional account of her life which she knowingly, falsely, actively marketed as being true but they are lies. So now that she has made an image for herself to the locals with her Bigass House, she's ready to make an image for herself to the rest of the world with her Bigass Series.

But that will have to wait for Chapter 7. Thus endeth Chapter 6. Thank you all for coming.

@CeeEmStone. I can't remember if this is in the book or not, but I know from visiting the museum that his bed was downstairs. He couldn't handle those stairs. OBVIOUSLY.

Oh god. Okay, so for everyone asking how Almanzo was supposed to go up those stairs in the winter of his old age, apparently he couldn't.

@beamish_girl. And this is the entire aspect of Frontier Culture that Laura's deliberately ignoring, and the one which saved her life over and over again as a child: you take care of people. The government isn't going to do it, so you do what needs to be done to keep your community together.

YES. YES. THIS IN A NUTSHELL. It's not that I think Laura should be forced or shamed into providing for her relatives, it's that her decision NOT to is at odds with the Frontier Culture that she lionizes and mythologizes. We're sold a frontier where everyone takes care of his neighbor, while Laura was perfectly content to let her disabled sister and disabled husband both suffer.


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